$4 million award in failure to diagnose heart attack

The failure to diagnose something that is right in front of the physician is a particularly frustrating experience for both patients and doctors. Of course, there are valid reasons why something might not be recognized – the failure to diagnose is not always proof of medical malpractice in Maryland or elsewhere. But in those instances where the medical providers do not do what they are reasonably expected to do under the circumstances, it is negligence.

And if the failure to diagnose results in the injuries or death, then there is liability on the responsible medical providers. To establish causation between the negligence and the injuries, the plaintiff must prove that the negligence was a substantial factor in causing the injury. All of the evidence must be proved by a preponderance of the evidence, which is usually considered not a particularly high standard to meet.

In a recent case taken to trial in Alabama, a jury awarded $4 million to the wife of a man who went into the emergency room of a hospital complaining of chest pain. He expressed other symptoms of a heart and coronary problem, which a nurse even notated. However, the doctor in the ER misdiagnosed a stomach illness and sent the patient home.

The patient died, within two days, from a massive heart attack. The plaintiff’s attorney stated after the verdict that he hopes that ER doctors will learn some lessons from the verdict. He expressed hope that they would take the tests that they need to take before sending people home with no real assurance of having made a proper diagnosis.

Plaintiff argued that the defendant doctor had a duty of care requiring him to consider a coronary event and to take steps to rule it out. That is generally the recognized protocol in Maryland and elsewhere when chest pain and other symptoms are revealed. To guard against the failure to diagnose, it may be that hospitals must help doctors who are overworked in the ER. This may include more doctors and other personnel, better diagnostic devices and machines, and reasonable working conditions where competent medicine can be practiced and administered to the patients.

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