Medical errors can happen when a doctor, nurse, or other medical professional makes a mistake that is associated with or injures a patient of theirs. Medical errors form the basis for many different types of medical malpractice claims.
Medical malpractice includes any treatment, lack of treatment, or other departure from accepted standards of medical care, health care, or safety on the part of a healthcare provider. This departure causes harm, injury, or even death to the patient. Medical malpractice liability refers to who should be held legally responsible for the patient’s injuries. This is generally the party that breached their duty of care, and was the actual cause of the patient’s injuries. However, it can be difficult to determine who the liable parties are, especially when multiple parties are involved.
Medical malpractice legal claims can be brought against any medical provider that contributed to the patient’s injury. Some of the most common examples of entities who can be held liable for medical malpractice include:
- The doctor is liable if their actions did not adhere to the generally accepted standards of practice for their specific medical field;
- The hospital can be held liable for issues such as improper care or inadequate training of the healthcare professionals that are employed by the hospital; and
- Nurses or other medical staff that attended to the patient may be held liable if they contributed to the patient’s injury in some way, generally from an act of negligence.
Additionally, the hospital can be liable for the patient’s injury under the respondent superior theory. According to this legal theory, an employer can be held liable for the negligent act of its employee if the employee was acting in the scope of their employment when the negligence occurred. As such, they may be required to pay damages, and sometimes punitive damages in considerably serious cases of malpractice and/or negligence.
Common examples of medical malpractice claims include, but may not be limited to:
- Failure to diagnose;
- Improper treatment;
- Delay in treatment;
- Prescription errors;
- Anesthesia errors;
- Improper surgery; and
- Failure to properly explain a medical procedure or potential side effects.
What Are Some Of The Most Common Medical Errors?
A prescription error is a form of medical malpractice in which a doctor makes a mistake when prescribing a drug to a patient. The most common examples of prescription errors committed by doctors include, but may not be limited to:
- Prescribing the wrong drug in general;
- Prescribing the wrong dosage of the correct drug;
- Prescribing a medication that the patient is allergic to; and/or
- Prescribing medications that are incompatible with each other.
Hospital errors are any mistakes that are committed by people who are employed by a hospital; the hospital may be liable for these mistakes under the corporate negligence doctrine. Such employees can include but may not be limited to:
- Administrative staff; and
It is imperative to note that not all hospital errors may constitute an act of medical malpractice. In order for medical malpractice to occur, it must be shown that the hospital employee was negligent in some way. What this means is that the employee owed a duty of care to the plaintiff, and they breached that duty of care, which resulted in injury and/or economic loss to the plaintiff. Additionally, such an error must generally be related to medical treatment and/or the performing of a medical procedure, in order to constitute medical malpractice.
This is why not all hospital errors instantly qualify as medical malpractice. An example of this would be how if a custodian who was employed by the hospital used the incorrect cleaning tools, it likely would not be considered medical malpractice because it is not necessarily associated with the practice of medicine. However, the incident could still qualify as a hospital error because the custodian’s mistake could still result in harm to someone in the hospital.
One prominent example of hospital error is the failure to inform the patient of all of the risks that are associated with a specific treatment, surgery, procedure, or medication. Another example that frequently occurs would be failing to obtain the patient’s consent to perform a surgery, even after they have been informed of the risks associated with the procedure. The two of these acts together would likely form the basis of informed consent lawsuits.
Other examples of common hospital errors include:
- Diagnosis issues, such as misdiagnosis;
- Medication injuries, such as prescribing the wrong medicines or wrong dosages, and/or providing expired, outdated, or recalled medicines;
- Anesthesia errors, such as failing to warn of dangers, administering wrong dosages, or disregarding patient allergies to anesthesia;
- Childbirth injuries, such as the negligence of a nurse in providing prenatal care or the negligence of a doctor during childbirth, resulting in a birth injury to the infant or the birthing parent;
- Surgery errors, such as performing the wrong treatment, or leaving foreign objects in the patient’s body; and
- Emergency room malpractice, which generally involves the emergency room staff refusing to admit and/or treat a patient.
It is important to note that there are many different types of hospital injuries that can occur. Additionally, medical malpractice laws can vary widely by state; meaning, these violations may be treated differently according to jurisdiction.
The majority of medical errors are a result of miscommunications between staff members. An example of this would be how a malpractice claim could be made if a patient was injured because a nurse provided a doctor with incorrect information.
Are There Any Legal Remedies For Medical Errors?
As was previously mentioned, medical errors frequently form the basis of a medical malpractice lawsuit. In such cases, the error may be remedied through a monetary damages award. Such an award is intended to reimburse the patient for:
- Any additional medical expenses directly resulting from the error;
- Additional and/or unexpected hospital bills;
- Lost wages, if the injury caused the patient to miss work;
- Loss of earning capacity, especially if the injured person can no longer earn as much because of the injury;
- Other costs, such as court fees and attorney’s fees;
- Pain and suffering; and
- If the error involved considerable recklessness and/or negligence, punitive damages may sometimes be awarded.
However, widespread medical errors may require other remedies, such as a change of hospital policies and operating procedures. An example of this would be if the hospital or health care institution was having issues associated with communication between nurses and doctors, and those issues were producing subpar patient care or injury. They would likely need to institute new medical communication protocols.
It is imperative to note that some states may limit the amount of damages that a plaintiff can recover for medical malpractice. This is intended to help reduce the number of frivolous lawsuits that are filed in connection with hospital errors. Caps on damages awards vary from state and state, and may even vary between jurisdictions. A local lawyer will be best suited to educate you regarding your state’s specific damages limits.
Do I Need An Attorney For Medical Errors?
If you are the victim of a medical error, you will need to consult with an experienced and local personal injury lawyer. An attorney can help you understand your legal rights and options according to your state’s medical malpractice and personal injury laws. An experienced attorney will also be able to represent you in court, as needed.