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Can You Sue for Delay of Cancer Treatment?

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Doctor writing a medical certificate while talking to his patient.

You can sue for delay of cancer treatment if the delay caused further harm or the death of a loved one. Delay in cancer treatment can mean the difference between life and death. However, the delay itself cannot stand before a court of law as negligence. It must have amounted to recognizable levels of medical malpractice.

Doctor writing a medical certificate while talking to his patient.

When Can You Sue for Delay of Cancer Treatment?

You have two years from the date of discovery to sue for delay of cancer treatment under normal circumstances. This would be a medical negligence lawsuit. However, you can get an extension depending on special circumstances, for instance, in cases of wrongful death. An attorney can help you understand when and how to sue a hospital for wrongful death.

The clock starts ticking on the statute of limitations when you discover that you suffered harm due to delayed treatment. You can call this the knowledge date. On this date, you discover that you suffered further illness or harm, the harm or progression were significant, and there is a clear link between late treatment and the progression/harm.

There are special cases that extend the time you have to file a lawsuit beyond two years. A good example of these circumstances is when the patient is under 18. In such a case, the two-year litigation window starts ticking when he or she reaches 18.

If the victim of medical negligence is not mentally fit to file and pursue the compensation claim themselves, the time limit doesn’t apply. Someone related to him or her can sue at any time beyond 24 months, as long as he or she has enough evidence to prove medical malpractice.

In the case of a wrongful death caused by delayed cancer treatment, the family members also have twenty-four months from the date of the decedent’s death to bring a claim.

You should start collecting enough evidence as soon as possible to support your claim, and file well before the statute of limitations. Legal advice from Chicago wrongful death attorneys can help you navigate the complex maze of medical malpractice by analyzing and sifting through the provided evidence.

Who Do You Sue for Delay of Cancer Treatment?

There are several parties you can sue for delay of cancer treatment, depending on the role they played. These include:

The Doctor

Your doctor may be liable for the progression of your illness. This is because the physician is responsible for diagnosing and prescribing the appropriate treatment method. If your physician took excessive time before identifying the standard treatment methods specific to your cancer, he or she bears responsibility for medical malpractice.

While it is standard practice for doctors to give milder treatments to patients when they’re unsure of the prognosis, things take a different turn when the diagnosis is certain. Cancer can progress quickly if the patient doesn’t receive immediate medical attention. The physician can be sued if the delay causes further progression of the illness or the death of the patient. The doctor is also liable if he or she fails to make appropriate referrals in time if the case is too complex for him or her to handle.

The Hospital

The hospital can also bear the blame in some instances. Take the case where cancer treatment is delayed because of faulty radiotherapy equipment. Hospitals have a legal duty to repair their equipment and keep the machines running smoothly for the patient’s benefit.

Hospitals should prioritize the patients’ well-being by ensuring that only practitioners with the highest qualifications get to attend to patients. Failure to assess the qualifications of its employees can count as negligence.

The Insurance Company

You can also sue your medical insurance provider for the delay of cancer treatment. This applies to patients with medical insurance coverage. If you have faithfully paid all the premiums and used the correct channel to inform them of the disease, they should also approve payments in time.

However, the insurance company can refuse to remit funds to the hospital for whatever reason, and the hospital may refuse to offer services until the balance is cleared. The extended time taken by the medical insurance company to approve the claim can be the difference between the life and death of the patient.

Equipment Manufacturers

In cases where doctors delay cancer treatment due to machine breakdown from manufacturing defects, you can sue the manufacturer alongside the hospital. The claim now changes from medical malpractice to product liability. If found liable, the manufacturer should compensate the patient or the patient’s family for the damages caused by the equipment breakdown.

Knowing who to sue for delay of cancer treatment can be futile without the relevant legal background. That’s where medical malpractice lawyers come in handy.

Reasons For Delays in Treatment

Multiple factors can cause delayed cancer treatment. Some are within the physicians’ control, while others are beyond. Examples include:

  • Failure to refer patients to more specialized cancer treatment institutions in time
  • Loss of laboratory test results without which the doctor cannot start the treatment plan
  •  Failure of cancer treatment equipment
  • Poor communication between the various hospital departments

Below are more reasons for the delay in cancer treatment.

Fear of Overtreatment

The oncologists or surgeons sometimes take longer before working on the patient, knowing the risk factors involved. Some cancer patients have other underlying conditions that can be fatal if exposed to radiotherapy.

Some of these treatment options can be invasive and painful. If the risk factors seem too high, the doctors can delay treatment to save the patient’s life. Usually, the oncologists will wait until the patient is stable enough to survive the prescribed course of treatment.

Cancer doctors are immune to liability if their fear of overtreating or aggravating the patient’s pre-existing conditions is reasonable and not negligent. However, they must prove that they acted within reasonable standards of care, and a different doctor would have done the same under similar circumstances.

Malfunctioning Medical Equipment

It is not uncommon for medical equipment, such as radiotherapy machines, to malfunction when a patient is due for cancer treatment. Some hospitals tend to postpone the treatment until they repair the equipment or raise enough cash to purchase new ones. The problem is that the disease doesn’t wait, which may end up causing the patient more harm and negating viable treatment methods at that stage.

In such cases, you can sue the hospital for negligence due to failure to properly maintain their equipment. A medical malpractice claim can also change to a product liability claim if the manufacturer is purely to blame for the machine breakdown.

Laboratory Errors

Laboratories can give the wrong results, causing a delay in cancer treatment. A good example would be when wrong test results fail to detect the cancer cells or show that the potentially cancerous cells are harmless. The doctor then delays treatment since the condition seems milder, while, in reality, it is worse.

