Heart Attack Malpractice

Posted: February 6, 2017 | Last Updated: February 20, 2017

What you need to know about heart attack misdiagnosis and whether there was medical malpractice involved.

Heart Disease is too Common to Ignore

Heart disease is the leading cause of death of both men and women in the U.S.[1] You may already know that.  But did you know that anyone—young or old, man or woman, any race or ethnicity—can suffer a heart attack?

There are more than 1.2 million new or recurrent coronary attacks in the United States every year.  About 425,000—or a third—of those attacks cause death.  Heart disease related conditions account for 1 in every 4 deaths.[2]

Over 650,000 people die of heart disease in the U.S. each year. That represents about 27 percent of all deaths in this country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Emergency Rooms and Hospitals Miss too Many Heart Attacks

What is surprising is how often doctors and nurses on the front lines do not recognize the signs and symptoms of heart attacks.

man in blue shirt holding heart area of chest as if in pain from heart attack

Chest pain is not the only important sign of a heart attack, especially for women.

Tens of thousands of people who go to the emergency room with symptoms of heart attack are sent home and told they are fine.  (Or they are told they have indigestion, GERD, muscle strain, etc.)  According to some estimates, as many as 2-4% of people having a heart attack who go to the emergency room with a heart attack (more generally, “acute coronary syndrome,” or ACS) are discharged without the treatment they desperately need.  That includes myocardial infarctions or pre-infarction symptoms.

That’s astonishing and scary.  How can medicine know so much about heart attacks, symptoms, tests that can be done, yet miss tens of thousands of heart attacks or other emergency heart conditions when the symptoms are bad enough for the person to go to the ER?

The Harm is Done Even if You Survive a Heart Attack Misdiagnosis

Then—if they’re lucky—people suffering a heart attack are later diagnosed with a heart attack and treated.  I say “lucky” because not everyone survives the heart attack after the emergency room or hospital sends them home.

But even when you survive after a heart attack misdiagnosis, you have likely suffered permanent, irreversible harm and even death that could have been prevented had the symptoms been properly diagnosed and treated.

Unfortunately, cases of misdiagnoses involving heart attacks are a common form of medical negligence.  This is particularly true for women, younger people, and minorities.

Causes of Failure to Diagnose Heart Attack

Sometimes doctors or nurses assume too much about a person, because they’re “too young” to have a heart attack.

Or they have a subconscious bias against believing women’s complaints about pain or other symptoms.  That’s more dangerous for women, because women are less likely to present with “classic” symptoms like severe chest pain radiating to the arms or neck (“angina”).

Younger people are also more apt to experience missed heart attack diagnoses simply because doctors don’t expect younger people to have heart attacks and can bypass critical tests.

Delayed treatment for a heart attack leads to permanent heart damage.

Sometimes doctors miss heart attacks because they do not order the tests to determine whether the patient was having a heart attack.

Or nurses and doctors are overworked and rushing too fast to take a thorough medical history and perform a thorough exam.

Sometimes they just mess up reading the test results: they ignore the heart attack right there on the page for anyone to see.

Other times, although the heart attack may have been sudden, and obvious, a primary care / family doctor, or even a heart doctor (“cardiologist”), may have mishandled treatment prior to the heart attack.  This could include not addressing significant heart attack risk factors that should have been treated (preventing the heart attack), prescribing the wrong types or amounts of medications, or missing heart abnormalities that could have been treated to prevent the heart attack.

Image of doctor's chest in lab coat with stethoscope

Your doctor is responsible for identifying and responding to serious heart attack risks. When they don’t, they can be liable for the result if it was negligent and proper care would have prevented the heart attack.

Either way, the result is the same: missed heart attack diagnosis leading to death or permanent heart injury. It is likely medical malpractice to miss the signs and symptoms of a person presenting with a heart attack to the ER or hospital.

What Should I Do If a Hospital or ER Misdiagnosed a Heart Attack?

The first thing you need to know is that Ohio has a very short window of time in which to file a lawsuit—just one year form the date of the malpractice—which means no matter what, you want a qualified Ohio medical malpractice lawyer investigating sooner than later.

The window of time—called the “statute of limitations”—is so short because the insurance lobby does not want to have to pay for medical negligence, even though insurance companies rake in billions of dollars in profits every year.

close up image of corner of envelope in person's hand with red stamp that has been postmarked with wavy lines

Under Ohio law, an Ohio heart attack lawyer can extend the time in which to file a claim by delivering to each defendant a special notice of claim.

There are ways we can extend the time to investigate, such as sending a special notice of claim.  And there are other factors that can keep the statute of limitations from starting, such as not discovering the malpractice, or continuing treatment with the negligent providers.  But these are complicated and are best handled by a heart attack misdiagnosis lawyer after they have medical records and other important information.

So do not delay.

An Ohio heart attack lawyer should be prepared to investigate thoroughly, which requires, at minimum:

  • meeting with you and the family to learn the critical facts (which might not show up in the medical records);
  • obtaining complete copies of relevant medical records (which might include years of primary care doctor or cardiologist records);
  • taking steps to preserve your right to file a lawsuit, if there is a time crunch on the statute of limitations;
  • reviewing and understanding the records so they can identify issues; and
  • have an expert physician review the records to confirm if there was heart attack malpractice.

