Sometimes, doctors misdiagnose their patients even when all of the signs and symptoms point to colon cancer. If you were recently diagnosed with colon cancer, and you think your doctor should have diagnosed your colon cancer much sooner, you can seek compensation for failure to diagnose. Failure to diagnose a condition or disease is a form of medical malpractice.
Under Pennsylvania law, victims of medical malpractice can hold their doctors or other health care professionals accountable for their actions and failures by filing lawsuits that seek compensation for damages related to incidents of medical malpractice.
Learning that you or a loved one has cancer is devastating, regardless of how early you catch it, but knowing that you would have endured less pain and suffering and had an easier path to recovery had your doctor diagnosed you correctly compounds the devastation. The compassionate medical malpractice attorneys at The Levin Firm are here to help you and your family through this challenging time.
Money cannot erase medical malpractice, but it can help ensure that you get the treatment you need for colon cancer. Contact us today for a free consultation to discuss your colon cancer diagnosis, why you believe your doctor committed medical malpractice, and the steps you can take to seek justice.
The Levin Firm
The skilled legal team at The Levin Firm has been advocating for victims of medical malpractice and other types of negligence for more than 15 years. The firm’s experience in the settlement, negotiation, and litigation has led to millions in compensation for our clients.
We cannot guarantee a specific amount for your failure to diagnose colon cancer claim, but we can promise to aggressively pursue the best outcome for your circumstances. The suffering that comes with a failure to diagnose cancer is quite different from other types of personal injuries.
We rely on our doctors to diagnose, cure, and treat our illnesses and diseases. When doctors fail to perform their duties, that failure not only physically harms clients, but it also erodes trust in the medical profession. Holding negligent doctors accountable is necessary to protect others from falling victim to the same future negligence.
The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates that doctors across the nation diagnose over 100,000 new cases of colon cancer every year. Colon cancer is the third most common cancer for both men and women and causes more than 50,000 cancer-related deaths each year.
Doctors have a responsibility to make timely and accurate diagnoses when patients come to them with symptoms of colon cancer. Failure to diagnose provides the cancer cells with an opportunity to spread throughout the colon and into the rest of the body, making the disease far more difficult to treat. In fact, late-stage colon cancer patients only have a 14 percent chance of surviving, while those who learn of their cancer diagnoses early have a survival rate of 90 percent.
Common Symptoms of Colon Cancer
If you have not yet been diagnosed with colon cancer, but you suspect something is wrong (even after consulting with your physician), you should get a second opinion if you are experiencing symptoms. Sometimes, colon cancer does not show symptoms in its early stages, which is why screening with a colonoscopy is crucial at a certain age or when someone falls into the high-risk category.
Common symptoms of colon cancer include:
Active rectal bleeding
Blood in the stool
Diarrhea, constipation, or other changes in bowel functions
Pain or discomfort in the abdomen
Fatigue or weakness
Unexpected weight loss
Risk Factors for Colon Cancer
Some characteristics automatically put people at a higher risk of developing colon cancer. Good doctors recognize these risks and recommend screening for prevention and early detection.
Risk factors that increase the likelihood of colon cancer include:
More than 60 years old
Family history of colon cancer
A personal medical history involving other types of cancer
Presence of polyps in previous screenings
A poor diet that includes a lot of red meat and processed food
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
If a doctor failed to diagnose your colon cancer because he or she didn’t take, review, or account for your risk factors, give us a call.
Negligent Failure to Diagnose Colon Cancer
Doctors fail to diagnose colon cancer for a variety of reasons, not all of which constitute medical malpractice. Yet, several actions, and even more commonly a failure to act, can lead to instances of medical negligence that the medical profession categorizes as medical malpractice. Negligence occurs throughout one or more phases of interaction with a doctor.
Whether you are going in for a regular check-up or to visit your doctor because you are experiencing symptoms, he or she needs to ensure that you receive the proper testing to make a correct and timely diagnosis. Sometimes, negligent doctors do not screen high-risk patients. In other cases, doctors may order the wrong tests based on the symptoms a patient provides. Not performing the right exams or screenings can fail to diagnose colon cancer.
