Figuring out why our bodies are betraying us can be tricky. But then, reliable medical diagnosis is a primary reason modern medicine exists. Sometimes, medicine is supposed to be hard.
A jury in Pennsylvania recently awarded $9.6 million to a girl who first sought medical attention in 2014, just after turning 11. She went without a correct diagnosis for her cervical cancer until 2016.
Proving medical malpractice
New York and Pennsylvania share the basics of medical malpractice law, despite other differences.
Medical malpractice lawsuits must show that the doctor (or other medical personnel or organizations) had a duty to uphold toward the patient. Casual remarks in a social situation probably do not count, whereas seeing a patient during a shift at the emergency room probably does.
Also, they must breach their duty. Not every treatment succeeds in curing, and not every diagnosis is correct. But only treatments and diagnoses that fail to live up to the medical duty owed to the patient can be medical malpractice.
Finally, harm must come to the patient because of the failure to live up to that medical responsibility. Without harm, or with harm that comes from something else, there is no medical malpractice.
Medical experts, time limits and complex cases
Such suits involve a multitude of other legal issues. For example, in both New York and Pennsylvania a licensed physician must look at the facts of the case and conclude that the case makes enough sense to go forward and provide a “certificate of merit.”
The detailed requirements of this certificate and many other issues, such as time limits for filing a case, are complex and differ from state to state.
Finding fault for medical malpractice
According to media reports, due to unrelenting bleeding the girl sought medical attention from multiple providers. Nobody did tests that would surely have shown cancer. Instead, they said the issue was early menstrual bleeding and nothing to worry about and then sent her home.
Her eventual diagnosis came too late. At last report, she was unlikely to survive her cancer.
In a way comparable to New York law, Pennsylvania allows juries to divvy up fault for the injury in percentages different entities share. In this case, the jury found a doctor’s negligence was 50% of the cause, a clinic’s was 10% and a hospital’s was 40%, with the award split accordingly.