Regular readers of this site will know that getting a diagnosis of Lyme disease can be pretty tricky and often a rather drawn out affair. Even after being diagnosed there may be arguments with insurance companies over coverage. Some physicians have been banned from practising medicine because of their unorthodox approach to treating Lyme disease, and yet the US Centers for Disease Control has massively increased its estimate of the number of cases of Lyme disease from just 30,000 a year to some 300,000 a year.
This might mean that you’re not too surprised to hear that medical malpractice suits are on the rise for Lyme disease patients. Be it misdiagnosis, negligence in treating the disease in a timely manner, or touting untested and dangerous ‘cures’ for Lyme disease that have resulted in injury or even fatalities, medical malpractice lawyers might want to read up on this tricky infection in the coming years.
The Confusion of Lyme Disease
Lyme disease cases are liable to be very complicated indeed as the symptoms of the illness can overlap with other conditions and may have been ongoing for many years prior to diagnosis and treatment. As such, lawyers may need to take into account loss of earnings and educational opportunities, the impact on family, and even the possibility of Lyme disease being used a criminal defence due to impairment of cognitive capacity.
In the simplest of cases patients may have been tested for Lyme disease but have not had positive results reported to them or treatment commenced after such results. Most cases are going to be a lot more complex however, with physicians failing to treat patients even after a positive diagnosis because of persistent beliefs that Lyme disease is rare or non-existent in certain areas of the US. Others may be confounded by co-infections with Lyme disease, or failure to recognise the erythema migrans Lyme disease rash if it is atypical.
Lyme Disease Malpractice Suits
One legal firm representing clients in medical malpractice suits recently reached a $1 million settlement for the family of a man who died after Lyme carditis symptoms were not correctly diagnosed in the emergency room. In an earlier case, back in 1999, a jury awarded $3.2 million (later reduced to $1.7 million due to a legal cap) in favor of a 14 year old boy misdiagnosed in 1996. The Maryland case was brought after the boy presented several times to a family practice with symptoms of Lyme disease but was never offered a blood test for the infection. He was finally diagnosed through a blood test after collapsing with seizures in an emergency department.
The delay in diagnosis was blamed for the boy being unable to complete the ninth grade, with documented drops in his IQ from 115 to just 86 and 103. The family practice was deemed responsible for the patient’s injuries and losses and breached the standard of care.
Can You Sue for Medical Malpractice?
In order to prove medical malpractice you must prove a failure to conform to accepted practice, such as CDC guidelines for Lyme disease diagnosis and treatment. It doesn’t usually matter if your doctor made a bad judgement call unless they failed to adhere to accepted practice. You’ll need to get hold of copies of all of your medical records and have another physician review them to see if you have a legitimate case. That physician, or another, will need to be willing to testify that accepted practice was not followed in your case, resulting in the late diagnosis of Lyme disease and harm or losses incurred.
Unfortunately, there is a statute of limitations in place that can vary between states and that may mean that it is too late for many to file a claim of medical malpractice. Some states allow for a medical suit to be brought for up to six months after the discovery of malpractice, which could equate to a diagnosis of Lyme disease after years of not being offered tests by your family practice.
A Dramatic Uptick in Lyme Diagnoses and Malpractice Suits
Now that Lyme disease is being considered as a possible sexually transmitted disease there may even be legal battles on the way about deliberate transmission of the infection to sexual partners, just as there have been with HIV and other STIs. As more and more people become aware of Lyme disease as a possible explanation for their vast and confusing array of symptoms, we might expect thousands of late-stage Lyme disease diagnoses and resulting medical malpractice claims in the coming months and years.