A Fatal Mistake: Misdiagnosis

Nov 18, 2013

A surprisingly common theme in medical malpractice litigation, accounting for up to one in five cases, is misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis that can make a significant difference, according to a journal study published last year. The Tampa Bay Times recounts a case that illustrates it -- that of Daniel Witt, a 34-year-old Hillsborough deputy who died of sarcoma after being treated for a year for the wrong type of cancer.

In all, three hospitals misdiagnosed his sarcoma, including Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa,  according to a suit filed by Witt's widow. The correct diagnosis came to light when the Witts sought a last-ditch treatment for end-stage melanoma at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Texas, and doctors there discovered Witt wasn't a candidate because he actually had sarcoma. 

In retrospect, it's easy to see how that mistake could occur, since Witt had survived treatment for melanoma when he was younger. And pathologists say the biopsy results can sometimes be difficult to read.  The Times lists several suggestions for patients after they receive a diagnosis.