Medical Malpractice: Hospital Staff Error

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 What is Medical Malpractice?

Medical malpractice occurs when a physician, a medical professional, or a healthcare organization falls below the standard duty of care that is required when diagnosing, managing, or treating a patient which results in injury to that patient. This deviation for the standard duty of care that is required for medical professionals typically stems from an act of negligence.

Medical malpractice laws provide injured patients with the opportunity to bring claims against negligent medical professionals. It gives them the ability to recover damages for the harms that are caused by their substandard conduct.

Whether or not a specific medical professional may be held liable for a patient’s injuries will depend upon the facts of the case. It may also involve the various rules and requirements of the medical malpractice laws that exist in that particular state. The regulations and standards for medical malpractice may vary between states and even between jurisdictions within a state.

If an individual believes that they have sustained an injury as a result of medical malpractice, they should consult with a local personal injury lawyer to learn about the relevant laws that may apply in their area.

What is Medical Malpractice Liability?

Medical malpractice liability refers to which organizations or individuals should be held liable for the injuries a patent sustains. Typically, this party is the one who breached their duty of care and who was the actual cause of the injuries to the patient.

Determining the exact party that was liable may, in some cases, be a challenge because medical malpractice liability often involves multiple parties. For example, it may be possible to split medical malpractice liability between a physician and their nurse, or other medical personnel, when their conduct combined resulted in the patient’s injury.

For example, if a party provided improper instructions or if one of the medical professionals failed to correct the other, there is a chance that both parties may be held liable for their mistakes. Additionally, the medical organization itself, for example, a hospital organization, may also be held liable for medical malpractice.

This is especially true in cases where the medical organization’s overall policies or quality of care for patients fell below the necessary duty of care standard. There are numerous parties who may be held liable for medical malpractice, including:

  • General practitioners;
  • Nurses;
  • Hospitals;
  • Surgeons;
  • Dentists;
  • Psychiatrists;
  • Chiropractors;
  • Gynecologists; and
  • Clerical staff.

What are Some Examples of Medical Malpractice Claims?

Some common examples of medical malpractice claims include, but are not limited to:

  • Improperly diagnosing or failing to diagnose a patient;
  • Prescribing the wrong treatment or wrong medication;
  • Operating on the wrong part of the patient’s body, for example, amputating their right leg instead of their left leg;
  • Failing to follow-up after a patient receives a serious procedure;
  • Prematurely discharging a patient before they have recovered well enough;
  • Leaving behind medical equipment, for example, instruments or sponges left inside a patient during a surgery;
  • Not providing information or not receiving informed consent prior to a patient undergoing surgery; and
  • Putting erroneous data into the patient’s medical chart, which results in harm to the patient.

How is Medical Malpractice Proven in a Lawsuit?

There are several elements that are required in order to establish medical malpractice, including:

  • The medical professional owed the patient a duty to act reasonably and under the medical standard of care in overseeing the patient’s health, such as when diagnosing, treating, etc.;
  • The medical professional failed to meet the proper standard of care, or their duty, because they were negligent in managing some aspect of the patient’s health. In other words, they breached the duty of care they had to that patient;
  • The negligent conduct of the medical professional was the actual and proximate cause of the patient’s injury; and
  • The injury resulted in the patient suffering measurable damages.

In addition, if the lawsuit is filed specifically against the organization or its clerical staff, it must be demonstrated that the medical staff was supervised or trained negligently.

There are certain items that may be useful for the plaintiff to submit as evidence to support their claim, such as:

  • Medical records;
  • Receipts for medical expenses;
  • Documents that may have caused the misdiagnosis or mistreatment to occur; and
  • The costs related to the injury, for example, the hospital bills required to remedy a surgical mistake.

What can I Recover for My Injuries?

The damages in medical malpractice lawsuits typically include three categories:

  • Economic damages: These damages are the monetary amounts that can be measured and specifically calculated based on particular harm, such as:
    • medical expenses;
    • hospital bills;
    • lost wages;
    • loss of earning capacity; and
    • various other out-of-pocket costs;
  • Non-economic damages: Non-economic damages are more difficult to calculate because they refer to intangible or somewhat immeasurable injuries such as:
    • pain and suffering;
    • emotional distress;
    • loss of enjoyment of activities;
    • reputation damage; and
    • other issues; and
  • Punitive damages: Punitive damages is the most difficult category of damages that a plaintiff may receive in a medical malpractice lawsuit. These damages are rarely ever awarded and are only recognized for such lawsuits in a handful of states;
    • In states where these damages are awarded, there are usually damage caps, or limits, on those amounts.

There are also other remedies that a plaintiff may request, including having a medical professional’s license suspended or revoked and requiring that the medical facility update its policies or health and safety procedures.

Are Hospital Staff Liable for Medical Malpractice?

Subject to certain exceptions, a hospital may be held liable for the medical malpractice of its employees. Medical malpractice, as previously noted, typically involves a physician’s error in performing a medical procedure, such as a failed surgery.

However, it may also concern the act or failure to act of a nurse, assistant, or technical specialist that was employed by the hospital. A hospital may be a dangerous place for a patient because of the presence of diseases, powerful pharmaceuticals, and unfamiliar equipment.

In this type of an environment, an error made by a nurse or staff member may result in a real likelihood of bodily harm. For example, if a nurse fails to put up the side rail on a hospital gurney, the patient may fall and sustain a serious injury.

Can I Still Recover for Ordinary Carelessness?

Yes, a hospital is still responsible for maintaining a level of care while their property is open to the public. Although general negligence may provide more compensation than medical malpractice, the standard of care for negligence is usually much lower.

Physicians, as professionals, are expected to have more knowledge and exercise more care in their work than other individuals who are working at the hospital. Although it may seem counter-intuitive, in numerous states, a patient who is injured in a hospital slip-and-fall may be able to recover more money than a patient who is injured because of a doctor’s mistake.

Medical malpractice caps commonly limit compensation in medical malpractice cases. Negligence cases, however, typically do not have these limits.

Do I Need an Attorney?

If you or your loved one has been injured as a result of the negligence of hospital staff, you should consult with a personal injury attorney. Your attorney can advise you of the potential value of your case as well as what legal remedies may be available to you.


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