Can a Radiologist be Sued for Negligence that Resulted in Death?


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Radiology is a field of medicine that’s rife with errors because it’s an inexact science that relies almost exclusively on skill and experience. While we can’t expect radiologists to be perfect, they must still be held accountable when they make a serious error that results in irreversible harm to a patient.

What Does A Radiologist Do?

Radiologists are physicians who specialize in the reading and interpretation of medical imaging scans. This includes tests such as X-rays, ultrasounds, MRIs, CTs, and PET scans. Treating physicians use the information provided in a radiologist’s report to help make their diagnosis and formulate a treatment plan. While much credence is placed on medical imaging reports, radiology is not a perfect science. A radiologist relies on their extensive knowledge, skill, experience, and intuition to detect any abnormalities in the scans and tests they evaluate. Because of this, it’s not uncommon for two radiologists to look at the same scan and come to different conclusions. The typical radiologist easily sees most “obvious” abnormalities, but more subtle differences or minor abnormalities can often slip through the cracks.

Can Radiology Negligence Result In Death?

While a radiologist must be knowledgeable, skilled, and highly experienced to properly read a radiological scan, it can be argued that effective communication is their most important role. It’s imperative that a radiologist’s report describes any abnormal findings, as well as describing any pertinent negatives, to assure the ordering physician that other possible sources of pathology have been excluded. When a radiologist fails in this responsibility, either by overlooking an abnormal finding or failing to communicate with the treating physician effectively, the result can be catastrophic.

For example, if a physician has a patient with a persistent cough and wants to rule out pneumonia, they might order a chest CT scan. When the radiologist examines the CT images and sees no sign of pneumonia, their final report would indicate “negative for pneumonia.” But what if there’s a small mass of abnormal tissue, and the radiologist didn’t notice it? What if they noticed it but didn’t think it was important? Or they may have seen it but buried it in the minutia of their report rather than drawing the physician’s attention to a potential problem. When the patient returns a year later and that “small mass” has matured into stage 4 lung cancer, it becomes clear that a seemingly small error or breakdown in communication can have serious consequences, including death.

The critical question in any potential negligence case would be whether another reasonably competent and skilled radiologist would have noticed the presence of an anomaly that was missed, or would have communicated with the ordering provider and the patient more effectively.

Is Negligence Common In Radiology?

Radiologists have a difficult job, and missing a small abnormality in a scan does not necessarily indicate negligence. Doctors are only human, interpretations of radiology pictures can be subjective, and there will always be variations between patients that are not pathological. But, far too often, radiologists miss evidence of disease that another ordinary, competent radiologist would have caught.

Nationwide, just over a third of all practicing radiologists will be sued for malpractice at least once over their careers. There are three main root causes for a negligence claim to be filed against a radiologist:

  • Perception - the radiologist did not see anything abnormal
  • Knowledge - the radiologist saw an abnormality but did not understand its significance
  • Communication - the radiologist saw and understood the abnormal result but failed to effectively convey the results to the treating physician

A recent study found that communication errors played a factor in as many as 80 percent of radiology malpractice cases.

One of the most troubling statistics has to do with mammograms. Women have this scan performed to detect breast cancer while still in its early stages. It’s known that earlier detection saves lives, but tumors aren’t always detected as early as they could have been. At least one study has found that in around 75 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer, the tumor could actually be seen in prior mammograms but was not noticed by the radiologist at the time. While it’s true that hindsight is 20/20 (it’s easy to see something, however minuscule, when you know where to look), it’s important for radiologists to carefully examine every image as if someone’s life is on the line. 

What Should I Do When I Think My Loved One Died As A Result Of A Radiologist’s Negligence?

Like all medical malpractice cases, those involving radiology errors are highly complex. There are many ways for a negligent radiologist to avoid taking responsibility, so it’s imperative to find a good legal team to help find the truth and hold guilty parties accountable.

Suppose your loved one has died as a result of a radiologist’s error. In that case, your family deserves to be compensated for damages such as medical expenses, pain and suffering, and loss of companionship.

Why Choose Ross Feller Casey?

In Pennsylvania, you only have two years to file a claim for medical negligence. Because of this relatively brief deadline and the complexities of most negligence cases, it’s important to find a highly qualified legal team as early as possible. Your family deserves justice for your loved one, as well as any appropriate compensation, and finding the right law firm to fight on your behalf can make all the difference.

Our attorneys work diligently to uncover all the relevant facts and our elite team of on-staff Ivy League trained doctors always assists in medical malpractice and negligence cases from their very inception. We are uniquely qualified to litigate even the most intricate medical malpractice lawsuits and have recovered over $1 billion for our clients in the past five years alone. Contact us today for your free consultation, and rest assured that we only work on a contingency basis, so there is no charge to you until we win your case.

Disclaimer: Ross Feller Casey, LLP provides legal advice only after an attorney-client relationship is formed. Our website is an introduction to the firm and does not create a relationship between our attorneys and clients. An attorney-client relationship is formed only after a written agreement is signed by the client and the firm. Because every case is unique, the description of awards and summary of cases successfully handled are not intended to imply or guarantee that same success in other cases. Ross Feller Casey, LLP represents catastrophically injured persons and their families in injury and wrongful death cases, providing legal representation in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.