$278,000 for a Wrong Medical Diagnosis 

Understanding the Law

Many people are afraid of getting a wrong medical diagnosis. Sixteen years ago, a Montrealer received $278,000 for getting wrongly diagnosed with terminal cancer.

In 2008, a 41-year-old Montrealer was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumour. According to her medical team, she only had a few months left to live.  

The patient underwent chemotherapy to ease her pain, but the treatment came with its fair share of consequences. After four months of treatment, new tests confirmed that her lesions weren’t cancerous tumors, but rather treatable brain aneurysms. She decided to sue three of the doctors for misdiagnosing her.   

Taking legal action 

The patient and her family filed a lawsuit before the Superior Court of Quebec. They asked for $2.5 million in compensation for the misdiagnosis and the useless treatments, which left her with serious after-effects. 

A person can take legal action against a doctor only if the doctor failed to meet their obligations and committed a medical fault that caused harm. The person has three years after the doctor’s mistake to file the lawsuit.  

In this kind of lawsuit, a person can only ask to be compensated for harm they personally suffered as a direct result of the doctor’s fault. They can also be compensated for pain and suffering they experienced as a result of this fault.   

Legal action against a medical team can therefore be taken by the person who was harmed, but also by their relatives if they suffered harm as a result of the fault.  

This was the case here: the patient’s husband asked for compensation due to the stress, anxiety, frustration and feeling of injustice he experienced after the misdiagnosis and inadequate treatment. The couple’s children also claimed compensation for the disruption this whole saga brought to their family life.   

What are a doctor’s obligations? 

Medicine is not an exact science. This means that doctors aren’t automatically held responsible for a misdiagnosis or a futile surgery. A court must assess whether the medical team complied with accepted rules and standards. As a result, not all medical errors will give rise to responsibility.  

Doctors have a number of obligations, including the obligation to take all possible and reasonable means to make the right diagnosis. They don’t, however, have to guarantee its accuracy. A court will assess the doctor’s professional conduct by examining their behaviour given the circumstances of each situation. A court will also evaluate the medical team’s prudence, diligence and competence based on the facts of each case.   

In the specific case of the Montreal patient, the Superior Court of Quebec found that all three doctors had failed to meet their obligations and had committed faults that contributed to the harm the patient suffered. The doctor who had given the hasty final diagnosis was held 50% responsible. The other two were respectively held 40% and 10% responsible. The court determined that they had failed to take the time to verify the diagnosis and confirm its accuracy.  

Ultimately, the court ordered that the doctors pay $228,000 to the patient. Her husband received $30,000 and their two children got $10,000 each. In total, the doctors had to pay $278,000 for the misdiagnosis.