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Stroke Misdiagnosis

On this page we will look at medical malpractice claims alleging that doctors or healthcare providers negligently failed to diagnose a stroke or negligently failing to diagnose TIAs as early warning signs of stroke.

What is a Stroke?

surgery malpracticestroke is the equivalent of a heart attack occurring in the brain. The brain requires a constant supply of oxygenated blood in order to maintain itself. A stroke is triggered when blood supply and circulation is suddenly shut off to a specific part of the brain. The destruction of cells from lack of oxygen during a stroke leaves a damaged area in the brain which renders the person unable to control certain functions such as muscle movement or speech. Each year almost 1 million people suffer a stroke in the United States making it a very common health occurrence. 

What are TIAs?

TIA stands for transient ischemic attack. A TIA is not actually a full-blown stroke. TIAs are more like temporary strokes which occur when the supply of blood to the brain is suddenly cut off for a brief time period. The symptoms of a TIA tend to mirror those of an actual stroke but that usually only last for less than 24 hours and then go away. TIAs are important because they are frequently an early pre-cursor to a full stroke. In fact, 50% of all strokes are preceded by TIAs within a 48 hour period.

Failure to Diagnose Strokes and TIAs

Doctors routinely fail to timely diagnose strokes and the early warnings sign of a stroke, such as TIAs. A recent Johns Hopkins study found that early warning signs of potentially dangerous strokes are discounted or overlooked by doctors in thousands of individual cases each year. Most cases of failure to diagnose strokes or TIAs occur when someone comes to the emergency room with complaints of headaches or dizziness. Many of these individuals have suffered a stroke or TIA but are sent home with a benign diagnosis like migraines, vertigo or no diagnosis at all. The Hopkins study estimates that somewhere between 50,000 to 100,000 of these misdiagnosed stroke cases occur in hospital ERs each year.

A large number of medical malpractice claims are based on failures to diagnose TIAs (often called "ministrokes") and other early warning signs of strokes. The reason for this is very simple. The symptoms of TIAs and other stroke pre-cursors are often very subtle and commonly associated with minor health issues. The vast majority of patients who come to the hospital with bad headaches are not suffering from a TIA, stroke or brain aneurysm. This causes doctors to overlook or discount these symptoms without performing testing to rule out any connection with TIA or stroke. No matter how seemingly benign a person's symptoms may be, doctors have a duty to rule out stroke or TIA. Checking vitals and sending someone home with Advil is not adequate medical care. Failure to perform sufficient testing to ensure symptoms are not associated with TIA or stroke can be grounds for medical malpractice.

Emergency room and primary care doctors are also quick to ignore the significance of stroke symptoms in women, minorities, and people under 45. Studies show that younger people are a whopping seven times more likely to be misdiagnosed and sent home.

Settlement Value of Malpractice Claims Involving Stroke

The potential settlement value of a medical malpractice case involving failure to diagnose a stroke or TIA varies depending on the severity of the stroke and the resulting impairment. The long-term impact of a stroke varies depending on how extensive the brain damage is and what specific area of the brain it occurs in. A minor stroke may only leave a very small area of damage and only cause temporary impairment of movements. By comparison, a bigger stroke may leave a sizeable segment of the brain damaged causing permanent paralysis in certain areas of the body. Only about 33% of people who suffer a stroke make a full recovery. The remaining 66% of stroke victims are left with some degree of permanent disability.

Verdicts and Settlements in Stroke Misdiagnosis Cases

Below are sample stroke misdiagnosis verdicts and settlements. If you are a lawyer or a victim who wants to understand better the settlement value of your stroke misdiagnosis claim, this is information you can use. But a word of caution: you cannot use these malpractice outcomes to figure out the exact or even the approximate value of your case. They are tools to be used in conjunction with other tools to help you better understand the likely settlement range of your case. But that is all it can do.

