The Role of Pathology Errors in Cancer Misdiagnosis Lawsuits

Pathology errors can play a significant role in cancer misdiagnosis lawsuits. Beyond that and more importantly, pathology and laboratory errors can have serious consequences on cancer patients’ lives. As with almost any medical test, results cannot be expected to be 100% accurate at all times. However, a pathology test or reading error can be distressing and potentially devastating. 

Studies suggest pathology error rates vary based on specific factors, including type of error, location, lab, etc. However, one thing is certain: if you or someone you love is affected by a pathology error and cancer misdiagnosis, it can be catastrophic. 

While most people think of doctors when they think of a medical malpractice lawsuit, they are not the only parties that might be liable in a cancer misdiagnosis. Any healthcare provider contributing to your misdiagnosis, including pathologists, laboratories, and lab assistants, could be responsible.

To learn more about who may be liable for your pathology error and ultimate cancer misdiagnosis, speak with one of our medical malpractice lawyers today. 

Types of Cancer Misdiagnosis

Generally, there are two ways in which a cancer misdiagnosis can occur. The first scenario occurs when a pathologist mistakes healthy cells for cancerous ones and incorrectly diagnoses a healthy person with cancer. 

The second—more common scenario—happens if a pathologist, physician, or radiologist fails to catch cancer and ultimately fails to diagnose the patient. In this latter scenario, the consequences can be tragic and fatal to the patient if the cancer goes undiagnosed until it is too late to treat or prevent the spread. The patient may also experience unnecessary pain and suffering along the way. 

Who Can Be Liable

While there can certainly be instances of a pathologist being solely liable for cancer misdiagnosis, it is much more likely and common for the pathologist to be just one liable party. In other words, it might be the pathologist and doctor or the pathologist and laboratory responsible, together, for the error. 

What is a Pathologist?

The role of a pathologist is to look for signs of abnormalities and unusual cell growth in patient biopsy samples. However, if they misread the results, it can lead to an error in the diagnosis. Importantly, pathologists usually do not know the patient’s medical history when reviewing samples, increasing the chance for inaccuracies.
Pathology errors generally occur during the evaluation of a biopsy, which is almost always fundamental to a cancer diagnosis. By removing tissue samples through a biopsy, the pathologist is entrusted to detect the presence of cancer cells. Though biopsies can provide a wealth of information, at the most basic level they will return a positive, negative, or abnormal result.

Physicians and pathologists are human, and neither are perfect. Coupled with the ever-evolving science of medicine, doctors and medical providers are not expected to be perfect when diagnosing a patient. However, they must perform their duties with a high degree of care. If they fail to uphold that high standard of care, they may be liable under the law. 

Proving Your Cancer Misdiagnosis Lawsuit

In any cancer medical malpractice lawsuit, including those stemming from a misdiagnosis, you must prove your case as the plaintiff. If a doctor, pathologist, or other healthcare provider misses a diagnosis, another provider with the same or similar experience and skill would have likely made an accurate diagnosis, it can constitute medical malpractice.

To be successful, you must show:

  • A doctor-patient relationship existed, giving rise to a duty to provide reasonable care;
  • The doctor or pathologist negligently failed to diagnose cancer correctly, breaching that duty;
  • The doctor or pathologist’s error caused you harm; and
  • The harm caused by the misdiagnosis caused compensable damages. 

For example, the misdiagnosis may have delayed critical treatment and care, allowing your cancer to worsen or spread.

Potential Damages

If you successfully prove your case, you may be entitled to damages for:

  • Past and future medical expenses,
  • Lost wages,
  • Pain and suffering,
  • Emotional and mental anguish, and
  • Loss of enjoyment of life.

We encourage you to consult an attorney immediately to preserve your right to damages. 

Recent Case Example

In 2021, in a confidential Illinois docket, a cancer patient settled his case before trial for $5.25 million after he claimed that the pathologist did not timely diagnose his cancer. 

He sued the pathologist, medical group, and hospital, alleging each played a role in failing to report his pathology results properly. After complaining of persistent testicular pain and swelling to several doctors, he underwent surgery for suspected testicular trauma. The pathology report from the surgery instead showed the patient had aggressive testicular cancer. Although the pathologist entered the results into the patient’s medical record, he failed to inform his treating doctor. In addition, a fax of the pathology report failed to transmit to the surgeon’s office. Even at the patient’s post-op visit, he did not learn of his cancer diagnosis. It wasn’t until six months later that a CT scan revealed masses that had spread, decreasing his chance of survival. 

In this example, it was not only the pathologist’s error that led to the patient’s worsening cancer but several other parties as well. It illustrates the likelihood that several potential parties can be simultaneously liable in a cancer misdiagnosis lawsuit.

Statute of Limitations

Under New Jersey law, the statute of limitations for medical malpractice cases can vary. Ordinarily, a victim of medical malpractice has two years from the date of the medical error or negligence. However, for a failure to diagnose case, it can be different. 

In many misdiagnoses or failure to diagnose cases, there is no way the patient could have known about the medical malpractice when it occurred. Usually, it isn’t until much later that the negligence or error is discovered. If that happens, the statute of limitations may not start until the patient becomes aware of the malpractice.

On the other hand, in certain instances, the timeline for filing your lawsuit can be significantly shorter, and you must complete the deadline to avoid being barred from filing altogether. It is essential to consult with an attorney as soon as you suspect malpractice may have occurred.  

New Jersey Cancer Misdiagnosis Attorneys

At O’Connor, Parsons, Lane & Noble, we are personal injury attorneys dedicating a significant portion of our practice to medical malpractice claims, including cancer misdiagnosis cases. The harsh and devastating reality of a cancer misdiagnosis can take a drastic toll on you and your loved ones. Let us help you seek the justice and compensation you deserve. Contact us today to schedule a compassionate, no-cost consultation.

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