When Are Medical Lab Technicians Liable for Mix-Ups?

The results of common diagnostic tests, such as blood tests, urine tests, x-rays, CAT scans, and tissue biopsies, serve as the basis for up to 70% of all medical decisions made by U.S. healthcare providers.  When a lab technician makes a mistake, or a lab’s policies create a system where preventable error becomes likely, there’s a high risk that the patient could die or be seriously hurt.  If you or one of your family members was the victim of a lab testing error in Baltimore, this article will help you understand some basic points about negligence and liability in clinical malpractice lawsuits.

What is Clinical Laboratory Malpractice?

When a doctor makes an unreasonable mistake during a surgery or medical appointment, and the patient is harmed as a result, the patient may be able to sue for medical malpractice.  Clinical malpractice follows a similar principle, but instead of a doctor or surgeon, the defendant is a medical laboratory or an individual lab technician.  The lab technician generally works for a company which is separate from the doctor’s practice, and usually doesn’t interact with the patient or doctor in person.  The lab technician’s role is to keep patient samples organized, perform the ordered tests on samples, and contact the doctor about the results when testing is finished.

Like members of any other profession, lab technicians and technologists run the risk of assuming legal liability if a person is injured or killed because of their actions.  This extends to liability for birth defects which were missed or misdiagnosed by prenatal genetic testing, which is sometimes described as “wrongful birth.”  Laboratory and pathologist liability insurance does not prevent or prohibit injury victims from suing; it simply offers lab technicians coverage for costs related to litigation.  If you think you were harmed by clinical laboratory malpractice, you have a right to seek the full compensation to which you may be entitled.

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What Does the Victim of a Lab Test Error Need to Prove in Court?

A plaintiff’s ability to recover compensation ultimately hinges on a few points: the skill of his or her attorney, the strength of the evidence and documentation supporting his or her claim, and, critically, the ability to prove during trial the presence of four vital elements, which are consistent among all types of personal injury lawsuits.  These elements are:

  • The duty of care, which is created by your status as a patient. Clinical lab technicians — and, for that matter, members of all occupations — have a duty to take reasonable steps to avoid situations which could injure or kill a client or patron.  In short, the duty of care is the laboratory’s professional obligation to all patients being tested.
  • A breach of the duty of care.  A breach occurs when a lab technician does something that deviates from the normal standard or care, resulting in a wrongful death or injury which should have been foreseeable and preventable.  Parties who breach their duty of care are sometimes described as negligent (e.g. clinical negligence).  Examples of actions that could constitute a breach of duty include losing patient files, using tainted samples, allowing samples to become contaminated, failing to follow up within an appropriate time frame, or mixing up two patient’s samples.
  • Causation, which means that harm to the patient was the result of a lab technician’s actions. Causation is divided into actual cause, which describes direct cause (e.g. marking the wrong number on a file), and proximate cause, which describes indirect cause (e.g. the lab technician’s inattention).
  • Damages, which means that the plaintiff was actually hurt by the lab mistake.  Even if a lab technician makes a serious error, the plaintiff will not be able to recover unless he or she was somehow injured.  Harmless accidents are not “actionable,” or grounds for a lawsuit.

What Types of Costs and Losses Can Plaintiffs Be Compensated For?

If the plaintiff can prove that he or she was harmed by a failure to provide reasonable care, the negligent lab technician can be ordered to pay compensation.  Compensation is intended to provide for both present and future losses/expenses, so factors like permanent disability, the retirement age, the plaintiff’s formerly salary, the plaintiff’s age, and the needs of the plaintiff’s children or dependents will all be weighed when a verdict is being reached.

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Compensation may be awarded for many types of costs and hardships related to a malpractice injury, including but not limited to:

  • Medical bills, including surgeries, ambulance rides, and inpatient hospital stays.
  • Funeral and burial expenses.
  • Medical devices and equipment, such as wheelchairs and oxygen machines.
  • Reasonable services needed by the plaintiff.
  • Earnings and income lost from taking time off of work.
  • The cost of prescription medications and other treatments.

Compensation is also sometimes awarded for harms which aren’t strictly financial in nature, known as “non-economic damages” for that very reason.  A plaintiff might, for instance, be awarded compensation for the pain and suffering they experienced, and/or, in certain cases where the plaintiff has a spouse or finance, “loss of consortium” (loss of a marital relationship).

If a medical lab in Maryland missed you or your loved one’s diagnosis, or gave you a false positive test result, know that you have the support of a respected law firm behind you.  The diagnostic error lawyers of Whitney, LLP have extensive experience handling clinical malpractice cases throughout Maryland, and are prepared to handle even highly complex multi-party litigation.  To learn more about your legal options in a free, completely confidential case evaluation, call our law offices at (410) 583-8000 today.


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