  • 2019, Washington: $13,953,885 Verdict: 17-year-old female plaintiff suffered embolic stroke during prolonged cardiac catheterization procedure, but doctors and hospital staff allegedly failed to timely diagnose the stroke despite indications in post-operative period. Plaintiff claimed that this negligent delay in diagnosing her stroke prevented her from getting effective stroke rescue therapies and she ultimately suffered brain injury leaving her with paralysis and limited verbal and cognitive function. Defendants denied liability and argued that plaintiff had a host of major congenital health problems that caused her injuries. Jurors awarded plaintiff over $13 million in damages.   
  • 2018, Indiana: $450,000 Settlement: Female plaintiff alleged that defendant doctors breach the standard of care when they failed to timely recognize that she had suffered an air embolism (stroke) during a medical procedure when doctors failed to prevent air from entering her heart. Defendants disputed liability but the case was eventually settled for $450k. 
  • 2017, Florida: $500,000 Verdict: Male patient died from an acute ischemic stroke and his estate sued defendant cardiologists alleging that they negligently failed to diagnose patient's atrial fibrillation, failed to perform an echocardiogram, and failed to diagnose and appropriately treat his parasthesia. Suit claimed that these failures eventually led to the fatal stroke which could have been diagnosed in advance. Defendant denied any breach of the standard of care, but a jury in Palm Beach awarded $500k to the patient's widow. 
  • 2015, Pennsylvania: $6,374,997 Verdict: A woman in her mid-60s experiences garbled speech, dizziness, and lightheadedness for around three days. She decides to go to her internist, who says that she is suffering from impacted earwax and treats her by rinsing out her ears. A few days later, the woman experiences stroke-like symptoms again and is diagnosed as having a “mini-stroke.” She is hospitalized and experiences paralysis on the left side of her body. She must undergo physical therapy and will require treatment for the rest of her life. Considering that the woman will now need assistance in all aspects of her lifestyle, she sues her internist for malpractice. She alleges that, had her internist recognized the symptoms of stroke, she would have been able to avoid the second mini-stroke. She further claims that this was a breach of the standard of care, to which the jury agreed.
  • 2015, Ohio: $10,928,188 Verdict: While 26 weeks pregnant, a woman experiences severe abdominal and head pain. She promptly calls her OB/GYN and speaks to an “on call” doctor who advises her that she has a gastrointestinal issue and that hospitalization is not required. The following day, she suffers a stroke, which impairs her speaking, cognitive, and visual abilities. After the stroke, the woman suffered paralysis on her right side with little hope that she would retain feeling. Her injuries prompt her to sue the on-call doctor, claiming that she failed to monitor the patient’s condition and committed malpractice by telling her not to go to the hospital. At trial, the defendant suggests that the woman was not at risk of stroke, so such a result was unforeseeable. Regardless, the jury awards the woman $10,928,188.
  • 2015, Massachusetts: $2,000,000 Settlement: After presenting to the emergency room with shortness of breath, doctors direct a woman to undergo and x-ray. During the x-ray, she falls on the floor with complete loss of feeling in her left extremities. A CT scan is conducted which shows not internal bleeding, prompting physicians to diagnose her as having a seizure. A later scan reveals that she has symptoms of stroke. But the window had passes for the doctors to administer medicine to reduce the effects. The woman suffers from loss of mobility and diminished brain function. She sues and alleges that the doctors’ actions constituted a violation of the standard of care.
  • 2014, Illinois: $2,700,000 Settlement: While looking for oncoming traffic, the patient injures her neck. She presents for a CT scan of her brain and neck. The radiologist fails to recognize that the plaintiff suffered a bilateral vertebral arterial dissection, which is indicative stroke. She receives no further treatment and suffers a subsequent stroke. This results in paralysis of the right arm and several cognitive issues. The woman sues the radiologist, who claims that the dissection was minor and could have been easily missed. Additionally, they claim that there is no proof that treatment would have prevented the second stroke. The parties eventually reach a settlement before trial.
  • 2014, Illinois: $10,000,000 Settlement: Over the course of three days, a diabetic man presented to the emergency room with various symptoms of a stroke. Throughout the course of his ER visits, CT scans reveal calcifications of different arteries, none of which were noted in the man’s file. On the third trip to the ER, doctors are still tentative to diagnose the man with a stroke. However, his condition begins to deteriorate. He loses feeling on the right side of his body and requires intubation. When complications arise, the man eventually becomes a quadriplegic. He sues the treating physicians, alleging that they failed to diagnose the symptoms of the stroke. Accordingly, the harm could have been largely avoided. Although the doctors contend that there was no deviation from the standard of care, the parties reach a settlement of $10,000,000.
  • 2014, Illinois: $2,700,000 Settlement: While looking for oncoming traffic, the patient injures her neck. She presents for a CT scan of her brain and neck. The radiologist fails to recognize that the plaintiff suffered a bilateral vertebral arterial dissection, which is indicative stroke. She receives no further treatment and suffers a subsequent stroke. This results in paralysis of the right arm and several cognitive issues. The woman sues the radiologist, who claims that the dissection was minor and could have been easily missed. Additionally, they claim that there is no proof that treatment would have prevented the second stroke. The parties eventually reach a settlement before trial.
  • 2011, Maryland: $1,123,000 Verdict: Failure to diagnose impending stroke.
Stroke Misdiagnosis FAQs
Can a Stroke Be Misdiagnosed?

Yes. Thousands of strokes get misdiagnosed every year. The symptoms of a stroke are often misinterpreted and misdiagnosed as another more common condition without further diagnostic testing. Research has shown that his type of stoke misdiagnosis is much more likely in women and in younger patients.

How is a Stroke Diagnosed?

A stroke can be definitively diagnosed with diagnostic imaging tools including a CT Scan or MRI of the patient’s head. Additional testing used to rule out other conditions and confirm the diagnosis of a stroke include blood testing, EKG, carotid ultrasound, and cerebral angiography.

Do Strokes Always Show Up on CT Scans?

No. Even when a patient is actually having a stroke it may not always be visible on a CT scan. The stroke region may be too small to be seen on the CT scan or the abnormality caused by the stroke may not yet be present. Also, strokes in certain areas of the brain cannot be seen well on CT scans. An MRI is a more accurate method of diagnosing a stroke.

How Often are Strokes Misdiagnosed?

Strokes are the 4th most commonly misdiagnosed medical condition today according to recent healthcare studies. Approximately 10% of all strokes get misdiagnosed, primarily in hospital settings.

Most Common Stroke Malpractice Cases

One leitmotif in stroke malpractice cases involves the administration of tPA, a tissue plasminogen activator that breaks through blood clots. If a patient has all of the signs and symptoms of stroke, tPA can often prevent or limit serious injury. The big risk is a brain bleed. If the doctor blows it - and this often happens - that is one of the less complex medical mistake cases to prove.

Our lawyers also see neonatal stroke cases which is a fetal stroke during labor and delivery. Often the lawsuits in these cases contend that the fetal heart monitoring strips show that a stroke or other adverse event is coming and the obstetrician failed to perform a C-section or take other action to protect the fetus.

Maryland Stroke Misdiagnosis Lawyers

If you or someone you love has suffered as the result of a stroke that you believe was improperly managed, find out about your options. We offer a free consultation to all victims. Call 800-553-8082 or click or get a no-obligation online consultation.

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