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One in three of the medical malpractice cases in West Virginia and around the country that involve patients who either died or were left permanently disabled are caused by delayed diagnosis or a misdiagnosis. That was the conclusion reached by researchers from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine after studying 55,000 malpractice cases. The results of the study were released online by the medical journal Diagnosis on July 11.

The researchers estimate that about 12 million Americans fall victim to diagnostic errors every year and between 40,000 and 80,000 of them die as a result. The lawsuits filed by these patients and their dependent family members have cost the health care system and its insurers approximately $1.8 billion over the last 10 years. Almost three-quarters of the most serious of these cases involved the misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis of cancers, vascular conditions or infections.

The study reveals that most of these medical mistakes take place in ambulatory settings such as emergency rooms and outpatient clinics. The researchers behind the study say that efforts to address the problem should be system-wide and focus on interventions in the settings where the most errors are made. In more than 85% percent of the medical malpractice cases studied, errors in clinical judgment were found to be the cause of the misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis.

One of the biggest challenges facing medical malpractice plaintiffs who were the victims of a missed or delayed diagnosis is proving that the doctor's error was the direct cause of their injury, loss or damage. This is because doctors could argue that they were already sick and a timely diagnosis may not have made much of a difference. To overcome this legal hurdle, personal injury attorneys with experience in this area may call on medical experts to establish that timely treatment could have played a crucial role. Attorneys might also cite research that highlights the importance of an early diagnosis.

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