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Failure to Diagnose and Illinois Medical Malpractice

Medical malpractice occurs when a healthcare provider - doctor, hospital, nurse, other individual or entity licensed to provide medical care or treatment - does something that competent doctors would not have done, or fails to do what a competent doctor would have done, resulting in a personal injury or wrongful death.

In Illinois, medical malpractice claims are commonly filed against doctors for a failure to diagnose a medical problem, most often cancer. Commonly undiagnosed types of cancer include:

  • Breast cancer
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Cervical cancer
  • Colon cancer
  • Lung cancer
  • Melanoma
  • Lymphoma
  • Prostate cancer

The longer the cancer is undiagnosed, the lower the patient's probability of survival. Even if a doctor later realizes his or her negligence and diagnoses the condition, the cancer may have already reached a stage that requires aggressive treatments such as radiation therapy or chemotherapy that would have otherwise been unnecessary. Highly treatable cancers that remain undiagnosed can develop into a terminal stage, causing pain, suffering, and even avoidable death.

Other common injuries that can lead to a lawsuit if not properly diagnosed include compartment syndrome, blood disorders, eye injuries, ectopic pregnancies and spinal cord injuries among others.

In order to recover against a doctor for failure to diagnose, a victim of medical malpractice in Illinois must prove the following elements of negligence:

(1) The victim was the patient of the doctor and the doctor owed a duty of care to the victim.

(2) The doctor breached the duty of care to the victim by not acting as a reasonable doctor of the same specialty would have in the same situation. For example, if a general practitioner failed to diagnose cancer then the plaintiff would need to prove that other general practitioners would have made a diagnosis of cancer had the plaintiff sought the medical advice of a different physician.

(3) That the doctor's actions must have been the primary reason for the victim's injuries. In the example above, if the doctor had failed to diagnosis cancer but the cancer would have been untreatable even if the doctor had made a proper diagnosis then there is no medical malpractice case against the doctor because the doctor's failure to diagnose cancer was not the reason for the plaintiff's injuries. The incurable and untreatable cancer was the reason for the injuries. On the other hand, if the cancer was highly treatable if detected at the stage at which the victim went to see the doctor and the doctor breached his or her duty of care in making a diagnosis then the defendant's breach was likely the reason for the victim's injuries and legal causation may be found.

(4) Finally, the victim must prove what injuries he or she suffered so that damages can be awarded.

Generally, Illinois medical malpractice victims have 2 years from the time that they know, or reasonably should have known, about their injury to file a lawsuit. However, the lawsuit must be brought within 4 years of the act or failure to act that caused the injuries. Victims who are under the age of 18 when the malpractice occurred have a longer statute of limitations within which to file their lawsuit.

If you have any questions about medical malpractice and failure to diagnose, or would like a referral to an Illinois lawyer with experience and success in malpractice lawsuits, please contact us. All calls are free an confidential.