Can I sue a doctor for non-treatment?


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Question:

I went to the emergency room complaining of severe pain in my lower right abdomen.  After waiting for hours, I was finally seen by a doctor who examined me for about two minutes and claimed that he couldn’t find anything wrong with me. Just a few days later, my appendix burst and I had to undergo emergency surgery for appendicitis. Can I hold the doctor liable for not providing treatment?

Answer:

Non-treatment, or failure to treat a patient, can give rise to a valid medical malpractice case. Just as something your doctor does can amount to medical negligence -- making a surgical error that results in nerve damage, diagnosing the wrong condition while the actual problem is made worse, and so on --something your doctor fails to do can also give rise to liability.

So, if your doctor fails to provide you with an examination, fails to admit you to inpatient care, or neglects to treat you to an extent that rises to the level of patient abandonment, those kinds of decisions can amount to medical malpractice.  

The key in all of these situations is 1) whether or not your doctor treated you in line with the appropriate medical standard of care under the circumstances, and 2) whether or not you suffered actual harm as a result of the delay in treatment or the failure to treat.  

Another way of putting this is, just because you weren’t treated right away, or were sent home when you shouldn’t have been, that doesn’t mean your doctor committed medical negligence.

You will need to establish what a similarly skilled and competent doctor would have done (or not done) during the course of your medical care, and how your doctor failed to provide treatment that was up to that standard. Next, you will need to show measurable harm -- that your doctor’s non-treatment made additional medical care necessary, prolonged your recovery, caused you to miss work, etc.

You can’t always prove these things alone, and nor can your attorney (usually). That’s why most medical malpractice cases hinge on the hiring and testimony of the right expert medical witness.  In fact, many states require the participation of an expert in medical malpractice cases, unless fault is obvious.

by: , J.D.

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