1. Home
  2.  → 
  3. Medical Malpractice
  4.  → MRI Malpractice

What is MRI Malpractice?

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is a powerful diagnostic tool in medicine, offering detailed images of the inside of the body using magnetic fields and radio waves. While MRI is generally considered safe as it does not use ionizing radiation (like X-rays or CT scans), there are still potential risks and errors associated with its use that can lead to an MRI malpractice case: a patient’s personal injury related to misdiagnosis or resulting from physical injury.

Examples of MRI Malpractice and Negligence

  • Examples of MRI malpractice and negligence occur when staff make errors in the performance of the scan or when radiologists misinterpret the images. The examples below illustrate that radiologists and technicians must be vigilant about potential artifacts and limitations of the imaging to avoid medical negligence, as well as ensure patient safety and accurate diagnoses. Strong magnetic fields are used to obtain the images, and metallic objects in or on the person or in the room get forcefully pulled into the magnet and can cause serious injury or death; therefore, care must be taken by the staff to prevent injury.
  • Diagnoses made on imaging affect treatment decisions, and proper interpretation of the images by radiologists are critical.

Addressing these risks around an MRI procedure requires meticulous patient screening for metal implants and conditions contraindicating MRI, effective communication about the need for stillness, the use of appropriate ear protection, and careful interpretation of MRI results to avoid MRI malpractice due to misdiagnosis and injury.

Common Causes of MRI Malpractice

Common causes of MRI malpractice may stem from how the scans are done or how they are read, which can lead to medical injury of varying degrees.

  • Misinterpretation of MRI images can lead to incorrect diagnoses and significant clinical consequences. For instance, a radiologist might miss a brain tumor due to subtle differences in tissue contrast, delaying crucial treatment during which the tumor grows. Alternatively, benign conditions could be mistaken for a tumor, potentially leading to unnecessary neurosurgical intervention.
  • Technical limitations stemming from motion can negatively affect the quality of MRI images, which are particularly common in abdominal scans. For example, a small lesion in the liver can be missed if obscured by blurring from patient’s breathing, causing a critical delay in a cancer diagnosis. Moreover, inadequate resolution or contrast can lead to oversight or misdiagnosis by the radiologist, causing negative patient outcomes.
  • The improper use of contrast agents can also contribute to misdiagnosis and significantly impact disease treatment. In patients with multiple sclerosis, failing to correctly time the administration of contrast can result in the underestimation of active disease, as new lesions may only enhance for a short period. Although rare, patients can also experience allergic reactions (sometimes severe) to MRI contrast agents.

Types of MRI Malpractice

Several types of MRI malpractice that may lead to a medical malpractice claim are those that cause some type of injury to the patient.

As noted above, the MRI’s strong magnetic field can interact with metal implants or fragments within the body, leading to potential physical injuries. Examples are:

  • A patient with an undisclosed pacemaker can undergo an MRI, resulting in device malfunction due to the magnetic field, which could lead to life-threatening consequences.
  • Patients with cochlear implants in their ear can be seriously injured if allowed to go into the magnetic field which pulls and dislodges the implant.
  • Patients can suffer burns during an MRI procedure from radio frequency coils or metal objects, such as jewelry and metallic ink tattoos that heat up.
  • The loud noise produced during MRI scans, reaching up to 120 decibels, can cause hearing damage if proper ear protection is not used. This risk highlights the importance of providing patients with earplugs or headphones during the procedure.
  • Claustrophobia and anxiety can occur in the confined space of traditional MRI machines and cause severe distress in some patients.

Legal Consequences of MRI Malpractice

The legal consequences of MRI malpractice are based on various grounds, including but not limited to, medical negligence, failure to diagnose, improper MRI procedure conduct, or lack of informed consent.

Medical negligence is a common basis for legal actions in cases of MRI malpractice. Healthcare professionals, including radiologists and MRI technicians, have a duty of care to perform their roles following the standards of the medical profession. If an MRI-related injury or misdiagnosis occurs due to a failure to meet these standards, affected patients may file negligence claims. Successful claims require proving that the healthcare provider owed a duty of care, breached that duty, and directly caused harm or injury to the patient.

Patients who prevail in MRI malpractice lawsuits can be awarded compensation for various damages, including:

  • medical expenses, such as costs associated with additional treatments, surgeries, or hospital stays needed due to the malpractice,
  • compensation for income lost due to time off work for recovery or treatment due to the malpractice, or
  • non-economic damages for physical pain, mental anguish, loss of enjoyment of life, and other psychological impacts.

The legal consequences of MRI malpractice underscore the importance of adhering to the highest standards of care in medical imaging. Healthcare professionals and facilities must ensure that MRI procedures are performed safely and accurately, that patients are fully informed of the risks, and that any potential contraindications are carefully considered to avoid the serious ramifications of legal action.

Contacting an Experienced Malpractice Attorney

For individuals who suspect they have been the victim of radiological or MRI malpractice, Britcher Leone & Sergio offers a distinct advantage in MRI malpractice cases, with a partner who is also a board-certified diagnostic radiologist and attorney. The firm’s combination of skills enhances its ability to advocate for their clients, ensuring that the case is accurately represented and maximizes the likelihood of a favorable outcome. Contact us today for help.