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What Is Medical Malpractice?

Medical malpractice is a specific type of injury claim that typically involves the negligence of a doctor, surgeon, nurse, or other health care professional.  Proving medical malpractice usually requires that the plaintiff suffered medical injuries due to the medical professional’s breach of their professional duty of care. There are various standards of care depending on the professional’s line of work, educational background, and medical experience.

Examples of medical malpractice include: prescribing the wrong medicines; giving wrong medical advice; providing improper treatment; performing the wrong surgery; and reckless handling of the patient’s body, such as causing internal injuries during a colonoscopy.

In a medical negligence claim, many different parties can be held liable, such as a doctor, surgeon, nurse, or other hospital personnel.

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 wrong 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.

Examples of Medical Malpractice Claims

What Needs to Be Proved in a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit?

A patient who has been injured because of a doctor’s medical malpractice needs to prove several important elements in order to be successful. A patient must prove that his or her injuries were caused by the doctor’s negligence. Negligence by a medical doctor can include an error in diagnosis, treatment, or illness management. If the negligence caused the injury to the patient, a legal case for medical malpractice can arise against:

  • The doctor who caused the injury because his methods or standards that were used were different than what is generally accepted in that standard of practice
  • The hospital for improper care or inadequate training of the doctor or the medical staff that worked on the patient
  • Local, state or federal agencies that operate hospital facilities
  • Any medical staff that was negligent in providing for the patient which resulted in the patient’s injury

Medical malpractice laws are designed to protect patients' rights and for the patient to be able to receive compensation if they are injured as a result of the medical provider’s negligence. However, malpractice suits are sometimes very difficult and costly to win because the defendant usually has a supporting staff of lawyers provided by the hospital that are trained and experienced to defend medical malpractice lawsuits.

What If I Need to File a Medical Malpractice Claim?

One of the first steps is to determine which person or parties you think might be liable for your injuries. You should review the chain of events leading up to your injury and see where the origin of your injury might lie.  Was it due to faulty medicine? Was it due to a wrong prescription?  Was it due to a wrong surgical procedure? As mentioned, in some cases many different persons might be jointly responsible, so it’s important that you try to recall and document the nature and extent of your injury.

What Are Some Common Defenses In a Medical Malpractice Claim?

There are several defenses that is available for doctors or medical providers who are accused on medical malpractice. Some defenses that are used in a medical malpractice claim are the following:

  • Contributory Negligence: The doctor or medical provider can claim that they are not the only ones liable for the patient’s injury and the patient also contributed to his or her injury because of some type of negligent act that the patient engaged in.
  • Statute of Limitations: Some states place time limits on when a claim for medical malpractice can be brought. If the medical professional can show that the patient discovered the injury at a time where the statute of limitations has expired, then the case can be dismissed and no claim can be brought against the medical provider.
  • Absence of Causation: A defendant in a medical malpractice claim can argue that the plaintiff was not injured by the doctor’s negligence and the doctor 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 You Need an Attorney?

Medical malpractice claims can often involve serious injuries that can be costly to the victim. You may need to hire a personal injury lawyer if you need assistance with a medical malpractice liability claim. Your attorney can help determine which party or parties might be liable for your injury, and can help represent you during the actual lawsuit.

Photo of page author Kourosh Akhbari

, LegalMatch Legal Writer

Last Modified: 08-23-2017 01:23 PM PDT

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