Once doctors order blood panels, lab tests, and other diagnostic tests, the doctors will need to review the results. Doctors with busy schedules might hastily have a look at test results, mix up patients, or simply misinterpret results. Regardless of the exact reason, poor analysis of test results leaves colon cancer patients without the early diagnosis they need to have the best shot at surviving cancer.
When doctors do not recommend the appropriate treatment for colon cancer, it’s often a result of the snowball effect of errors surrounding testing and/or poor analysis of test results. Like many cancers, colon cancer treatments primarily consist of surgery, chemotherapy, and/or radiation. Sometimes, doctors might also suggest certain medications or immunotherapy as part of a patient’s treatment regimen.
If a doctor makes a mistake during testing and analysis, he or she is likely to recommend the wrong treatment, or might not recommend treatment at all. Untreated colon cancer can spread throughout the body and make it far less likely that patients will survive once they get the correct diagnoses.
Doctors need to communicate with their patients, and when they don’t, patients might not get the information they need to make sound decisions about care and treatment as they relate to colon cancer. A physician can order all the right lab tests, but if they do not communicate the results and treatment options to a patient correctly, the consequences may prove dire.
Consider the following example. A patient goes in for a yearly physical, and her doctor recommends that it’s time for a colonoscopy. A week later, the patient undergoes the procedure, and her doctor finds a few polyps during the screening. Her doctor assures her not to worry, as they are likely not cancerous, but sends tissue samples of the polyps to the lab for testing. The doctor, who assured the patient that her polyps were benign, forgot about the tests and didn’t watch for them.
Unfortunately, the lab found cancer cells, but the patient never got the information until she started experiencing severe symptoms often associated with stage IV colon cancer. In this situation, the doctor’s failure to communicate the lab results to his patient cost her more pain and suffering and a higher chance of fatality.
Specific Medical Errors Lead to Delayed Diagnosis of Colon Cancer
In addition to the examples above, some specific errors that may lead to a failure to diagnose colon cancer include:
Failure to get a complete family history, including information on family members who have developed colon cancer in the past
Failure to recommend early screenings for patients who have an increased risk of colon cancer
Failure to suggest a colonoscopy and stool testing when patients suffer from rectal bleeding
Failure to examine the causes of anemia or low red blood cells
Failure to refer a patient with symptoms to a specialist, typically a gastroenterologist
Improper performance of a colonoscopy
Failure to identify or remove polyps or lesions during a colonoscopy
Failure to coordinate with other doctors, specialists, and care providers
The Consequences of Failing to Diagnose Colon Cancer
Early detection of colon cancer is key to surviving treatment. Doctors who misdiagnose or cause a patient to have a delayed diagnosis often create a need to surgically remove the colon, which requires patients to have a colostomy bag. A delayed diagnosis also means a colon cancer patient must undergo more aggressive treatment that can include chemotherapy and radiation. In the worse case scenarios, failing to diagnose colon cancer results in death.
The consequences of failing to diagnose colon cancer include:
Death sooner than might have occurred with early detection
Cancer that has spread too far for surgeons to operate
Debilitating physical pain
Partial or complete loss of bowel function
Surgical removal of some or all of the colon and other organs
More invasive, aggressive, and painful treatment
More costly cancer treatment
Extended recovery time after treatment
Lost wages from time away from work for treatment and recovery
Seeking Damages for the Failure to Diagnose Colon Cancer
If your physician failed to diagnose you or your loved one’s colon cancer, and you have suffered losses because of that failure, you may qualify to seek compensation for damages by filing a medical malpractice claim. You will likely argue that your doctor breached the standard of care that he or she owed you as a patient by failing to act in accordance with accepted standards in the medical community.
Depending on the situation, you might name your doctor and the facility where he or she works in a lawsuit, which could involve two separate insurance companies.
