What Are Medical Malpractice Lawsuits?

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 What is Medical Malpractice?

Medical malpractice lawsuits are personal injury lawsuits which are filed against medical professionals by injured patients. A medical malpractice case is special due to the fact that a doctor or medical professional failed to act competently and in accordance with the standard of care which caused injury to the patient.

For example, patients may file medical malpractice claims if their doctors did not take the proper medical action or they failed to diagnose a disease. When a doctor, medical professional, or healthcare organization acts below the standard of care when treating, diagnosing, or managing a patient and injury results, medical malpractice occurs.

In many cases, the deviation from the duty of care that is required for all medical professionals typically arises from some form of negligence. Medical malpractice laws are those laws which allow injured patients to bring claims against medical professionals who are negligent.

These laws allow patients to recover monetary damages for harms or injuries which were caused by substandard conduct of medical professionals. Whether or not a medical professional will be held liable for injuries to a patient will depend on the facts of the specific case. It will also depend on the various rules and requirements of medical malpractice laws which exist in that particular state.

In some cases, the regulations and standards for medical malpractice claims will vary between states as well as between jurisdictions in the same state. Because of this, if an individual believes they have sustained injuries due to medical malpractice, they should contact a personal injury attorney in their area to learn about the laws of their jurisdiction.

How is Medical Malpractice Proven in a Lawsuit?

There are certain elements which must be proven before a medical malpractice claim can be established. The plaintiff must show the following in order to prove medical malpractice liability:

  • The medical professional owed the patient a duty to act reasonably as well as in accordance with the standard of care while overseeing the health of the patient, for example, diagnosing, treating, etc.;
  • The medical professional failed to meet the standard of care, or duty of care, because they were negligent in managing an aspect of the patient’s health. In other words, they breached the duty of care they had to that particular patient;
  • The negligent conduct of the medical professional was both the actual and proximate cause of the patient’s injury; and
  • The injury resulted in the patient suffering measurable injuries or damages.

In addition, if the lawsuit is filed against an organization or the clerical staff of that organization, it is required to be shown that the medical staff was negligently trained or supervised. There are some items which may be helpful for the plaintiff to submit as evidence to support their claim, such as:

  • Medical records;
  • Receipts for medical related expenses;
  • Documents which caused a misdiagnosis or a mistreatment to occur; and
  • Costs which are related to the injury, such as hospital bills to remedy a surgeon’s mistake or other issues.

Who is Commonly Affected by Medical Malpractice?

Medical malpractice issues affect numerous individuals, all the way from children to adults. Some individuals, however, are affected more than others.

Groups which typically file the most medical malpractice claims include:

  • Females make up 60% of medical malpractice cases. The median age is 38 years old;
  • Adults over the age of 65 years make up 12% of cases; and
  • Newborns are approximately one-fifth of these types of cases.

Who Are the Most Common Defendants in Medical Malpractice Cases?

The most common defendants in medical malpractice claims are medical professionals, including doctors. Although the majority of cases are split evenly and affect all medical fields, the most prevalent areas include:

  • Obstetrician-gynecologists (OBGYNs), which make up 19% of cases;
  • General surgeons make up 17% of cases; and
  • Primary care physicians make up 16% of cases.

What Are the Most Common Medical Malpractice Claims?

It is common for medical malpractice lawsuits to arise because a medical professional failed to meet the standard of care when they were treating the plaintiff. Common mistakes which occur in medical malpractice cases include:

  • Missed diagnosis;
  • Drug errors;
  • Anesthesia mistakes; and
  • Wrong surgery or wrong patient.
  • The most common issues include diagnosis errors, which makes up 46% of claims and surgery errors, which makes up 34% of claims.

What Kind of Damages Can Plaintiffs Get?

A damages award is meant to compensate a plaintiff for their injuries and help them to pay for any related expenses. Typically, a plaintiff may request the following types of damages:

  • General damages, which are intended to compensate the plaintiff for costs that are not easily calculated, such as:
    • physical and mental pain;
    • loss of enjoyment of life; or
    • loss of future earning;
  • Special damages, which are intended to cover the plaintiff’s measurable monetary losses, such as:
    • lost wages;
    • medical bills; or
    • caretaking costs; and
  • Punitive damages, which are awarded in severe cases where a medical professional acted willfully, maliciously, or knew that the injury would occur.

The amount of a damage award may vary depending upon the complexity of the case. A plaintiff will typically receive damages either through a settlement agreement or a jury award.

The average amount of compensation for a medical malpractice lawsuit is $485,000. The average amount of a jury award is $799,000. The average amount for a settlement agreement is $462,000.

What are Some Common Defenses in a Medical Malpractice Claim?

There are several common defenses which are available in medical malpractice claims that a defendant may be able to raise, including:

  • Statute of limitations;
  • Contributory negligence; and
  • Lack of proof or fault.

The statute of limitations is a time limit that an individual has to file a specific legal claim. Most states require that plaintiffs file medical malpractice claims within two years. Of their injuries.

If the time limit has expired, then the plaintiff will be barred from bringing the claim and will, therefore, lose their chance to recover for their injuries. It is important to note that these time limits will vary by jurisdiction.

In states which use the contributory negligence theory, this defense may bar a plaintiff from recovering for their injuries. The defendant is required to show that the negligent conduct of the plaintiff contributed to their injuries and, therefore, the defendant cannot be held solely responsible for that harm.

A state that applies the doctrine in full will bar the plaintiff from recovering. If, however, a state follows a modified comparative negligence theory, the plaintiff who is less than 51% at fault for their injuries may still recover some damages, although they will be reduced.

If the plaintiff cannot prove that the medical professional operated below their standard or duty of care or cannot prove that they were responsible for the patient’s injuries, it may serve as a defense to the medical malpractice claim.

Should I Get an Attorney for My Medical Malpractice Lawsuit?

It is important to have the assistance of a personal injury attorney for a medical malpractice lawsuit. Medical malpractice cases can be extremely complex and highly technical.

Your attorney can review your case, determine whether or not you may have a claim, and assist you throughout the lawsuit process. They can also represent you during settlement negotiations, as it is common for these types of claims to settle outside of the courtroom.

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