Medical malpractice may occur when a doctor or another type of healthcare professional fails to follow the standard of care for their field of practice. If that failure to follow the standard of care results in the patient sustaining injuries, the patient may have a viable claim for medical malpractice.
The majority of medical malpractice claims are based on the legal theory of negligence. In order to prove negligence, the plaintiff must show, generally:
- The professional owed a duty of care to the plaintiff;
- That professional breached their duty of care; and
- That breach caused the victim to suffer actual, measurable damages.
Many serious medical malpractice claims also involve reckless conduct. For example, if a healthcare professional grossly neglects their duties, it may lead to a more substantial damages award for the plaintiff.
Who is Liable in a Medical Malpractice Claim?
A claim for medical malpractice may be brought against any healthcare provider who contributed to the patient’s injuries. Entities or parties who may potentially be held liable for medical malpractice may include:
- A doctor may be held liable if their actions strayed from the generally accepted standard of care for their profession;
- The hospital may be held liable for improper care or inadequate training of its healthcare professionals; and
- Nurses or other medical staff who attended to the patient may be held liable if they contributed to the injury which the patient suffered.
Hospitals may also be held liable for injuries a patient suffers under the legal theory of respondent superior. Pursuant to this theory, an employer may be held liable for the negligent actions of its employees if the employee was acting within the scope of their employment when the negligent acts occurred.
In these types of cases, the hospital may be required to pay damages. If the employee’s actions were reckless or constituted gross negligence, punitive damages may be awarded.
What Does Standard of Care Mean in a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit?
In a medical malpractice lawsuit, it is common for that lawsuit to be based on negligence. When the plaintiff is proving negligence, they are required to show, as noted above, that the healthcare professional owed them a duty of care and that the healthcare professional breached that duty when their actions fell below the standard of care for their profession.
In medical malpractice lawsuits, the standard of care may be the focus of the entire claim. This is due to the fact that the standard of care can vary depending on several different factors.
For example, the standard of care will likely be different for a pharmacist and a surgeon performing surgical procedures. In general, professionals with more advanced and specific training are typically held to a higher standard of care.
In addition, the standard of care may vary depending upon the area of healthcare. They may also vary within a given field of healthcare.
This often occurs in areas where the applied technology is undergoing rapid changes. Therefore, in any type of medical malpractice lawsuit, it is important, and often necessary, to have the expert opinion of a lawyer and a medical professional in order to establish negligence.
What Are Some Examples of Medical Malpractice?
Medical malpractice claims may come in many different forms. They may also involve a wide range of negligent conduct.
Examples of medical malpractice which commonly occur includes, but is not limited to:
- Failure to perform surgery properly;
- Failure to diagnose an illness or a misdiagnosis;
- Pharmacy errors;
- Performing the wrong type of surgery;
- Giving inapplicable or dangerous medical advice;
- Leaving a sponge or other foreign object inside the patient’s body; and
- Other types of conduct which breaches the medical standard of care.
The typical remedy for medical malpractice claims is monetary damages. A monetary damages award is paid from the defendant to the injured plaintiff.
The amount of damages which are awarded is typically proportionate to the extent of the injuries and economic losses which the plaintiff suffered. In some states, there are limits on the amount a plaintiff can receive as a medical malpractice damages award.
It is important to note that there is typically a statute of limitations which applies to medical malpractice claims. A statute of limitations is a filing deadline or a time frame in which a plaintiff has to bring their claim.
A victim of medical malpractice should file their lawsuit in a timely manner within the statute of limitations, preferably as soon after the incident occurred as possible. This is because once the statute of limitations has run, the victim will be barred from bringing their claim and will not receive any compensation for their injuries.
What Needs to be Proven in a Medical Malpractice Claim?
In general, a plaintiff in a medical malpractice claim must satisfy all of the following requirements in order to prevail:
- Injury. The healthcare professional or provider or doctor caused an injury to the patient;
- This can be very difficult to prove. An individual was likely not in the best of health when they went to see the doctor and they would not have the expertise to prove the injury connection. Therefore, an expert witness will likely be required to testify on the plaintiff’s behalf to prove that the healthcare professional’s actions or inactions were the cause of the injury;
- Negligence, or carelessness on behalf of the healthcare professional;
- The plaintiff must show that the medical treatment fell below the accepted standard of care;
- The legal test for the accepted standard of care is generally what a reasonable healthcare professional in the community would do in similar circumstances; and
- Statute of limitations which is, as noted above, time limit within which the plaintiff must bring their claim;
- The time limit for filing a medical malpractice claim varies from 1-7 years depending on the state.
How Difficult is it to Win a Medical Malpractice Claim?
A medical malpractice claim is very difficult to prove. The majority of medical malpractice cases are very costly because they require numerous expert medical witnesses and involve complicated facts.
Healthcare professionals are often unwilling to admit they made an error and, in many cases, they have the resources to contest the claim. In addition, as previously noted, there are many state limits on medical malpractice awards.
Additionally, due to the resources and power that physicians, healthcare professionals, and hospitals have in the healthcare industry, it may be difficult for an individual to pursue a medical malpractice claim. One of the many obstacles plaintiffs in many states are required to overcome prior to even filing a medical malpractice lawsuit against a healthcare professional is what is referred to as a certificate of merit.
To obtain a certificate of merit, the plaintiff is required to have an expert, typically another physician, review the relevant medical records and to certify that the plaintiff’s healthcare provider may have committed medical malpractice.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Assistance with a Medical Malpractice Claim?
It is essential to have the assistance of a personal injury lawyer for any medical malpractice issues you may be facing. These types of lawsuits can be very challenging, especially if the victim is still recovering from their medical issues.
Your lawyer can advise you regarding the laws in your state, provide you with legal advice and guidance, and help you to obtain the best damages award possible. In addition, your lawyer will represent you during any negotiations, hearings, or proceedings.