It’s only human to make mistakes and doctors are as error-prone as the rest of us. Yet, when their mistakes lead to physical and emotional suffering, health complications and sometimes even death, we’re stepping into the grey area of medical malpractice. This has been and always will be one of the most challenging law niches for us, lawyers, and claimants alike. The complexity of malpractice cases rises from the fact that there is a thin line between accident and negligence. Where does a doctor’s responsibility fall? Is he or she the sole responsible for an intervention that went wrong or an incorrect prescription? How can you, as a patient know whether you can sue a doctor or a medical institution for malpractice? I will try to walk you through all these questions and help you gain a broader understanding of medical malpractice.
What Is Medical Malpractice?
Medical Malpractice refers to a doctor’s failure to perform his or her duties and the correlated negative effects on patients’ health. When a patient can prove that their doctor’s decisions have led to a deterioration of their condition, that person can file a claim for medical malpractice and recover money for their physical damage. In order to bring a medical malpractice claim, we need to have a medical standard of care as a reference. Basically, you are suing someone for not performing their duty. Therefore, you must first understand what their duty implies and how their performance is assessed. The medical standard helps legal authorities evaluate how serious the defendant’s error is and whether it can be considered malpractice. If the practitioner is considered guilty, they will face charges and the victim will be compensated for their suffering. The money that goes into these awards usually comes from the liability insurance practitioners benefit from.
What Is Considered Negligence?
Medical negligence is the improper treatment that leads to the violation of the medical standard of care and subsequent injuries. Negligence is usually described as an act of omission and it might be attributed to anyone who provides health care services: doctors, dentists, surgeons or nurses. Medical negligence alone doesn’t constitute grounds for a legal process. In order to be able to file a claim against a negligent practitioner, you have to prove that their action has caused health damages. Summing up, in the absence of injury, medical negligence can’t lead to a medical malpractice claim.
For a better understanding of what medical negligence means, here are some common examples that usually constitute grounds for filing a malpractice lawsuit:
- Negligence in administering anesthesia before surgery: patients who suffer from various illnesses that require constant treatment are at risk of suffering complications due to the interaction between their medication and the anesthetic. If the doctor fails to take this factor into account before giving the anesthetic, they are liable for malpractice claims if complications occur
- Misdiagnosis: failing to diagnose conditions like heart diseases can lead to severe complications and even death. Coronary diseases are often accompanied by symptoms like pain in the chest. Many times, this general symptom is misinterpreted and the real condition is determined after a severe incident like a stroke.
- Errors during Fertilization. Women who resort to IVF might find themselves in the unpleasant situation of giving birth to someone else’s child. There have been cases when the wrong samples have been transferred to patients. They realized that they’ve been carrying someone else’s embryo only after birth because the child had no resemblance with the parents.
- Prescribing the wrong treatment. Not only does an incorrect treatment fail to cure the patient’s real condition, but it often makes it worse too. Medical negligence in prescribing medicines can be caused by a wrong diagnosis or failure to recognize a condition. However, it’s also a case of negligence when a practitioner simply writes the treatment incorrectly causing confusion for the pharmacist.
What Do You Need to Prove a Malpractice Case?
Suffering from complications after a surgery or due to a treatment your doctor has prescribed doesn’t suffice in order to file a claim for medical malpractice. My recommendation to anyone who believes that they have a malpractice case is to get in touch with a lawyer who can explain what it takes to bring a claim. These are the basic conditions you must meet in order to qualify for a medical malpractice claim:
- Proving your relationship with the practitioner you consider responsible for your injury: if you want to recover money for your injuries, the first thing you must prove is that you were officially that person’s patient. The doctor-patient relationship must be documented; you need proof that you received assistance through medical appointments or interventions.
- Proving the practitioner’s negligence: as I previously mentioned, medical negligence is a wide spectrum. To demonstrate that a doctor was negligent, you must prove that they failed to offer the correct service according to the medical standard that applies to the procedure you required. You have to prove that the treatment you received deviated from the norm and instead of helping you, it caused more harm. Basically, what you do is comparing the treatment you got with the service another practitioner would normally provide in similar circumstances.
- Proving the injury: finally, the most important evidence that supports a medical malpractice claim is the injury. You must be able to show that by operating below the standard, the doctor caused you health damages. Because many patients are already suffering from a particular disease, demonstrating that their injury was caused by the doctor’s incompetence requires the intervention of another medical expert.
How to File a Claim for Medical Malpractice
If you have been the victim of medical malpractice, here are the steps you will have to go through in order to bring your claim:
- See how much time you have to file your claim: each state’s law prescribes a specific statute of limitations for medical malpractice claims which means that there is a limited amount of time during which you are allowed to bring your claim
- Search for a lawyer: if you want to enhance your chances of recovering a rightful compensation for your injuries, you should hire a lawyer who can support you in filing your medical malpractice claim
- Gather the evidence: after you’ve found a legal representative, you’ll start working together on collecting the necessary evidence for your case. It’s important to talk openly with your lawyer and provide all the details that might help them support your cause.
- Get a certificate of merit: this document ascertains that the practitioner you are suing is responsible for the injuries caused by negligence or omission. The certificate of merit is required in many states and the person which has the right to release it is another medical practitioner who can confirm the defendant’s fault.
- File the claim: after reviewing your documentation, your lawyer will be able to file the claim on your behalf. After the claim is filed, the discovery phase begins. During this stage, the parties examine each other’s evidence, answer requests and provide additional proof and explanations if necessary.
- Reach a settlement if possible: if the parties agree to settle, the process can end before going to trial and the plaintiff will receive a settlement offer which specifies the amount of money they get as compensation. Medical malpractice claims often settle before going to trial because both parties want to rush the procedure and settlement is the fastest resolution.
- Prepare yourself for the trial: if the parties can’t reach an agreement, the case will go to court for trial.
If you have been involved in a case that might qualify as medical malpractice, don’t hesitate to seek legal support. As a victim of medical negligence, you have the right to get compensated for your injuries. The lawyers at The Law Offices of Sean M. Cleary have a vast experience in the field of medical malpractice litigation and they are ready to assist you.