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The impact of radiology reporting errors

Oct 28th, 2019

Andrew Cragg, Partner

The vast majority of x-rays and scans which are undertaken on a daily basis will be reported correctly. Sadly, there are exceptions to this and when x-rays or scans are reported incorrectly the consequences can understandably be devastating for those involved. A delay in reporting can sadly lead to a delay in a condition being diagnosed, which in the case of life-threatening conditions, may affect treatment options and result in worsening symptoms. The effects of such a mistake can truly have life-changing effects on the person whose radiology was interpreted incorrectly and their family members. 

What is a radiology error?

I have acted for claimants on many occasions when findings on x-rays and scans have not been identified when they should have been. In this situation, a claimant needs to prove that the failure to report the x-ray or scan amounts to a ‘breach of duty’, in that no other reasonable radiologist would have failed to report that scan or x-ray correctly. If this can be shown, then a claimant will also need to prove that they have suffered from loss and damage as a consequence of the radiologist’s errors.

Late diagnosis of conditions can have a huge impact 

I recently acted for a claimant whose wife had cause to complain after being informed that an x-ray had not been reported correctly, which would have resulted in a diagnosis of lung cancer. By the time we were instructed, the person whose scan this involved, had, sadly, passed away, and it was her husband who was bringing this claim.

The circumstances of the claim were that in March 2010, the claimant’s wife was seen in the A & E Department of her local Hospital, having experienced symptoms of chest pain upon returning from holiday. A chest x-ray was taken and she was advised that it was clear, but that she had probably pulled a muscle causing the pain. She was discharged from the hospital having also undergone an ECG which was also clear.

The pain persisted and she continued with her day-to-day life. Unfortunately, she started to develop a persistent cough in April 2011, which came and went. She went to her GP on a number of occasions.

In early 2012, she suffered from some gastrointestinal symptoms and had also lost some weight. She had also complained of a sensation of food sticking in her throat. Her GP referred her to the Hospital under a 2-week gastrointestinal referral. An upper GI endoscopy was performed which was reported as being negative.

Further investigations were then undertaken which resulted in a review of the x-ray which had been taken on 13 March 2010. As a consequence, it was determined that this earlier scan had in fact shown an oval mass in the right lung.

Whilst she had passed away in February 2013, her husband then instructed me to investigate the circumstances of his wife’s death. His main concern was to prevent this from happening to anybody else, in the future.

During the course of the claim, as stated above, I needed to prove that the failure to report the scan amounted to a breach of duty. This was relatively straight forward given the fact that the hospital had, themselves, identified that there had been failures in the reporting of the scan. The more difficult aspect of investigating this claim was in relation to proving the loss and damage which the claimant’s wife had suffered from. This required the instruction of experts, a radiologist and an oncologist, and through obtaining such expert evidence it was possible to prove that had the x-ray been reported correctly, on the balance of probabilities, she would have been treated for lung cancer which would have been successful and she would still have been alive today.

The arguments in relation to causation were long and protracted and required the issue of court proceedings which is often the case, even where the allegations of breach of duty are relatively straight forward. The claim was successful and a compensation award was received in the sum of £148,000.

Pursuing a clinical negligence claim

It is important to note that in this claim, as in any other clinical negligence claim, there is a time limit in which to pursue the claim. That time limit is 3 years from either the date of the alleged negligent treatment or the date where a person can first reasonably have been expected to have known that they had suffered injury as a result of alleged negligent treatment. In this case, the limitation date ran from the date of the claimant’s wife’s death, as she died within 3 years of both the x-ray which was reported incorrectly, but also her date of knowledge when she became aware of the hospital’s failure in reporting her scan correctly.

The limitation date in relation to children is different in that the limitation date would not begin to run until a person’s 18th birthday, and therefore as a consequence, if a child suffered any negligent treatment before they were aged 18 and they had the capacity to manage their own affairs at that time, the limitation date would expire on their 21st birthday.

How can we help? 

Should you wish to discuss any concerns that you may have surrounding the reporting of scans or x-rays or any medical concerns in relation to treatment then please do not hesitate to contact a member of the Clinical Negligence and Personal Injury teams on 0330 0947777.

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Andrew Cragg


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