Medical Malpractice Misdiagnosis

Female patient in a hospital bed holdong her face.


Although not every case of misdiagnosis in Georgia leads to injury or a medical malpractice lawsuit, the impact of serious injuries resulting from misdiagnosis is significant. In 2023, joint researchers from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and Harvard Medical School  determined that annual misdiagnoses in the United States resulting in serious injury ranged from 598,000 to 1,023,000 patients.  Newman-Toker DE, Nassery N, Schaffer AC, et al Burden of serious harms from diagnostic error in the USA BMJ Quality & Safety 2024;33:109-120. The study defined “serious” as any case involving permanent injury (morbidity) or death (mortality). 

Additionally, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) published a consensus report which emphasized the urgent need for change to address diagnostic errors, which pose a major challenge to healthcare quality. The Committee defined a misdiagnosis as “the failure to

  • (a) establish an accurate and timely explanation of the patient’s health problem(s) or
  • (b) communicate that explanation to the patient.”

NASEM, 2015, Improving Diagnosis in Health Care. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.  


When injured patients and their attorneys are considering whether to file a medical malpractice lawsuit based on a misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis, several critical questions come into play:

  1. Accuracy and Timeliness of Diagnosis:
  • Was the initial diagnosis accurate and timely? A misdiagnosis occurs when a healthcare provider fails to establish an accurate and timely explanation of the patient’s health problem.
  • Evaluating the accuracy and timing of the diagnosis is crucial in determining whether there was negligence or error.
  1. Harm Caused by Misdiagnosis:
  • Did the misdiagnosis result in serious harm that could have been avoided? Patients must demonstrate that the harm they suffered directly resulted from the misdiagnosis.
  • This harm can include permanent injury (morbidity) or even death (mortality).
  1. Expert Testimony and Support:
  • Can all aspects of the case be supported with testimony from medical experts? Expert opinions play a significant role in medical malpractice lawsuits.
  • Expert witnesses can provide insights into whether the misdiagnosis fell below the standard of care and caused harm.
  1. Justification for Legal Action
  • Are the injuries severe enough to warrant pursuing a medical malpractice lawsuit? Legal proceedings can be expensive and time-consuming, especially when they involve medical malpractice.
  • Weighing the severity of injuries against the costs involved is essential when deciding whether to proceed with legal action.


Imagine these scenarios: A pregnant woman is told everything is normal at a prenatal appointment, but she is showing signs of premature labor.  A brain infection is thought to be cancer, subjecting the patient to dangerous radiation therapy that makes the infection worse and causes brain damage.  Critical imaging showing internal bleeding is not communicated in a timely manner, resulting in the patient’s death.  These are all examples of medical misdiagnoses cases that resulted in tragic outcomes and, eventually, medical malpractice lawsuits filed by Williams Elleby Howard & Easter.

When a misdiagnosis results from negligence, Georgia laws provide a remedy for the victim. Like most states, Georgia requires every licensed treater to exercise “reasonable care and skill” when treating a patient.  Ga. Code § 51-1-27.  In limited circumstances involving patients admitted through an Emergency Department (“ED” or “ER”), a treater is immune from malpractice claims unless the treater is guilty of “gross negligence,” which is a failure to exercise even slight care.  Ga. Code § 51-1-29.5 .

The duty to exercise care when treating patients applies to anyone providing treatment for compensation including medical doctors, nurse practitioners, physicians’ assistants, laboratories, chiropractors, and physical therapists.  In the case of a failure to communicate a condition to a patient, there can also be claims against staff at hospitals, doctor’s offices, and laboratories.


Even if a negligent misdiagnosis occurred, Georgia law also requires a patient to prove that the misdiagnosis “caused or contributed to cause … harm.  In the legal world, we refer to this concept as “proximate causation.” To meet this burden, a medical malpractice plaintiff must present expert testimony.” Harvard v. John D. Archbold Mem’l Hosp., Inc., 365 Ga. App. 171, 174, 877 S.E.2d 816, 819 (2022).   For instance, in 2022, the Court of Appeals of the State of Georgia reviewed a case involving a stroke victim who did not get timely treatment due to delayed lab work and CT scan results.  However, the patient’s expert witness could not testify that the delay made a difference “to a reasonable degree of medical certainty,” or more likely than not.   So, the Court held that the case could not proceed to trial.  Harvard, 365 Ga. App. at 176.  

Moreover, injured patients and their attorneys must assess the economic viability of filing a medical malpractice lawsuit. At its core, the question is whether the damages resulting from malpractice outweigh the substantial financial costs associated with legal proceedings. Most medical malpractice lawsuits require more than $100,000.00 in expenses to pursue. These expenses encompass things like expert witness fees, filing fees, record retrieval fees, medical illustration and animation fees, deposition fees, and more. Additionally, the patient’s attorney invests countless hours in the case. Therefore, evaluating whether the case justifies the financial and time commitments becomes crucial for both the patient and their legal representative.


In misdiagnosis cases, understanding the time frame for filing a lawsuit is crucial.  In Georgia, nearly all medical malpractice cases adhere to a 2-year statute of limitations, requiring patients to file a lawsuit within 2 years from the date of negligence.  Ga. Code § 9-3-71. The Supreme Court of Georgia emphasizes that, “except in the most extreme circumstances,” the statute of limitations begins to run “immediately upon the misdiagnosis.”  However, there’s an exception: if the misdiagnosis results in a “new injury” such as a pre-cancerous mole progressing to metastatic cancer.  Amu v. Barnes, 283 Ga. 549, 551, 662 S.E.2d 113, 116 (2008). Since a patient might not know about the misdiagnosis initially, the clock could start ticking before they realize the need to investigate potential malpractice.  Like any malpractice case, seeking advice from a qualified attorney promptly is advisable.


Medical malpractice cases can be complex and difficult to prove. This is especially true when it comes to misdiagnosis cases. Even though these claims can be difficult to win, victims of harm should still understand their legal rights and options.

The experienced medical malpractice attorneys at Williams Elleby Howard & Easter, handle misdiagnosis medical malpractice cases throughout the State of Georgia. If you would like to discuss your case, call today to schedule a free consultation at 833-534-2542.

If you or a loved one has been harmed because a doctor failed to properly diagnose an illness, Williams Elleby Howard & Easter, can help you understand your misdiagnosis claim and work to get you the compensation you deserve.