Failure to Order Test or Refer Leads to Diagnostic Error, Patient Death, $1M Settlement

January 23, 2015 | Strategic Insights for Ambulatory Care


​A physician in New Jersey has agreed to a $1 million settlement to resolve allegations that he negligently failed to diagnose pneumonia in a patient who ultimately developed adult respiratory distress syndrome and died. The 36-year-old patient presented to the physician's office with labored breathing and was unable to pass a pulmonary function test. The plaintiff alleged that these signs and symptoms should have prompted the physician to order a chest x-ray or refer the patient to a pulmonologist. The physician prescribed a broad spectrum antibiotic and instructed the patient to return in one month. Three days later, the patient returned with increased difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, a fever, and the onset of diarrhea. The physician attributed the new symptoms to the antibiotic and switched the patient to a different antibiotic. The plaintiff's medical experts testified that the physician failed to follow the standard of care by performing inappropriate testing and not referring the patient to a pulmonologist, and that he compounded the errors by switching from a broad-spectrum antibiotic to a narrow-band medication that was less likely to treat the illness.

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