Medical malpractice lawsuits can present a number of challenges. It may be easy to identify the malpractice in many cases, but difficult in others. A victim’s pre-existing conditions may contribute to their injury. In addition, more than one of the people involved in a victim’s care may have contributed to their injury.

Physicians owe a duty of due care to all of their patients when they provide them with treatment. The duty of care owed by physicians is to provide care that is at least as good as the customary practice of physicians in good standing in the profession. Other healthcare providers also owe a duty of care to patients. That includes nurses, lab technicians, hospitals and everyone on a hospital’s staff.

If a physician, hospital, nurse or other healthcare worker provides care that falls below the standard of their professions, and their negligence results in injury to their patient, they are liable for medical malpractice.

So, depending on the specific facts of the case, it may be possible to hold the following parties liable for injury and loss caused by medical malpractice:

  • Hospitals: The health care organizations that operate hospitals can be liable for errors in patient treatment. An example of this could come up in connection with emergency room negligence. If the doctor or nurse who is negligent in their treatment of a patient is employed by the hospital, and not a contractor, the hospital that employs them can be liable for malpractice.
    • If a team was responsible for the care of a patient and more than one person on the team was negligent, the hospital can be liable. If an error of hospital administration causes a patient’s injury, the hospital can be liable. If any member of a hospital’s staff performed an assigned task in a negligent manner, the hospital can be liable for malpractice;
  • Physicians and Surgeons: If a physician or surgeon is responsible for providing health care to a patient and that care falls below the standard of care that is at least as good as the customary practice of physicians in good standing in the community, they are liable for medical malpractice;
  • Nurses and Other Staff: Nurses and other staff in hospitals and other care facilities, e.g. doctor’s offices and surgical facilities that are not in hospitals, also have the same duty to provide care to patients and if they breach that duty and their breach is a direct cause of injury to their patient, they too can be liable for malpractice;
  • Pharmacies and Pharmacists: Pharmacists and pharmacies are not an exception and they owe their patients the same duty of care as all other health care providers. Pharmacists can make errors, providing the wrong medication when filling a prescription, providing medication in the wrong dosage or providing the wrong instructions are some examples of how pharmacists and pharmacies can breach their duty of care and cause serious injury to patients.

Unfortunately, medical malpractice is far from uncommon. Experts have estimated that the incidence of injury to patients caused by the negligence of healthcare providers is one in one hundred hospital admissions. The kinds of malpractice that can occur are as numerous as are the procedures and treatments provided to patients by the various providers involved in healthcare.

For example, in a recent case a urologist told a patient that imaging had shown a mass in one kidney that was consistent with a diagnosis of malignant cancer. The urologist recommended removal of the kidney, and not a biopsy to confirm the diagnosis of a malignancy.

The kidney in question was removed and it was discovered that the kidney tumor was not malignant but benign, i.e. not cancerous. So, the removal of the patient’s kidney may well have been unnecessary. Whether the necessary diagnostic steps were taken and the negative outcome could have been avoided is a difficult question. There may have been malpractice in this case.

What If More Than One Party Is Liable for the Injuries?

Another concern with medical malpractice liability is the fact that more than one healthcare provider can be responsible for a patient’s injuries. The law of comparative negligence deals with assigning to each responsible person or entity only the percentage of responsibility which their conduct justifies. It is the recognition that more than one healthcare professional may have been involved in an incident of malpractice.

In addition to the standard medical procedures that physicians provide, medical treatment includes several different stages, such as intake, diagnosis, pre-treatment consultation, and follow-up. Medical errors can occur in any of these phases.

For example, a nurse may receive incorrect directions regarding the dosage of a certain anesthesia. The question then becomes whether the nurse should have recognized the error and suggested to the doctor correcting the dosage. This can depend on many different factors, such as the nurse’s skill level, as well as the nature of the directions the nurse received. Many cases of malpractice arise during the diagnosis phase of medical care.

There are a number of ways to allocate liability for damages so that a number of different healthcare providers who may have contributed to the victim’s injuries in a single case pay only for the proportion that corresponds to their negligence. The victim may even have contributed to their own injury from malpractice in some say. For example, a victim may have failed to follow after-care instructions and contributed to making their medical outcome worse. So a total damage award might be reduced by some percentage which reflects the negligence of the victim.

The doctrine of comparative negligence allows a judge or jury in a malpractice case to assess the comparative fault of each party. The assessment would include the victim and each and every healthcare provider involved. The negligence of each has to be determined and the percentage of responsibility each has for the malpractice overall. The responsibility of each for a portion of the total damage award is then decided. .In the end, each provider pays a percentage of the total award that reflects their contribution to the malpractice.

In our example above, the nurse may be found 50% responsible and the physician who wrote the dosage instructions for the anesthesia would be found responsible for the remaining 50%. In this example, the patient would most likely not be found to have contributed to their injury.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

Medical malpractice lawsuits require the involvement of a personal injury lawyer. This is especially true for cases in which it is difficult to tell exactly who is responsible for the patient’s injuries. Your lawyer has to work with other medical professionals who can first determine whether malpractice occurred.

If there has been malpractice, a professional healthcare expert has to identify the exact nature of the malpractice. An expert has to describe how a victim’s outcome could have been different if there had not been malpractice. Even an economic expert may be required to assign a value to the effect of the injury on the victim’s life and earning capacity, if it has been affected.

If you or a loved one needs assistance with a medical malpractice claim, you should speak with an experienced personal injury lawyer in your area. A qualified lawyer can assist you in filing a lawsuit, and can arrange for consultation with the necessary medical and other experts that are needed to prepare for a trial.