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Failure to diagnose results in jury award of more than $25 million

When patients visit their physician and list symptoms they are suffering from, it is up to the doctor to make a diagnosis. This can be difficult, because many maladies have overlapping symptoms.

It can also be dangerous in some cases. If a condition is misdiagnosed, there is the danger that the course of treatment could be harmful to the patient as well as unnecessary. But the more immediate danger is that whatever malady the physician failed to diagnose will continue to get worse because it is not being treated.

This is an unfortunately common problem with cancer and other progressive diseases. But even failing to diagnose something straightforward like a traumatic brain injury can lead to permanent damage or death.

Last month, a jury in Rhode Island awarded $25.6 million in a medical malpractice case, which is thought to be the largest negligence verdict in the state's history. The plaintiffs in the case are a man who suffered irreversible brain damage and his wife, who must now help care for him on a daily basis.

According to news sources, the man came into Rhode Island's largest hospital in 2009 after a blow to the head. During the next 40-48 hours, the staff failed to notice that his condition was getting worse - probably because the staff misdiagnosed him and allegedly failed in many other ways as well.

Allegations include:

  • Staff failed to check on the man
  • Staff failed to do required exams
  • Staff missed signs of a worsening condition
  • Staff failed to communicate about the patient with other staff members

Because the man suffered permanent brain damage, nearly all aspects of his life have been impacted, including cognition, speech and movement. In an unusual move, the hospital conceded that these allegations were true before trial began, and has since said it will not appeal the jury's decision.

Misdiagnosis and the failure to diagnose can be the result of honest mistakes. Most often, however, they are caused by negligence. When this happens, patients deserve to be fairly and appropriately compensated.

Source: The Washington Times, "Jury: Rhode Island Hospital to pay $25M in negligence case," Michelle R. Smith, May 12, 2015

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