Medical Malpractice

Medical Malpractice Claims and Settlements

Medical practitioners and other healthcare professionals can be held accountable for injuries resulting from medical mistakes, but patients who have suffered harm should be prepared for a potentially difficult legal battle.

In situations where a doctor or another healthcare provider’s error in treatment leads to injury, the affected patient may have a valid basis to claim medical malpractice. Nonetheless, there are numerous factors to weigh before taking further action. Here’s what to keep in mind from the beginning:

Within the United States healthcare system, medical errors are a genuine concern and are responsible for 10 percent of total nationwide deaths, as reported by a study conducted at Johns Hopkins University.
While numerous allegations of malpractice hold merit, it’s crucial to differentiate between undesired healthcare outcomes and actual instances of medical negligence.
Initiating a medical malpractice lawsuit typically entails adhering to specific court regulations, and even though settling is a possibility, pursuing these types of cases can pose significant challenges for patients who have sustained injuries.

What Is Medical Malpractice?

When a physician or any other healthcare provider commits an error leading to harm for a patient—aggravating an existing health condition or causing a new injury or health issue—there may be grounds for a medical malpractice claim. However, considering that a patient’s condition can deteriorate due to a wide range of (often unavoidable) factors, there are numerous additional aspects to take into account.

The pivotal factor lies in determining whether the decision-making, actions, along with the advice and information provided by the healthcare professional adhered to the “medical standard of care.” This serves as a legal benchmark utilized to assess the provider’s behavior when a patient alleges malpractice. In essence, this implies:

If the provider can demonstrate (backed by evidence and in collaboration with other medical experts) that their actions aligned with the medical standard of care during the patient’s treatment, proving malpractice becomes challenging.
On the other hand, if the injured patient (assisted by their attorney and their own medical experts) can effectively showcase how and why the healthcare professional deviated from the crucial “standard of care” benchmark, the patient stands a reasonable chance of building a compelling case.

Who Can I Sue for Medical Malpractice?

A case of medical malpractice can be pursued against an individual healthcare practitioner or against the healthcare institution that employs them. Certain scenarios might involve multiple providers being held legally responsible for the patient’s injury. Possible individuals and entities named as defendants in a medical malpractice legal action encompass:

 •Doctors
 •Surgeons
 •Specialists (such as those in oncology,   OB/GYN, and urology)
 •Licensed nurses
 •Practical nurses
 •Anesthesiologists
 •Medical technicians
 •Pharmacists
 •Dentists
 •Psychiatrists
 •Hospitals and other medical facilities.

Basic Requirements for a Medical Malpractice Claim

If you’re contemplating filing a medical malpractice lawsuit against a healthcare practitioner, you’ll be required to present more than just evidence of an error made by the provider. Furthermore, even in cases where a medical mistake is evident, pursuing a claim is likely unwarranted unless you have suffered a concrete injury as a direct consequence.

Considering this, let’s delve into the fundamental components that an injured patient must establish to demonstrate the occurrence of medical malpractice.

A Provider-Patient Relationship Existed

If a doctor initiated your treatment and provided care, confirming this aspect is straightforward. Issues typically emerge in situations where a consulting physician did not directly administer treatment to you.

The Health Care Professional Was Negligent

Keep in mind that mere dissatisfaction with your treatment or outcomes doesn’t automatically imply that a doctor, nurse, or any other healthcare personnel engaged in medical malpractice.

As previously mentioned, an injured patient (usually assisted by a qualified medical expert) must:

  • Define the suitable medical standard of care that the doctor or healthcare provider should have followed in the given treatment context, and
  • elaborate on precisely how the defendant departed from this standard.

The Doctor's Negligence Caused Actual Injury

Due to the fact that a considerable number of malpractice cases are initiated by patients who were already in an ailing or injured state when the alleged medical error occurred, a common query arises regarding whether the doctor’s behavior, regardless of negligence, truly resulted in harm to the patient.

For instance, let’s consider a situation where a patient passes away while undergoing treatment for lung cancer, and it emerges that the doctor likely acted negligently by not informing the patient about potential side effects of a prescribed medication. Unless it’s evident that the medication played a role in contributing to the patient’s demise, proving that the doctor’s negligence led to any harm would likely be challenging.

Once again, in this scenario, the affected patient must have a medical expert validate that the doctor’s negligence genuinely caused tangible harm to the patient, such as:

  • Physical distress
  • Emotional suffering
  • Added medical expenses
  • Impairment of work and earning capabilities.

Common Types of Medical Malpractice

Numerous circumstances can give rise to a medical malpractice claim, spanning from instances like a surgeon unintentionally leaving an instrument inside a patient’s abdomen after surgery, to instances where a doctor fails to provide adequate information about the potential side effects of a prescribed medication. The majority of medical malpractice claims can be categorized as follows:

Failure to Diagnose

In cases where a skilled doctor could have identified the patient’s ailment or injury, or arrived at an alternate diagnosis that would have resulted in a more favorable outcome than the one that occurred, the patient might possess a valid medical malpractice claim.

Surgical Errors

The typical illustration in this context is a surgeon conducting a procedure on the incorrect limb or body part. However, a diverse array of errors can manifest during a surgical operation, encompassing errors leading to nerve damage, as well as failure to adhere to post-surgery instructions, which can lead to infections.

