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Calculating Delayed Diagnosis Damages

Published March 13, 2023

When a doctor diagnoses a medical condition, illness, or injury late and it worsens the condition or causes death, the patient or their family may file a delayed diagnosis medical malpractice claim. However, a diagnostic error in and of itself is not sufficient ground for medical malpractice. The plaintiff must prove medical negligence caused the mistake, which led to avoidable consequences and damages. In such cases, accurate damage calculations and expert witness testimony are crucial to arrive at a just outcome.

Since 1979, The Knowles Group has been calculating economic loss and damage for the legal community. Contact us today if you are a plaintiff or defendant in a delayed diagnosis medical malpractice claim to discuss our economic damage calculation services and our nationwide network of expert witnesses.

What is Delayed Diagnosis?

Delayed diagnosis is a form of medical malpractice that occurs when a  patient’s health condition is not diagnosed within a reasonable amount, leading to worsening the situation, increased damages, or death. While even the best doctors can make mistakes that lead to an acceptable delayed diagnosis, other delays are caused by factors the doctor could have otherwise avoided, such as birth injuries. Reasons for delayed diagnosis include

  • Incompetent or negligent medical personnel
  • Understaffed hospitals
  • Mishandled testing
  • Insufficient time spent on diagnosis & treatment
  • Dismissed concerns

For a delayed diagnosis to constitute medical malpractice, a claimant must prove that their provider’s negligence caused the delay and that medical negligence caused damages the claimant could have avoided with a timely diagnosis.

What is the Average Medical Malpractice Claim Worth?

While there is no set average for medical malpractice claim values, there is extensive research on the subject. Studies have determined that 5-15% of American adults will face a delayed or misdiagnosis throughout their lifetime.  A 2017 National Patient Safety Foundation and Healthcare Improvement survey showed that 21% of American adults reported suffering from a medical error, with 31% of the respondents saying they were close to someone who had experienced negligence.

Of all medical malpractice cases between 1986 and 2010, diagnosis errors accounted for approximately 35% of $38.8 billion in damages. Further studies found $42 billion was paid to medical malpractice claimants between 2010 and 2019, with a relatively constant average malpractice settlement of $242,000 or more.

Is There a Formula for Calculating Delayed Diagnosis Settlements?

When calculating delayed diagnoses damages, a forensic economist must consider several factors, including the severity and extent of harm caused by the delayed diagnosis, the time elapsed before a correct diagnosis, the effect on the plaintiff’s quality of life, the plaintiff’s age, occupation, earning potential, and more.

As each medical malpractice case is unique, and the damages awarded will depend on the case’s specific circumstances, there is no set formula for calculating delayed diagnosis settlements. However, a highly-generalized formula would be as follows

Total Settlement Value = Total Economic Damages + Total Non-Economic Damages

Hypothetical Example

James is a pilot experiencing cardiac arrest symptoms and visited an understaffed emergency room to treat his symptoms. The attending physician failed to diagnose the condition correctly and sent James home, attributing the patient’s symptoms to stress and panic attacks. Sometime later, James had a severe cardiac event and underwent emergency surgery, followed by extensive medical treatment and rehabilitation.

A cardiologist determined James had a minor heart attack the day he went to the emergency room, which the attending doctor should have treated immediately. The delayed diagnosis led to a severe event that could have been avoided. James hires a medical malpractice attorney and files suit against the emergency room’s hospital for delayed diagnosis damages. The court awards him $1.3 million in damages.

Factors to Consider When Calculating Delayed Diagnosis Damages

  • Medical expenses
  • Lost wages & loss of earning capacity
  • Loss of household services
  • Pain and suffering
  • Loss of quality of life
  • Loss of consortium
  • Wrongful death

Medical Expenses

Medical expense damages compensate for all past and future treatment costs related to the delayed diagnosis, including medical bills, surgery expenses, post-operative care, rehabilitation, medication, in-home assistance, house & car adaptations, and transportation costs.

Example
Based on the past and future medical expenses James could prove, the court awarded him $300,000 in medical expense damage compensation.

Lost Wages & Loss of Earning Capacity

Lost wages damages compensate for the income and benefits lost as a direct result of a delayed diagnosis. In contrast, loss of earning capacity damages compensate for the potential future earnings the plaintiff could have earned for the delayed diagnosis.

Example
James will no longer be able to work as a pilot due to the severity of the cardiac event he experienced. As a result, the court awarded him $250,000 in lost wages and loss of earning capacity.

