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What is Medical Malpractice?

Medical malpractice is negligence of a healthcare professional, which leads to injury of a patient with whom they have or had a professional relationship.

The category of healthcare professional includes not only doctors, nurses and dentists, but also professionals such as chiropractors, occupational therapists, midwives, social workers and psychologists. Generally, the professional will have had training and will be licensed in their field.

These types of licensed professionals are held to a standard of care for their profession, and when they deviate from it, they may be held liable.

What is Medical Malpractice Liability?

Medical malpractice liability refers to which person or parties 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.

For instance, medical malpractice liability can often involve more than one party. It is possible for medical malpractice liability may be split between both a doctor and nurse whose negligence caused the injury.

For instance, if incorrect instructions were given, or if one professional failed to correct the other, there may be a chance that both parties can be held liable.

A hospital organization can also sometimes be held liable for malpractice, especially in cases where the overall policy or quality of care of the hospital is substandard.

What are Some Examples of Medical Malpractice Claims?

While medical malpractice includes any negligence that occurred during the course of medical treatment, these are some of the most common medical malpractice claims:

  • Surgical errors;
  • Failure to diagnose, or incorrect diagnosis;
  • Failure to treat properly;
  • Unreasonable delay in treatment after diagnosis;
  • Misreading of lab results;
  • Error in medication prescription;
  • Failure to take patient history;
  • Anesthesia errors; and/or
  • Informed consent: patient wasn’t given enough information about risks of treatment.

How is Medical Malpractice Proven in a Lawsuit?

Several elements must be established in order to prove liability for medical malpractice:

  • The health professional had a professional relationship with the patient;
  • The health professional was negligent in some aspect of the patient’s treatment. In other words, they failed to meet the standard of care for their profession;
  • This negligence caused injury to the patient; and
  • This injury lead to measurable damages to the patient, for example: disability, physical pain, mental pain and suffering, and loss of income.

Additionally, if a lawsuit is brought against a hospital, its negligence in training or supervising the professional must be shown. Local, state or federal agencies that operate hospitals may also be included in the lawsuit.

What are Some Common Defenses in a Medical Malpractice Claim?

There are several defenses that are available for healthcare professionals who are accused of medical malpractice. Some defenses that are used in a medical malpractice claim are:

  • Contributory Negligence: The professional can claim that they are not solely liable for the patient’s injury, because the patient contributed to his or her injury through their own negligence.
  • Statute of Limitations: Many states place time limits on when a claim for medical malpractice can be brought, and the limits can be quite short-usually two years or less. If the healthcare professional can show that the patient discovered the injury at a time when the statute of limitations had already expired, then the case can be dismissed and no claim can be brought against the healthcare provider.
  • Absence of Causation: A defendant in a medical malpractice claim can argue that the plaintiff was not injured by the professional’s negligence and the professional was not the actual and proximate cause of the patient’s injury.

What Can I Recover for My Injuries?

Recovery in medical malpractice suits is typically divided into economic and non-economic damages:

  • Economic damages reimburse the plaintiff for actual monetary losses suffered. Also called specific or special damages, this amount is easily quantifiable and includes the cost of medical bills, lost wages, and diminished future earnings.
  • Non-economic damages represent compensation for the injury itself and are more difficult to quantify. Also called general damages, this form of recovery requires the jury to assign a monetary value to the injury itself, pain and suffering, and any resulting disability or disfigurement.

State Limits on Medical Malpractice Recovery

While economic damages are almost always recoverable, many states impose limits on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases. These states argue that arbitrarily high damages awards drive up insurance premiums and discourage medical practice.

Other states have gone the opposite route and have actually forbidden caps on non-economic damages. These states argue that legislatively imposed caps on recovery are arbitrary and violate the constitutional right to a trial by jury, and that damages should be assessed by juries on a case-by-case basis.

Do I Need an Attorney?

If you are suffering from injury as the result of treatment by a healthcare professional, and believe the injury resulted from their negligence, you should consider contacting a personal injury lawyer sooner rather than later.

They can first determine whether you are within the statute of limitations for your state, and then can evaluate the details of your case for the possibility of filing a lawsuit for medical malpractice.

Photo of page author Katie Hamblen

, LegalMatch Legal Writer

Last Modified: 07-12-2018 02:13 AM PDT

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