A large number of medical malpractice lawsuits stem from the misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis of a medical condition, illness, or injury. When a doctor's diagnosis error leads to incorrect treatment, delayed treatment, or no treatment at all, a patient's condition can be made much worse, and they may even die. That being said, a mistake in diagnosis by itself is not enough to sustain a medical malpractice lawsuit.
In this New York case, a forty-year-old woman believed she felt a small lump in her breast during a self-exam, and went to her doctor. She was referred for a mammogram and underwent one. The radiologist treating her looked at the scans, and believed she had a clogged milk duct and it would just go away with him. But this lump didn’t just go away. In fact, it continued to grow and, a little over a year after her diagnosis, she went to the doctor again. At this time she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
* Legal aid. Legal Aid SA, a state agency that provides legal advice to those who cannot afford it, takes on medical malpractice cases selectively, depending on merit. “Our mandate permits us to fund litigation of medical malpractice and we have certainly done so in the past,” Legal Aid spokesman Mpho Phasha says. “We favour those cases where there is greatest impact, those that affect communities or where a legal principle is at stake.”
Is our situation unique? According to the MPS report, in the United States there have been two waves of legal reforms prompted by medical malpractice claims: one in the mid-80s and another in the early 2000s. Reforms were driven by an increase in insurance premiums and concerns about access to health care. Since 2000, 29 states in the US have introduced limitations on damages; some limit both “economic” and “general” damages (compensation for pain and suffering), while others cap only general damages.
Patients are responsible too—as a patient, you have the power to manage your healthcare. You must give the doctor all the important information about your condition, your medical history, and any other relevant information. If you don’t, and that leads to an error in diagnosis or treatment, it will be your fault, not the doctor’s. As well, a doctor is not responsible for problems if you don’t follow the doctor’s advice and your failure causes the problem. For example, if you get sick after surgery, it would be hard to prove that a surgeon was negligent in operating on you, if you don’t follow the surgeon’s instructions for recovery.
(2) Negligence in the context of the medical profession necessarily calls for a treatment with a difference. To infer rashness or negligence on the part of a professional, in particular a doctor, additional considerations apply. A case of occupational negligence is different from one of professional negligence. A simple lack of care, an error of judgment or an accident, is not proof of negligence on the part of a medical professional. So long as a doctor follows a practice acceptable to the medical profession of that day, he cannot be held liable for negligence merely because a better alternative course or method of treatment was also available or simply because a more skilled doctor would not have chosen to follow or resort to that practice or procedure which the accused followed. When it comes to the failure of taking precautions, what has to be seen is whether those precautions were taken which the ordinary experience of men has found to be sufficient; a failure to use special or extraordinary precautions which might have prevented the particular happening cannot be the standard for judging the alleged negligence. So also, the standard of care, while assessing the practice as adopted, is judged in the light of knowledge available at the time of the incident, and not at the date of trial. Similarly, when the charge of negligence arises out of failure to use some particular equipment, the charge would fail if the equipment was not generally available at that particular time (that is, the time of the incident) at which it is suggested it should have been used.
Incidentally, under South African common law, there is the crime of "Crimen injuria", 'defined to be the act of "unlawfully, intentionally and seriously impairing the dignity of another." Although difficult to precisely define, the crime is used in the prosecution of certain instances of road rage, stalking, racially offensive language, emotional or psychological abuse and sexual offences against children.[5' (from Wikipedia).
Bringing a medical malpractice claim is not a thing to be taken lightly. Malpractice lawsuits are expensive, time consuming, and can open you up to public inspection. And, unlike most other types of personal injury claims, case trends show a tendency toward favoring doctors and other care providers, not injured plaintiffs. Settlement, too, is far more difficult in a malpractice case due to a doctor’s ability to refuse to settle, regardless of whether his or her insurance company wants to pay. Simply put, even the most winnable malpractice case is still an uphill battle with little or no guarantee of success. Should you sue your doctor for malpractice? Perhaps, but consider what follows before you do.