If you meet with a lawyer who does not seem willing, capable, and eager to do a full investigation, you probably want to consider finding a different Ohio heart attack lawyer.

You also want to be sure you trust a lawyer to give you candid answers as to what happened, whether that is likely medical malpractice, and what to expect in the heart attack misdiagnosis lawsuit process.  You’re likely going to be taking on a large hospital or insurance company (or both).  You want to make sure they have the experience and ability to do that.

But just as important, you want to be confident they’ll tell you if you do NOT have a strong case.  Why?  Because the process is not easy.  If they just want to get in, try to settle for a small amount, and get out, you’ll be the one left holding the bag if the hospital or insurance company refuses to pay.

I’m always disappointed when someone calls me and was dumped by a lawyer who never bothered to tell them why they did not have a claim.

What Claims Do I Have for a Misdiagnosed Heart Attack in Ohio?

In Ohio, when a medical caregiver negligently fails to recognize a heart attack and that harms the patient (whether permanent damage to the heart, additional invasive procedures needed, even death), the injured patient has a claim for medical malpractice.  (This is just a negligence claim, but they dress it up because it involves doctors.)

When the injury causes death—immediately, or over time—the patient’s family has a separate claim.  This is for their grief, mental anguish, and losses.  The family’s claim is called a “wrongful death” claim in Ohio.  Even though this is a separate claim, both the person’s claim (called a “survivorship’ claim, because it survives their death) and the wrongful death claim are brought by the person’s estate.

How Much will a Heart Attack Lawsuit Cost Me?

There are 2 answers to the question, “how much will my heart attack lawsuit cost me”?

First, how much will you have to pay out of pocket?

Hopefully nothing.  We never ask for up-front payment to investigate or file a heart attack lawsuit in Ohio. We handle everything on contingency.  Most other contingency lawyers do it the same.

But that does NOT mean the lawsuit is “free.”  Do not get scammed by the “No Fee Guarantee” lawyers who make it sound like everything is free.  In almost every case, you will pay for the costs of the lawsuit if successful.  In America, the losing party generally does not have to cover your legal fees and expenses.

Second, how much will the fees and expenses be?

Expenses depend on how far the case goes.

Most experienced medical negligence lawyers know it can cost $5,000 to $10,000 just to get through the investigation phase, if you must obtain a review of many records from multiple doctors.

Why would you need multiple doctors for a single heart attack case?

  • You could need a primary care doctor to evaluate whether the patient’s primary care doctor missed dangerous and treatable risk factors.
  • You might need a cardiologist to evaluate whether treatment would have prevented or minimized the heart attack or harm it caused.
  • You might need an emergency room physician or hospitalist to evaluate whether an ER doctor or hospital doctor acted negligently by not recognizing the symptoms or ordering the right tests.

The list goes on.

We never ask you to pay for these costs up front.  But if we’re successful, these costs are paid back from your recovery.  So we have to be thoughtful.  Spend enough to maximize the value of the case, but do not throw money away on things unlikely to help.

Getting through the rest of the case, if filing a lawsuit is necessary, can cost anywhere from $35,000-$100,000 or more.

You should consider hiring an attorney that focuses only on medical cases.  That way, they will be experienced in managing these costs.  And they won’t be afraid to take on the risk of such expenses to win the case.

Non-medical cases might cost a fraction of this.  That’s why a regular personal injury attorney might not want to go all the way in a heart attack medical malpractice case.  They might never be willing to spend that kind of money to investigate or work up a case.  “Dabbling” in medical malpractice, along with 10 other types of injury cases, is a bad idea.

Of course, you do not have to pay anything out of your own pocket.  But if there’s a recovery, that’s your money paying back the expenses.  I always say, this is your case, and I know I must justify spending your money.

[1] Deaths: Final data for 2013. National Vital Statistics Report. 2015;64(2)

[2] CDC, NCHS. Underlying Cause of Death 1999-2013 on CDC WONDER Online Database, released 2015.

How do I Hire You to be my Ohio Heart Attack Malpractice Lawyer?

The first thing to do is complete the contact form at the bottom of this page. That way, you can put in details that we can review before we schedule a phone call.

You can also call us at 216-777-8856 if you prefer.

You will likely not speak to us immediately, but will schedule a phone or in-person meeting. Why? Because we’re busy working on the important cases other families have entrusted to us. Just like we would not constantly take phone calls when we’re entrusted to work on your case.

You should also gather all the records and papers you have from the medical providers, go back and look for dates, names, and events that happened, and otherwise prepare to discuss the case. We’ll have a meeting and, if it seems like a case we’d be a good fit for, we’ll move into an investigation phase.

Once we’ve investigated, we’ll candidly tell you what we think about what happened, whether the medical provider is to blame, and what we think about the strength of the case.

Fair warning: we only take on clients whose cases we believe have very strong merits. We’re not lazy—the cases are still very complex, difficult, and expensive—but the risk to your family of being drawn into a difficult process with little chance of a positive outcome is not something we do.

Which means when we do take on a case, our reputation tells the other side this is a serious case we believe in.

If for whatever reason we do not take on the case, and we think there is some merit to the case, we’ll try and help you find a lawyer who might take it on.

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