If you, with the help of your medical malpractice lawyer, negotiate a settlement agreement with the insurance company involved, or the court awards compensation for your claim, you could receive money for the following damages related to your delayed colon cancer diagnosis:
Current and future medical expenses for cancer treatment and associated complications
Current lost wages and estimated future lost wages for cancer patients who need to miss work for treatment or can never return to work
Expenses for long-term health care costs provided in-home or in a long-term nursing care facility
Rehabilitation expenses after treatment
Physical pain and suffering from more aggressive cancer treatment
Mental anguish from coping with a potential terminal situation that could have been avoided
Loss of quality and enjoyment of life
Loss of consortium with a spouse if applicable
If you tragically lost a loved one to colon cancer because his or her doctor failed to provide a timely diagnosis, you may also qualify to seek damages in a wrongful death lawsuit, depending on your relationship with the deceased. Eligible family survivors often recover many damages mentioned above in addition to funeral costs and burial or cremation expenses.
Also, family members sometimes receive compensation for the loss of their relationship with the decedent. For example, surviving children sometimes receive compensation for loss of parental support, care, and guidance. Similarly, surviving spouses sometimes receive compensation for loss of companionship. Your medical malpractice lawyer can answer your questions about filing a wrongful death claim and advise you on the right course of action during this difficult time.
FAQs About Failure to Diagnose Colon Cancer
If you or a loved one has recently been diagnosed with colon cancer, but your doctor should have diagnosed you far sooner, you probably have troves of negative emotions going through your mind. Pennsylvania law gives you legal recourse against your negligent doctor, but you are likely unsure of your next steps and may not fully understand the legal process involved with a medical malpractice lawsuit. Below we offer answers to frequently asked questions concerning your delayed diagnosis of colon cancer and the process for holding your doctor accountable for his or her negligence.
What is the difference between a mistake and medical malpractice with regard to diagnosing colon cancer?
Not all medical errors constitute medical malpractice. While your doctor’s failure to diagnose your colon cancer might not constitute malpractice, failure to diagnose cancer is more often than not a result of negligence, which is the distinguishing characteristic of malpractice.
Negligence in the context of medical malpractice includes the following four elements:
Duty of care. You must first establish that you had a doctor-patient relationship with the physician who failed to diagnose your cancer. Whether you went for a regular checkup or brought specific concerns about symptoms, you have to have been a patient. This relationship establishes a legal relationship between you and the doctor.
Breach of duty. Next, you must establish that the doctor who failed to diagnose your colon cancer acting negligently and thus breached his or her duty of care to you by not meeting the standard of care accepted and expected in the medical community.
Harm/injury. You must also establish that you suffered harm as a result of your doctor’s negligence. In the context of the delayed diagnosis of cancer, harm or injury can include economic damage, such as additional medical bills and lost wages, as well as the physical and emotional pain and suffering that come from more aggressive treatment involved with late-stage cancer.
Causation. Finally, you must establish that the doctor’s negligence caused your injuries. This aspect of negligence is often the most difficult to prove and the most highly contested, especially in failure to diagnose medical malpractice cases. Generally, patients already have cancer when their doctors fail to make proper diagnoses, so proving causation requires proving that you have endured additional suffering because of your doctor’s malpractice.
When you consult with a medical malpractice lawyer, he or she will evaluate your situation and determine whether you have a viable medical malpractice claim against the doctor who failed to diagnose your colon cancer.
What should I do if I received a delayed colon cancer diagnosis?
Your health needs to be your top priority immediately after a cancer diagnosis. The fact that your doctor didn’t diagnose you earlier will likely have an impact on your treatment plan. If the doctor who failed to diagnose your colon cancer is the same physician who ultimately gave you a delayed diagnosis, it’s in your best interest to get a second opinion and switch doctors. It’s even better if you get a referral to an oncologist or gastroenterologist who deals specifically with cancer patients.
Once you’ve confirmed your diagnosis, you need to immediately discuss your treatment options with your current physician. A delayed colon cancer diagnosis often means you need immediate treatment, which is typically more aggressive than it would have been with early detection. Treatment options may include surgery, chemotherapy, and/or radiation, depending on your circumstances. Waiting any longer for treatment could result in you losing part of your colon and needing a colostomy bag.