Improper Course of Treatment

When a doctor suggests a specific treatment approach for addressing a patient’s ailment or injury, and there is proof that these recommendations fell short of the acknowledged standard of care, the patient may possess grounds for a medical malpractice claim. Likewise, if the doctor makes the correct decision regarding the treatment path, but a person within the treatment process demonstrates incompetence, this situation could also amount to malpractice.

Failure to Warn a Patient of Known Risks

Physicians are obligated to inform patients about recognized risks and potential consequences associated with a procedure or treatment regimen. This obligation is referred to as the duty of informed consent. If a patient, having been adequately informed of potential risks, would have chosen not to proceed with the procedure, the doctor might be accountable for medical malpractice if the patient suffers harm due to the procedure (in a manner that the doctor should have forewarned about).

Anesthesia and Medication Errors

Particularly when compared to other types of injury cases, securing a settlement in a medical malpractice claim is far from certain.

It’s understandable that healthcare providers want to avoid being accused of professional incompetence. Consequently, doctors and other practitioners, along with their professional liability insurance companies, often resist medical malpractice claims. This implies that a settlement is unlikely unless you have successfully established all the elements we discussed in previous sections.

In instances where legal proceedings become necessary, data indicates that healthcare providers might have the advantage. When a medical malpractice lawsuit proceeds to trial, studies from various National Institutes of Health reveal that the defendant healthcare provider prevails (resulting in no compensation for the patient) approximately 80 percent of the time.

Will I Receive a Settlement In My Medical Malpractice Case?

Particularly when compared to other types of injury cases, securing a settlement in a medical malpractice claim is far from guaranteed.

It’s understandable that healthcare providers want to avoid being accused of professional incompetence. As a result, doctors, along with other healthcare practitioners and their professional liability insurance companies, often resist medical malpractice claims vigorously. This means that you should not anticipate a settlement unless you have successfully established all the elements we explained in earlier sections.

In situations where legal proceedings become necessary, data indicates that healthcare providers might have the advantage. According to several studies conducted by the National Institutes of Health, when a medical malpractice lawsuit goes to trial, the defendant healthcare provider prevails (resulting in no compensation for the patient) approximately 80 percent of the time.

How Much Can I Get In a Medical Malpractice Settlement?

The valuation of an injury claim is highly dependent on the particulars of the case, but a couple of relatively reliable indicators can offer insights into the potential worth of a medical malpractice case:

  • The conspicuousness or severity of the healthcare professional’s mistake.
  • The extent of the damage stemming from the malpractice.
  • The presence of liability insurance coverage to finance a settlement or court judgment.

Special State Requirements in Medical Malpractice Cases

Numerous states implement specific rules and protocols within the judicial system for handling medical malpractice lawsuits. It’s crucial to comprehend and adhere to these regulations to ensure that you have the opportunity to present your case in a court of law.

Medical Malpractice Lawsuits Must Be Filed Before the Statute of Limitations Deadline

In every state, the initiation of a medical malpractice lawsuit must occur within a specific timeframe as determined by a legal statute known as the “statute of limitations.” Filing the lawsuit after this deadline will likely result in the court dismissing the case, regardless of the gravity of the healthcare provider’s error or the extent of harm suffered by the patient.

Typically, the “clock” for the statute of limitations begins ticking either when the healthcare treatment error took place or when the patient became aware (or should have reasonably become aware according to legal standards) that they had sustained harm due to a healthcare provider’s mistake.

Special Medical Malpractice Review Panels

Several states mandate that patients must initially present their malpractice claim to a review panel before commencing a lawsuit. This panel, consisting of experts, will evaluate arguments, assess evidence and expert testimonies, and subsequently determine whether the case possesses sufficient merit to advance to a court proceeding.

An "Affidavit of Merit" May Be Required

In conjunction with initiating a medical malpractice lawsuit, numerous states stipulate that the plaintiff (the injured patient) must additionally submit an “affidavit of merit” or a comparable document. In this sworn statement, a qualified medical expert confirms that they have meticulously examined the plaintiff’s case and are of the belief that it holds merit.

Limits on Damage Awards

Several states impose restrictions or “caps” on the monetary awards that can be granted to a patient in a medical malpractice case, even if the lawsuit is successful. The majority of these caps pertain exclusively to “non-economic damages,” encompassing compensation for the patient’s emotional and physical “pain and suffering” stemming from the malpractice. For more comprehensive information, refer to the breakdown of these caps on medical malpractice damages across different states.

Do I Need to Hire a Medical Malpractice Lawyer?

In short, yes. When you opt to bring a lawsuit against a doctor or another healthcare provider for malpractice, enlisting the support of a seasoned legal professional is crucial. As mentioned earlier, these cases are notoriously challenging to win. They demand:

 • A thorough examination of intricate medical records
 • Diligent and expert presentation of evidence
 • Proficiency in advocating for an equitable outcome.

As touched upon earlier, even a proficient medical malpractice attorney often relies on a network of medical expert witnesses and consultants to construct the strongest case for their client.

Nothing can replace the experience and determination of a lawyer. Furthermore, if you consult with multiple attorneys regarding your potential medical malpractice case and they all decline to take it, it might be wise to reevaluate whether pursuing the case is worth the substantial time and effort.

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