In such instances, you could sue for delay of cancer treatment and list the hospital as a defendant. Because of vicarious liability, hospitals are answerable for all the errors committed by their employees.

Errors in Scheduling Appointments

System errors can lead to delayed cancer treatment. A system malfunction may lead to a vital surgery being moved to a later date, which may be too late for advanced-stage cancers. In such cases, the hospital is liable for further injuries or the wrongful death of the patient.

Limited Number of Medical Providers

There are situations when the number of those needing special medical services exceeds the number of providers. This leads to long queues and waiting periods. The results can be counterproductive for some patients since the late treatment can cause the condition to deteriorate.

While this is not always the medical providers’ fault, he or she can be liable if there is an alternative, but he or she chose to keep it from the patient.

Suing for Delay of Cancer Treatment

 The delay of cancer treatment is categorized under medical malpractice. Knowing the specific rules to prosecute the delay of cancer treatment can help you determine if you have a case. You will need to prove the following elements to sue for delay of cancer treatment:

The Medical Provider Owed the Cancer Patient the Professional Duty of Care

Every healthcare provider is bound under oath to provide reasonable care to his or her patients. He or she should always act under the code of ethics to provide reasonable standards of care. A patient-doctor relationship is often enough to prove the medical professional owes you a reasonable duty of care. The relationship is automatically established when the doctor agrees to treat the patient.

The Provider Breached the of Duty of Care

To prove medical malpractice, you must prove how the professional breached his or her duty of care owed to you. In other words, how does the delay in cancer treatment qualify as a breach of care?

Medical negligence occurs when a healthcare service provider fails to live up to the set standards of care when providing medical services to a patient. Would another doctor with the same qualifications and expertise have acted the same under similar conditions and given the same resources and equipment? The doctor has a case to answer if the answer is negative. By failing to provide the appropriate treatment in a reasonable amount of time compared to the actions another healthcare provider would have taken, the provider is breaching the established duty of care.

The Breach Caused Injury or Illness

The breach of duty has to be tied to further injury or illness to qualify as medical negligence. A successful lawsuit hinges on the fact that the delay in the provision of cancer treatment amounted to medical negligence. 

Because cancer progresses rapidly, treatment should start immediately after diagnosis. However, the standard waiting time for treatment is between six and eight weeks. If the defendant delayed treatment beyond that time for unreasonable reasons, he or she likely caused the progression of the patient’s disease, causing him or her to suffer harm.

Since proving medical negligence can be complex, you may consult Chicago medical malpractice lawyers. The lawyers usually work with healthcare service providers who might be willing to help in your case. An expert medical witness is often necessary to prove negligence since, he or she has the qualifications and knowledge to determine medical negligence. He or she can then appear in court and explain how the delay in cancer treatment deviated from the required standards of care. 

 Once you have proven you suffered harm due to the delay in treatment, you must demonstrate that this delay led to other damages, such as pain and suffering, more extensive treatment costs, and further loss of wages.

Proving Harm Arising From Delay in Provision of Cancer Treatment

You need enough proof that the delay actually caused more harm. Proving negligence is not enough to support a medical negligence compensation claim. The delay in treatment must have caused further injuries and suffering to the patient. After successfully proving negligence, the next step is linking it to the damages.

In this case, the delay in treatment might have caused the following:

  • Further aggravation of the condition
  • Cancer-related fatality
  • Reduced effectiveness of the standard treatment methods
  • Prolonged discomfort and pain
  • Negated the use of viable cancer treatment methods
  • Pushed the condition to the point where medical intervention was impossible

Proving further injuries can be pretty complicated since some of these patients are already sick by the time they get diagnosed with cancer. There must be a clear link between delay in treatment and further injuries or death of the patient.

The expert witness, preferably another oncologist or surgeon of the same expertise as the defendant, comes in handy at this point. He or she can compare the defendant’s action against the required standards to determine negligence. Further, he or she can examine medical or surgical notes made by the defendant to find out why the defendant chose to withhold the required treatment that long.


There are several types of compensation available when you sue for delay of cancer treatment. You may be able to recover compensation for your economic damages, like your medical bills and lost wages, as well as for your non-economic damages, like pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life.

About the Author

Kurt D. Lloyd is a plaintiff’s trial lawyer who focuses on medical malpractice and other catastrophic injury cases. He lives in Chicago and represents injured clients throughout Illinois. He is also the founder of Lloyd Miller Law, Ltd.

Years of Experience: Over 35 years
Illinois Registration Status: Active
Bar Admissions: Illinois State Bar

Kurt D. Lloyd is a plaintiff’s trial lawyer who focuses on medical malpractice and other catastrophic injury cases. He lives in Chicago and represents injured clients throughout Illinois. He is also the founder of Lloyd Miller Law, Ltd.

Years of Experience: Approx. 20 years
Minnesota Registration Status: Active
Bar & Court Admissions: Illinois State Bar Association U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois

Kurt D. Lloyd is a plaintiff’s trial lawyer who focuses on medical malpractice and other catastrophic injury cases. He lives in Chicago and represents injured clients throughout Illinois. He is also the founder of Lloyd Miller Law, Ltd.

Years of Experience: Over 35 years
Illinois Registration Status: Active
Bar Admissions: Illinois State Bar

Kurt D. Lloyd is a plaintiff’s trial lawyer who focuses on medical malpractice and other catastrophic injury cases. He lives in Chicago and represents injured clients throughout Illinois. He is also the founder of Lloyd Miller Law, Ltd.

Years of Experience: Over 35 years
Illinois Registration Status: Active
Bar Admissions: Illinois State Bar