After you have solidified your treatment plan, you should contact a reputable medical malpractice attorney who can evaluate your case and advise you on your next steps. Record all interactions with doctors concerning your diagnosis. Part of reviewing your potential medical malpractice case will include examining how your narrative compares with your medical records.
How long do I have to file a medical malpractice suit after a colon cancer diagnosis?
The law varies from state to state. Pennsylvania, for example, requires that victims of medical malpractice bring a lawsuit against the medical provider that caused them harm within two years from the date of injury. Failure to diagnose colon cancer cases does not fit into this box neatly, because there is not always a specific date of injury.
Fortunately, the law allows for these types of situations with the delayed discovery rule. The application of delayed discovery means that the clock does not start ticking on the statute of limitations until a patient has discovered his or her injury.
For most purposes, the statute of limitations for your failure to diagnose medical malpractice claim likely began when you received your colon cancer diagnosis. However, depending on your circumstances, a court might provide an extension or toll the statute of limitations, but this is extremely rare.
Your cancer treatment would likely have to render you unable to give a deposition or testify for two years before a court would consider such an extension. Delayed discovery offers flexibility, so you should always consult with an attorney, even if you think your two year period has run out.
St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital estimates that only one in a million children develop colon cancer. If your child is one of the rare exceptions, and the diagnosis was delayed because of negligence, you have more time to take action. The two-year statute of limitations for children who are victims of medical malpractice begins on their 18th birthday. It is still in you and your child’s best interest to take action as soon as possible.
If you read about medical malpractice laws in Pennsylvania, you might come across a discussion of a seven-year statute of repose with regard to medical malpractice claims. A statute of repose is an absolute time limit for filing a claim. The court cannot toll the statute of limitations beyond seven years, even with delayed discovery.
In early 2020, Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court struck down the statute of repose concerning medical malpractice lawsuits as unconstitutional, so the law does not affect the amount of time you have to bring a malpractice suit in Pennsylvania.
How much money should I expect to receive from my medical malpractice claim?
It’s impossible to predict a financial outcome for your medical malpractice claim because many different factors will determine its value. Your attorney will include economic damages, such as the costs for cancer treatment, hospitalization, and lost income from missing work.
Medical malpractice claims also typically include damages for non-economic costs, such as pain and suffering, loss of quality of life, loss of consortium, and others. In rare cases, medical malpractice victims might also receive punitive damages.
Pennsylvania courts typically do not award punitive damages in medical malpractice claims. If, however, the doctor who failed to diagnose your cancer tried to cover up the mistake that led to the failure, your case may qualify for punitive damages.
Many states have placed caps on compensation for medical malpractice cases, but Pennsylvania has not. If you file a medical malpractice claim, you can receive compensation for the entirety of your losses related to your doctor’s failed diagnosis if the court rules in your favor. Pennsylvania does, however, cap punitive damages to three times the amount of the compensatory damages that a plaintiff receives.
Do I have to testify in court?
When you file a medical malpractice claim, the doctor and the facility where he or she practices might be named in your suit, meaning you could have one or two insurance companies involved with the claim. Your attorney will negotiate with one or both insurance companies to reach a fair settlement. If a settlement isn’t an option, you will likely have to testify in court.
Both sides have an incentive to avoid litigation, if at all possible. Going to trial costs more in attorney fees, court costs, and other litigation-related expenses, so coming to a reasonable settlement makes sense for everyone unless the at-fault party refuses to offer fair compensation.
For some, the middle-ground is a form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR), such as mediation or arbitration. If your lawyer guides you toward this path, you will likely have to give a deposition, which is a formal statement, and you likely will have to meet with the other side for negotiations. Ultimately, you may testify, but not in front of the court.
Your attorney cannot guarantee whether you will or won’t have to testify in court, but a case review and experience from previous medical malpractice claims will likely allow your lawyer to give you an idea of what might occur in your circumstances. Regardless of whether you need to testify, you should remain prepared that it might have to happen. Your lawyer won’t recommend something that he or she doesn’t believe is in your best interest.
My loved one died because a doctor failed to diagnose colon cancer. Can I sue?
