Medical malpractice arises when a physician, medical professional or healthcare organization goes below the standard of care which is required for their profession when diagnosing, treating, or managing a patient and those actions result in injury to the patient. Operating below the duty of care required of healthcare professionals typically stems from acts of negligence.
Medical malpractice law is a body of laws which provides an avenue for patients to bring claims against negligent healthcare professionals. They also allow individuals to recover monetary damages for the injuries or losses which were caused by the substandard conduct of the healthcare professional.
Whether or not healthcare professionals can be held liable for the injuries a patient sustains will depend on several factors, including the facts of the case and the rules and requirements of the medical malpractice laws in that particular state. In some cases, the regulations and standards for medical malpractice cases can vary greatly between states and even between jurisdictions within a state.
Therefore, if an individual believes they suffered injuries or losses resulting from medical malpractice, they should consult with a personal injury attorney in order to learn more about the medical malpractice laws which would apply in their state.
What are Some Examples of Medical Malpractice Claims?
There are numerous examples of medical malpractice claims, which may include, but are not limited to:
- Improper diagnosis or the failure to diagnose the patient;
- Prescribing the wrong treatment or wrong medication;
- Operating on the wrong body party, such as amputating their left leg instead of right leg;
- Failure to follow-up after the patient undergoes a major procedure;
- Prematurely discharging a patient before they have recovered well-enough;
- Leaving behind medical equipment, such as instruments or sponges left inside a patient during a surgery;
- Not receiving informed consent or providing information before the patient undergoes surgery; and/or
- Inputting erroneous data into the patient’s medical chart, which causes the patient harm.
Who is at Fault for a Medical Malpractice?
Fault-finding in medical malpractice claims refers to a legal process by which a court determines which parties should be held liable for the injuries or financial losses a patient suffered. In some cases, the process is quite straight-forward, especially when it is clear which party caused the injuries or losses.
For example, the errors of numerous healthcare professionals may have contributed to one patient’s injuries. A common example of when this occurs is when a nurse is given the wrong instructions regarding the dosage for anesthesia for a patient.
In this type of case, it becomes difficult to determine whether that nurse should be held liable if the patient overdoses on anesthesia or whether the physician who gave the instructions should be at fault. In certain cases, both parties may be held liable.
There are also other healthcare professionals who may be held liable in medical malpractice claims, including nearly every type of healthcare worker, such as:
- Rehabilitation workers; and
- Clerical workers, in some cases.
What are Some Legal Issues to Consider with Fault and Medical Malpractice?
When determining which party is at fault in a medical malpractice claim, there are numerous legal issues and concepts which are considered by the court, including:
- Causation; and
- Plaintiff liability.
In order for a defendant to be held liable for a patient’s injuries, the defendant must have owed them a duty of care. For example, physicians and doctors are held to certain standards regarding the treatment and advice they provide to their patients. In contrast, a hospital cafeteria worker may not be required to work under the same standard of care as a doctor.
To prove causation, the plaintiff must show that the defendant directly caused their injuries in order for the defendant to be held liable for damages. The defendant will not be found liable if the injuries were not a reasonably foreseeable result of the defendant’s carelessness.
In certain cases, plaintiff liability may also be an issue. This arises when the plaintiff themselves is responsible, partially or completely, for their injuries. For example, if the plaintiff did not follow their doctor’s instructions, the plaintiff may be liable for their own injuries.
The legal concepts of duty and causation are parts of the broader category of laws called negligence laws. The majority of medical malpractice claims are based on the negligence theory of liability.
Determination of negligence involves a complex analysis of numerous factors and typically requires the assistance of a lawyer. In order to prove medical malpractice, the plaintiff must show their damages are calculable with reasonable accuracy.
What Can I Recover for My Injuries?
The types of damages a plaintiff may be able to recover from a medical malpractice claim are classified into three general categories, including:
- Economic damages, which are monetary amounts that can be measured and specifically calculated based on a particular harm, such as:
- medical expenses;
- hospital bills;
- lost wages;
- loss of earning capacity; and
- various other out-of-pocket costs;
- Non-economic damages refer to intangible or somewhat immeasurable injuries such as:
- pain and suffering;
- emotional distress;
- loss of enjoyment of activities;
- reputational damage; and
- other issues;
- Punitive damages which are the most elusive type of damages that a plaintiff can receive in a medical malpractice lawsuit. These damages are rare and are only awarded for such lawsuits in a handful of states. In states where they are awarded, however, there are usually damage caps, or limitations, on those amounts as well.
Other remedies which a plaintiff may request include:
- Having the medical professional’s license suspended or revoked;
- Requiring the medical facility to update their policies; and
- Requiring the medical facility to update their health and safety procedures.
Are Medical Malpractice Laws the Same in Every State?
No, medical malpractice laws are not the same in every state, as previously noted. Certain states place limits, or caps, on the amount of damages a plaintiff can recover in a medical malpractice lawsuit.
These caps were enacted to prevent any abuses of the legal system due to the filing of frivolous lawsuits related to medical malpractice claims. In addition, the standard of care for healthcare professionals may vary by state as well as by the type of profession.
The limits on monetary damage awards in medical malpractice cases are often referred to as damage caps. Damage caps vary by state, but may result in plaintiffs from different states receiving different damages awards for the exact same injuries.
For example, many states impose damage caps around $250,000. Other states allow plaintiffs to collect a much higher amount before their damages are capped.
In Wisconsin, the damages for medical malpractice lawsuits are capped at $750,000. In California, however, the cap is $250,000.
There is a minority of states which have not imposed any type of damage caps. If an individual brings a claim in Kentucky or Wyoming, their monetary damages will not be capped.
There are a few states which prohibit damages caps in cases involving wrongful death lawsuits, including:
- Utah; or
- New York.
If a deceased patient’s family member files a wrongful death lawsuit based on medical malpractice in one of these states, there will be no restrictions on the amount of damages which they can receive.
States may also have different rules and statutes of limitations, or deadlines for filing medical malpractice claims. In general, an individual should consult with a lawyer as soon as possible once they discover they may need to file a medical malpractice claim.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help With a Medical Malpractice Claim?
It is essential to have the assistance of a personal injury lawyer for a medical malpractice claim. Medical malpractice claims are complex and challenging, and often require expert testimony.
The laws which govern medical malpractice claims are typically complex and may vary by state or location. If you believe you have suffered as a result of medical malpractice, you should consult an attorney as soon as possible.
Your attorney will review your claim, advise you of the laws in your state, and represent you if you have to appear in court. They will also represent you during any negotiation proceedings, as it is common for these types of cases to settle outside of a courtroom.