Oncologists are doctors who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. Most focus on one subtype of cancer such as pediatric oncology or gynecological oncology. Like other types of healthcare providers, oncologists can be sued for malpractice if they fail to follow the accepted standards for patient care.
Elements of a Successful Malpractice Case
If you believe your oncologist is guilty of malpractice, you must prove four separate elements to win your case:
- Duty. This is established simply by proving you had a doctor-patient relationship with the oncologist you are accusing of malpractice.
- Breach of Duty. When a doctor fails to abide by the appropriate standard of medical care, he is considered negligent. Determining the appropriate standard of care for your type of cancer will likely require testimony from several medical experts who can provide specific examples of mistakes your oncologist made.
- Causation. To win a malpractice claim, you must prove that your oncologist's breach of duty caused you harm. This might include requiring additional procedures to correct the mistake or limiting your future treatment options due to a delay in diagnosis.
- Damages. The term damages is used to refer to harm you’ve suffered as the result of the oncologist’s conduct. This can be physical pain, psychological trauma, or added medical costs.
A Bad Outcome Isn’t Necessarily Malpractice
Cancer treatment requires evaluating many different variables, and patients don’t always respond as desired. Even if you’ve received a poor prognosis, this doesn’t necessarily mean your oncologist is guilty of malpractice.
Malpractice requires specific deviations from the accepted standard of care for cancer treatment. Examples of errors that could form the basis of a malpractice claim include:
- Failing to diagnose cancer
- Misdiagnosing cancer as another less serious condition
- Mistaking a benign tumor for a malignant tumor
- Prescribing or administering the wrong medication
- Failing to monitor the success of a treatment with the appropriate lab results
- Misinterpreting the results of diagnostic tests such as a CT or PET scan
- Failing to perform comprehensive cancer surgery or obtaining clean margins during surgery
- Neglecting to make arrangements for appropriate follow-up care
- Failing to obtain informed consent for treatment
Proving Causation Depends on Your Type of Cancer
To win a malpractice claim, you must be able to establish that the oncologist’s conduct caused you to suffer harm. An error that is quickly corrected or doesn't affect your overall prognosis doesn't rise to the legal standard for malpractice.
However, some types of cancer are much more treatable than others. For example, pancreatic, liver, lung, and esophageal cancer all have fairly high mortality rates. Many patients who receive the best possible medical care may still not survive. In these cases, an oncologist's liability for a delay in diagnosis or mistreatment is substantially less that it would be for a patient diagnosed with a more treatable type of cancer.
For highly treatable types of cancer such as prostate, thyroid, or skin cancer, liability may depend on how advanced the cancer is. An error that occurs before a tumor has had a chance to grow or spread to other organs is less likely to affect the overall prognosis than one occurring when treatment options are more limited.
Protecting Your Legal Rights
In most cases, Louisiana law requires a malpractice claim to be filed within one year of the action forming the basis of the suit. If the error isn't discovered immediately, the deadline is extended to three years after the action that constitutes the malpractice claim. If a malpractice claim involves a child diagnosed with cancer, a parent or legal guardian must file the claim on his behalf. When a cancer patient has passed away, it's possible for a spouse, adult child, or parent to file a wrongful death malpractice claim.
The legal team at Neblett, Beard & Arsenault is dedicated to helping Louisiana residents who've suffered harm due to oncology malpractice receive the compensation they deserve. Contact us online or call 318.588.6303 to schedule a free, no-obligation case review.