It depends on your relationship with the deceased. When someone dies as a result of medical malpractice, Pennsylvania law allows eligible family members to bring a wrongful death claim against the medical provider. However, you cannot directly sue the doctor who failed to diagnose your loved one’s colon cancer. Instead, a personal representative of the estate of the deceased must file the claim on behalf of all beneficiaries of the estate.
If the court rules in favor of the estate and receives damages, the estate will distribute any leftover compensation in accordance with Pennsylvania’s intestate laws.
The court might award the estate of your loved one:
Costs for the additional cancer treatment required because of a delayed diagnosis, such as surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, hospitalization, prescription medication, and travel expenses to and from the hospital until death
Expenses for visitation, memorial, and/or funeral services
Expenses for cremation and/or burial
Administrative costs related to filing a lawsuit through the estate
Lost wages until the time of death, as well as the amount of future income your loved one would have contributed to support the family
Loss of comfort and guidance
Loss of household services
Compensation for physical and emotional pain and suffering that your loved one experienced before dying
Wrongful death claims also have a two-year statute of limitations, and plaintiffs must prove that the death was a result of negligence related to the failure to diagnose colon cancer.
How can a medical malpractice lawyer help with my failure to diagnose colon cancer claim?
Medical malpractice lawyers do much more than simply filing paperwork with the court for their clients. This is especially true in medical malpractice claims. Pennsylvania, like many other states, has several pre-suit requirements to which plaintiffs must adhere before they can even file their lawsuits. These requirements make medical malpractice cases more complex and messy than the average personal injury claim.
Certificate of merit. Before you file a medical malpractice claim against the doctor who failed to diagnose your colon cancer, you must provide the court with a Certificate of Merit within 60 days before filing the lawsuit.
A Certificate of Merit is an affidavit signed by your attorney that states a medical expert has provided a written opinion of your claim that says:
It is reasonable that your doctor breached his or her duty of care towards you.
The defendant was responsible for the person who breached the duty. (This refers to hospitals or facilities who might be listed in a medical malpractice claim as defendants.)
You do not have to provide expert testimony to pursue a medical malpractice claim.
Once your attorney files the Certificate of Merit and brings the lawsuit, he or she must also provide expert witness testimony in most cases. Expert medical witnesses establish the standard of care for a case and show how a defendant breached that care, unless negligence is obvious to the average individual.
Other legal tasks. Aside from completing and filing the mandatory Certificate of Merit for your failure to diagnose medical malpractice lawsuit, your attorney can help:
Investigate the circumstances of your diagnosis and uncovering the exact reason(s) why your doctor failed to diagnose your colon cancer
Gather relevant documents and information including medical records, witness statements, and others
Communicate and negotiate with the insurance company
Advocate for you in the courtroom when settlement is not an option
If you have additional questions regarding your options when it comes to filing a failure to diagnose colon cancer lawsuit, contact The Levin Firm online today.
Did your doctor fail to diagnose your colon cancer promptly?
The experienced medical malpractice lawyers at The Levin Firm understand the gravity of your situation. Even if your colon cancer is still highly treatable and you have a favorable prognosis, you have likely gone through far more physical and emotional pain than necessary because of your doctor’s error(s).
Not only should you seek compensation for your immediate expenses, but also for the additional treatments that you likely need in the future because your doctor failed to diagnose your colon cancer promptly. Compensation can also help provide for your family during a time when you cannot work because of undergoing cancer treatment.
The empathetic legal team at The Levin Firm can help guide you through the malpractice claims process, which is highly complex and includes several pre-suit requirements, while you focus on recovery. Contact us today online or at (215) 825-5183 for a free case review. One of our team members can evaluate your failure to diagnose colon cancer claim, determine the viability of your case, and answer any questions you might have about the legal process and steps moving forward.
“They were thorough in explaining the process step-by-step as well as providing me with every applicable option relating to my case. We managed to resolve with ease: minor paperwork, efficient time management, and clear communication. Overall, their services were outstanding and I would highly recommend them to anyone needing representation.”
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