Medical malpractice is most commonly associated with doctors making mistakes in treating patients, but the scope of medical malpractice is much larger than that. 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 health care provider that causes harm to a patient.
Medical malpractice liability refers who should be held legally responsible for the patient’s injuries. This is usually the party that breached their duty of care, and was the actual cause of the patient’s injuries. But in some cases, it can be difficult to tell exactly who the liable parties are.
Medical malpractice claims can be brought against any medical provider that contributed to the patient’s injury. Entities who can be held liable for medical malpractice include:
- Doctor: The doctor is liable if their actions strayed from generally accepted standards of practice
- Hospital: The hospital can be liable for improper care or inadequate training of the healthcare professionals
- Nurse or Other Medical Staff: The nurse or other medical staff that attended to the patient may be held liable if they contributed to the patient’s injury,
The hospital can also be liable for the patient’s injury under the respondeat superior theory. Under this theory, an employer can be held liable for the negligent act of its employee if the employee was action within the scope of his or her employment when the negligence occurred and has to pay damages and sometimes even punitive damages.
Medical malpractice claims must satisfy all of the following requirements in order to be successful:
- Injury: The doctor or health care provider caused an injury to the patient.
- This is very often difficult to prove. You were likely not in the best of health when you first went to see the doctor, and you don’t have the medical expertise to prove the injury connection. Thus, you will probably need an expert witness to testify on your behalf to prove that the doctor’s actions or inactions were the source of your injury.
- Negligence: Carelessness on behalf of the doctor or health care provider.
- You must show that the medical treatment fell below the "accepted standard of care."
- The test for "accepted standard of care" is generally what a reasonable health care professional in your community would do in similar circumstances.
- Statute of limitations: The time limit when you must bring a claim.
- The time limit for filing medical malpractice claims varies from 1-7 years depending on your state.
Examples of medical malpractice claims are:
- Failure to diagnose
- Improper treatment
- Delay in treatment
- Loss of chance
- Prescription errors
- Anesthesia errors
- Improper surgery
- Failure to properly explain a medical procedure or potential side effects
Medical malpractice claims are very difficult to pursue. Most medical malpractice cases are very expensive because they involve numerous expert medical witnesses and complicated facts. Doctors are usually unwilling to admit errors, and they often have the resources to contest lawsuit. There are also many state limits on medical malpractice awards. Many clients hire lawyers to provide the expertise to win a medical malpractice case.
In addition, due to the power and the resources that hospitals and doctors have in the health industry, pursuing a medical malpractice claim is very difficult for patients to pursue. One obstacle plaintiffs in many states may have to overcome before they can even file a malpractice action against a health care professional is the requirement that they file what is commonly known as a "certificate of merit." In order to file a certificate of merit, a plaintiff will first have to have an expert, usually another physician, review the relevant medical records and certify that the plaintiff’s health care provider may have committed malpractice.
If you or a loved one have been injured by medical malpractice, you should speak to a personal injury attorney immediately to learn more about the value of your case and what types of recoveries are available to you.