Lost Household Services

Loss of household services attempts to quantify the value of the number of weekly hours the plaintiff would have spent to maintain their home. This damage award would replenish the out-of-pocket expenses the claimant’s household would now have to pay a third party to perform those services formerly performed by the claimant (cleaning, cooking, etc.).

Example
In our hypothetical example, James was unable to continue to provide the chore services he used to perform in order to maintain his household and property. The jury awarded him $400,000 in lost household services.

Pain and Suffering

Pain and suffering damages compensate the plaintiff for the physical and emotional pain and suffering they have experienced due to the provider’s negligence. This can include physical pain and emotional distress, such as anxiety and depression.

Example
James experienced significant physical, emotional, and psychological distress due to the delayed diagnosis. As a result, the court awarded him $300,000 in pain and suffering damages.

Loss of Quality of Life

Loss of quality of life damages refers to the negative impact the delayed diagnosis has on the plaintiff’s overall enjoyment of life, including their physical, emotional, and psychological well-being and their ability to engage in activities and pleasures they once enjoyed.

Example
The loss of James’ career as a pilot represents a significant decrease in his quality of life which has led to anxiety, depression, loss of enjoyment of life, and an inability to participate in previously enjoyed activities and pleasures. As a result, the court awarded James $400,000 in loss of quality of life damages.

Loss of Consortium

Loss of consortium damages compensates the family for the emotional and psychological pain and suffering caused by the injury or death of the patient due to delayed diagnosis. These damages compensate for the loss of companionship, love, and support the family would otherwise have if the patient received proper treatment.

Example
James’ wife and children have also suffered due to the loss of the family’s primary financial provider and the demands of caring for James. As a result, the court awards $50,000 in loss of consortium damages.

Wrongful Death

Wrongful death damages compensate the deceased’s family for funeral expenses, burial costs, pre-death treatment costs, loss of financial support, inheritance, and emotional support.

Example
The court did not award wrongful death damages as James survived the cardiac event.

The Process of Proving a Delayed Diagnosis Claim

Doctors are not held legally responsible for all diagnostic errors as they can occur even when a doctor does everything in their power to provide the correct diagnosis. For a delayed diagnosis claim to constitute medical malpractice, the plaintiff must prove

  • A doctor-patient relationship existed
  • The doctor acted with negligence
  • The doctor’s negligence caused damages

Based on these requirements, the plaintiff must provide evidence to demonstrate four aspects of medical negligence: duty of care, breach of duty of care, causation, and damages.

Duty of Care

Proving duty of care is relatively simple. When a patient undergoes consultation or receives treatment from a healthcare professional, this forms an official doctor-patient relationship under which the doctor owes the patient a duty of care. Therefore, the plaintiff must provide evidence that consultation or treatment took place to prove duty of care.

Breach of Duty of Care

A breach of duty of care occurs when a doctor’s actions fall below established medical standards of care. Proving a breach of duty of care begins by evaluating the “differential diagnosis” method (a standardized process of elimination) used by the doctor. Based on that evaluation, a different doctor of the same specialty must then testify that, under similar circumstances, they would have reached a timely diagnosis.

Causation

Once a duty of care and a breach of duty of care is established, the plaintiff must prove that the delayed diagnosis led to a further decline in health. For example, a patient with a delayed cancer diagnosis must show how the delay allowed the cancer to continue spreading.

Damages

Finally, the plaintiff must demonstrate how the consequences of the delayed diagnosis resulted in economic and non-economic damages. In James’ medical malpractice lawsuit, the severe cardiac event led to emergency surgery, post-op treatment, pain and suffering, and the loss of his job.

Expert Forensic Economist Provide Economic Damage Calculations and Expert Witness Testimony for Medical Malpractice Lawsuits

Whether you are the plaintiff or defendant in a delayed diagnosis medical malpractice lawsuit, The Knowles Group is here to help. We provide accurate economic damage calculations and access to a nationwide network of expert witnesses crucial during delayed diagnosis litigation.

If you’ve suffered a medical malpractice incident, or dental malpractice injury, such as a delayed cancer diagnosis, or require an expert forensic economist to strengthen your defense, have your experienced medical malpractice attorney contact us to schedule a complimentary case evaluation today.

Eric Knowles, MBA

The Knowles Group has been providing professional economic services to the legal community since 1979. The firm has worked on behalf of thousands of attorneys in a dozen states and Canada. Testimony has been provided in both federal and state venues.