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July 20th, 2014

Pennsylvania Cancer Misdiagnosis Law – Can you file a lawsuit?

Individuals or patients who have suffered as a result of misdiagnosis of cancer are often left in the dark about their legal rights. Many want to know whether a doctor or hospital in Pennsylvania can be held liable for misdiagnosing cancer. The answer is yes. Under the laws of Pennsylvania, any medical professional or provider can be held legally responsible for misdiagnosing cancer.

More: Medical Malpractice – Errors in Diagnosis or Misdiagnosis

There are two issues which often come into play in a cancer misdiagnosis case in Pennsylvania. First, the statute of limitations is often at issue. In PA medical negligence cases, the patient has 2 years from the date of the injury within which to file a lawsuit against the correct parties. Failure to do so may result in dismissal of the claim. When the clock starts ticking is a tricky question in cancer misdiagnosis situations. That’s because the patient may learn they have cancer several months, sometimes longer, after the actual misdiagnosis. Therefore, it is crucial to have a legal professional review the facts, medical history and medical records in order to determine if the case is still within the statute of limitations.

The second issue common in Pennsylvania medical malpractice cases involves determining whether the medical provider(s) at issue were actually negligent. Under Pennsylvania law, these kinds of cases require a special certification of merit, i.e., another medical professional-expert must certify that they have reviewed the case and believe that the provider at issue was negligent. Getting a certificate of merit is time-consuming, and depending on the patient’s medical history, can be complex and involve multiple experts.

Misdiagnosis of Cancer – A Discussion of Liability

Usually, cancer misdiagnosis occurs in one of two ways:

  1. the patient had cancer and it was not detected, or
  2. the patient was diagnosed with cancer, but never had cancer and received unnecessary treatment.

Liability – Patient Had Cancer, But It Went Undetected

Three of the most common types of cancers which are misdiagnosed include breast cancer, skin cancer and colon/rectal cancer. In a case involving a patient who had cancer that went undetected or undiagnosed, multiple parties may be liable.

For example, a woman sees a dermatologist about a suspicious mole on her back. The doctor looks at it and takes a sample for a biopsy. The mole is actually cancerous, but the cancer is misdiagnosed. There are two scenarios here. First, the dermatologist may have incorrectly read the lab test or the office may have switched up lab results. Second, the lab itself may have made an error, such as switching samples. Depending on how and why the misdiagnosis actually occurred, the doctor, the doctor’s office, and/or the lab may be liable.

Related: Misdiagnosis of Cancer – Lab Test Mistakes

Liability – Patient Incorrectly Diagnosed with Cancer (Never Had Cancer)

Situations in which a patient is incorrectly diagnosed with cancer are not as common as those where a patient’s cancer goes undetected. However, when these kinds of cancer misdiagnosis cases occur, the results are often serious. Patients who are incorrectly diagnosed with cancer, or don’t have cancer but are told they do, often undergo drastic medical treatment, which is essentially unnecessary. For instance, a woman who is told she has breast cancer may have a mastectomy, or a man who is told he has skin cancer may undergo major reconstructive surgery after the “cancerous” area is removed.

More from our medical malpractice law library:

  • Pennsylvania Medical Malpractice Law Update (Feb. 2014) – A Doctor’s Admission of Fault Doctors Can Admit Mistakes Without Fear Their Statements are Admissible in Court. A new law, “The Benevolent Gesture Medical Professional Liability Act,” went into effect on December 25, 2013. Under this law, doctors and other medical health professionals can apologize for making mistakes without fear that such statements will be used against them to prove negligence …
  • Surgical Errors & Medical Malpractice in Pennsylvania When Does a Surgical Mistake Constitute Medical Malpractice in Pennsylvania? Surgical mistakes do not always constitute actionable medical malpractice in Pennsylvania. Surgeons, like everyone else, are allowed to make mistakes. The most important question in determining whether surgical error or mistake is actionable under Pennsylvania medical malpractice law is what a similarly situated surgeon would have …
  • Hospital Negligence & Malpractice – Common Types of Hospital Mistakes Hospitals are a big business these days. Nonprofit or not-for-profit hospitals simply do not exist the way they did 50 years ago. The hospital industry is a huge, for-profit industry, and many hospitals are owned, operated and run by large hospital operating companies. For example, one of the largest hospital operating companies in the U.S. …

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