Clinical laboratories are important for helping physicians diagnose patients and manage treatments, but when something goes wrong it can lead to very dire consequences. A mixed up lab sample, a delayed test, or a misinterpreted lab test, among many other possible errors, can cause a patient to be misdiagnosed, to get the wrong treatment, or to become sick or sicker.

Not all errors made in labs are considered negligent, but in many cases the mistakes can be proven to be a breach in care and preventable. If you were the victim of a laboratory error, you may want to make a case for malpractice. The burden of proof is on you and your legal team, so be sure that you rely on the expertise of a knowledgeable medical malpractice lawyer.

What is Laboratory Malpractice?

Laboratory malpractice in a medical malpractice case is an instance in which a mistake made in a clinical laboratory that leads to significant harm to a patient. Also known as a medical laboratory, this is a setting in which tests are done on patient samples to help aid in making a diagnosis, managing an illness, assessing the progress of treatment, or prevention of disease.

Clinical labs are staffed by medical doctors, assistants, phlebotomists, and technicians who take samples, run the tests and analyze the results. They send reports to physicians and other medical professionals. Malpractice in a lab usually occurs in the lab or in the report sent to a physician. However, a doctor may be held liable for laboratory malpractice if he or she fails to order the correct test for a patient.

Types of Laboratory Errors

Errors that occur in a clinical laboratory may include many things. Not all of these mistakes are always considered malpractice. Whether or not an error is negligent depends on several factors. The burden of proving that an error is negligent or malpractice falls on the plaintiff in a case, the patient who is affected by the error. Some examples of mistakes that can happen in the lab and that may prove to be negligence include:

  • Taking samples incorrectly from the patient.
  • Receiving, labeling, or handling the samples incorrectly.
  • Mixing up one sample with another.
  • Failing to perform the correct test, or performing another one instead.
  • Misinterpreting the laboratory test results.
  • Contaminating a sample.
  • Not conducting an imaging scan, such as CT or MRI, correctly.
  • Sending a sample or report to the wrong location or physician.
  • Getting patient information wrong.
  • Losing samples.
  • Delayed processing of a sample.
  • Making an incorrect report.

These are just some of the examples of mistakes that can be made in a clinical laboratory. On the physician’s end, mistakes may include sending the sample to the wrong lab, mislabeling it, ordering the wrong test, or delaying the ordering of a test.

When Lab Errors Constitute Negligence

To prove negligence in any case of medical malpractice, it is essential to prove four factors: that the patient and the medical professional had a medical relationship and that there was a duty to provide a certain standard of care; that the standard of care was breached by the medical professional; that the breach caused harm to the patient; and finally that the harm resulted in significant damages that may include health problems, pain and suffering, medical expenses, and others.

Proving negligence in the case of an error that occurs in the lab is often straightforward. Some mistakes are easy to track, such as switching samples or sending samples to the wrong location. Others are more difficult to prove, like when a patient believes a doctor should have ordered another test or a different test, or if a test was delayed. Anyone who makes a mistake in a laboratory malpractice case could be negligent, including a physician or a lab tech, or in some cases the company that owns the lab.

Consequences of Laboratory Errors

There can be very serious and devastating consequences for patients when something goes wrong with lab tests. Laboratory mistakes, for instance, can lead to delayed diagnosis, failure to diagnose, or a misdiagnosis. These in turn can cause a patient to be delayed treatment and to become even sicker, even getting to the point where an illness becomes untreatable and fatal.

Depending on the patient, the medical conditions, the lab error, and the way the error is handled or corrected, there can be many potential consequences: continued illness, new illnesses, unnecessary surgery, worse symptoms, new symptoms, pain, mental suffering, disability or injury that is temporary or permanent, additional treatments, inability to work, and even death.

Examples of Laboratory Malpractice

Examples of malpractice cases involving laboratories show how serious the errors made in lab settings can be. In one case, a woman won a $70 million award in a jury trial after her child was diagnosed with phenylketonuria (PKU) at age six, a diagnosis that should have been made sooner. The state-mandated test should have been done with a sample collected close to the discharge time. Instead, the hospital took the sample only four hours after the baby was born. The PKU was not caught with this sample. The mother successfully sued for what was a lab-related mistake.

Another case of a laboratory mistake that affected a child is currently being decided by the South Carolina Supreme Court. A mother received genetic test results from a laboratory for her young son who was suffering from seizures. It was later found that there were errors in the test that misclassified a gene mutation. The mistake led to ongoing treatment that caused his seizures to worsen. The Supreme Court is currently deciding whether or not a genetic testing lab is considered a licensed healthcare provider. If so, the lab could be found negligent in the death of the young boy.

Laboratory malpractice isn’t always easy to prove, but sometimes the mistakes are so egregious that the victims are able to prove negligence and get compensation. If you believe that you have suffered from a lab error, let a medical malpractice lawyer make your case for you.