Each Chicago medical malpractice lawyer at our firm appreciates that failure to diagnose is one of the single most common errors committed by medical professionals day in and day out. The potential harm from such mistakes runs the gamut, depending on the type of problem faced by the patient. For example, earlier this month WWLP News reported on a new medical malpractice lawsuit that was filed by a mother and father claiming that their son was blinded by a failure to diagnose.
According to the suit, the seven-year old boy was active, energetic, and had no noticeable health problem. However, a few years ago, on Halloween night, the boy’s mother noticed that her son was noticeably lethargic. Sensing something was wrong, she took him to the family pediatrician. The doctor gave a quick inspection, diagnosed him with an ear infection, and then sent them on their way. Unfortunately, the child did not get better. He went back to the doctor on several occasions with noticeably worse symptoms. However, the doctor did not properly act in the face of the worsening conditions.
After repeated visits, the doctor still did not diagnose him with anything other than an ear infection. What she missed what that he was suffered from potentially deadly bacterial meningitis-an inflammation of the brain lining. As a result of the misdiagnosis, the boy fell into a coma for months. When he finally awoke the child was blind and was unable to eat or walk. He has been able to slowly learn how to walk and feed himself. However, he will never be able to see again and will need around the clock medical care for the rest of his life.
Every Illinois medical malpractice attorney at our firm appreciates that cases resulting from failure to diagnose presents one common legal hurdle-proving causation. All negligence cases-of which Illinois medical malpractice lawsuits are included-require proof that the claimed negligent conduct actually caused the harm complained of. At times the cause is clear-like when a doctor operates on the wrong body part. However, there are other cases, like failure to diagnose or delayed diagnosis, when the cause is not immediately apparent. In these cases, the medical professional does not directly make the harm occur but instead does not do what should have been done to fight the harm.
In these situations defense attorneys always argue that the harm would have occurred regardless of what the doctor did or did not do in any individual case. For example, if a doctor fails to diagnose cancer quickly, then the defense is likely to suggest that the doctor obviously didn’t give the patient cancer and that the consequences of the cancer were therefore not caused by the doctor. However, the law rightly understands that inaction can be just as harmful as inappropriate action. This is especially true in situations of progressive problems, like cancer. Even a short delay in diagnosis of the condition can result in significant deterioration in ones prognosis.
Proving these issues is often tricky in court. After all, there is no way to show exactly what “would have” happened-there is inherently some speculation. Yet, the fact that there is some speculation does not mean that one cannot use expert testimony and past situations to explain how one’s chances of avoiding harm would have been significantly higher had action been taken earlier. If your case involves these types of issues it is important to seek out legal help from those with experience in failure to diagnose cases.
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