According to research, medical errors result in around 250,000 deaths yearly in the U.S. and hundreds of thousands of injuries. In fact, before COVID-19, a medical error was considered the third most common cause of death in the nation, behind only cancer and heart disease. Around 85,000 medical malpractice claims are filed annually, with an average payout on claims of $242,000.
Medical malpractice refers to an error made by a health care provider that causes a patient to become injured or die. Many parts of the process of providing health care services are particularly prone to errors. Here is a look at some of the most common reasons for medical malpractice claims. To learn more about if your medical experienced warrants filing a claim, speak to a skilled medical malpractice lawyer today.
In reviewing 25 years’ worth of medical malpractice claim payouts, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine researchers discovered that errors made in diagnosing medical conditions were responsible for the largest portion of medical malpractice claims. These errors often accounted for more severe damage than other types of errors.
Examples of failing to diagnose errors include: failure to diagnose a medical condition, misdiagnosis, or a delayed diagnosis. When an error is made in diagnosing a patient, it not only potentially subjects them to treatments that they don’t need but also causes them the opportunity to obtain the correct and timely treatment that they do need.
Another type of error commonly leading to a medical malpractice claim is an error involving prescribed medication errors.
Prescription errors can include:
- Giving the patient the wrong type of medication
- Giving the patient the wrong dose of medication
- Providing incorrect instructions for taking the medication
Other common medication errors include issues with the delivery of anesthesia during surgical procedures and the improper distribution of IV medications to a patient in the hospital.
There are risks to any surgical procedure. However, it is important to note that not all bad outcomes result from a surgical error. However, those that are tend to be particularly severe.
Common types of general surgical mistakes include:
- Performing surgery on the wrong body part, such as a procedure meant for the left knee that is instead performed on the patient’s right knee.
- Performing surgery on the wrong patient.
- Injuring a nerve or neighboring organ during a procedure.
- Accidentally leaving a surgical tool, sponge, or towel inside the body cavity upon completion of a medical procedure.
Failure to Treat or Incorrect Treatment of a Medical Condition
A proper diagnosis must be made to treat a medical condition properly. However, some medical malpractice claims focus on a health care provider who did not provide necessary treatment or incorrectly treated the condition. Some errors that can fail to treat a claim include:
- Failure to provide proper testing to diagnose a medical condition
- Failure to treat a patient because they are uninsured or they don’t possess an insurance policy that the provider prefers to work with
- Failure to treat known symptoms of a heart attack or stroke in the emergency room
- Failure to refer the patient to a specialist when the need for one is indicated by lab or physical exam results
- Failure to inform the patient about all of the treatments that are available for their condition
Birth injury generally refers to injuries incurred by a newborn during or around birth. This term can also refer to injuries occurring to the mother during this process. Again, birth injuries are not always the result of error; mild trauma sustained during the delivery is common, and generally, the child recovers within a matter of days or weeks.
Common types of birth injuries that can constitute medical malpractice include:
- Failing to perform a timely cesarean section when laboratory tests indicate that one is necessary for the sake of the health of the mother and the infant
- Failing to perform diagnostic tests would have allowed diagnosing and treating a medical condition affecting the mother or the infant. If left untreated, some conditions can result in complications during birth, including diabetes, maternal infection, preeclampsia, and obesity.
- Wrongful birth or wrongful pregnancy. Wrongful birth occurs when a doctor fails to inform the mother of a mental or physical defect affecting the child, which—had the mother had the information about the defect—would have likely led to the decision to terminate the pregnancy. Wrongful pregnancy occurs when a couple has tried various methods of preventing contraception and still become pregnant due to their doctor’s negligence.
- Failing to detect fetal distress during labor and delivery
- The improper use of birthing tools such as forceps or vacuums during the delivery process
- Pulling too hard on the baby’s head or neck as they exit the birth canal
- Failing to monitor blood loss in the mother after the birth
- Prematurely discharging the mother and infant from the hospital despite indications that they might be in medical distress
Patients unable to move due to serious injuries, coma, or physical disabilities are prone to getting pressure ulcers (also known as bed sores) if they remain in one position too long or remain soiled clothing or bedding after episodes of incontinence. A health care provider who fails to supervise the patient and regularly changes their position in the hospital bed can give a reason for a medical malpractice claim, particularly if the bed sores result in a life-threatening infection.
In addition to medical doctors, dentists can also be subject to medical malpractice claims if they make an error during the provision of services that results in an injury to a patient.
Common types of medical malpractice in dentistry include:
- Failure to diagnose and treat a dental condition
- Errors made during surgical dental procedures, such as errors in the administration of anesthesia, or damage to other teeth that occurs while a procedure is being performed
- Installation of defective dental products.
- Failure to properly sterilize dental or surgical utensils leaving the patient prone to infections caused by bacteria on the equipment
- Failure to take an adequate patient history, would have informed the doctor if certain types of treatments were not a suitable option for the patient
Premature Discharge or Lack of Follow-Up Care
After a procedure—particularly a surgical procedure—health care providers are required to monitor the patient to watch for signs of complications. When the patient meets the criteria indicating they are ready to leave the facility, medical staff are expected to provide instructions on how to manage their recovery at home. Staff must also schedule a follow-up appointment so the doctor can receive an update from the patient as they recover.
A lapse in judgment during any part of this process can result in a patient being away from the hospital while suffering dangerous or deadly complications.
Failing to Obtain an Accurate Medical History or Informed ConsentA complete medical history is such an important tool for evaluating, diagnosing, and treating a patient that most doctors take down patient history information at the first visit. Personal medical history information can include: Information about allergies the patient suffers from, particularly medications they are allergic to. Information about the illness that resulted in the patient making a doctor’s appointment, including when symptoms appeared, whether the condition had been previously diagnosed and treated by another provider, and the symptoms that the patient is currently experiencing. Past medical treatments the patient has had, including surgeries and prescribed medications they’re taking. Health habits, such as the patient’s diet and exercise routines and whether they smoke Family medical history, including medical conditions suffered by parents, siblings, or children. Many types of medical conditions have a hereditary component. Informed consent refers to a doctor telling the patient about known risks and complications associated with medical treatment. When a doctor fails to fully inform the patient of treatment, and they would likely have requested a different treatment if they had been aware of the risks, the error can result in a medical malpractice claim.
The Medical Malpractice Claims Process
Individuals who have suffered an injury due to an error made by a health care provider can seek compensation for their injury’s financial and psychological costs through the medical malpractice claims process.
Medical malpractice is a type of personal injury claim first filed against the provider’s medical malpractice insurance policy. If the insurance company fails to pay the claim, it can be filed in court as a medical malpractice lawsuit in order for a judge or jury to make determinations regarding liability and compensation.
Liability is one of the many aspects of a medical malpractice claim that is complex for most people to understand. When a doctor at a hospital makes an error or an error is made by hospital staff under the doctor’s supervision, the liable party is likely the doctor. Doctors are generally not hospital employees but independent contractors with the privileges to perform their services at a hospital. Because of this, they carry their medical malpractice insurance policy.
If a medical error was made by a hospital employee not directly under the doctor’s supervision, or results from a policy issue pertaining to the hospital, the claim is generally filed against the hospital’s medical malpractice insurance as they are tasked with the responsibility for hiring competent staff and are liable for mistakes made by their staff.
Occasionally, an injury occurring during a medical procedure results from a defective surgical tool implanted medical device, or a drug with dangerous side effects. In those cases, the claim is likely one of product liability and is filed against the liability insurance policy of the manufacturer or distributor of the defective product or medication.
The Type of Compensation Available
Medical malpractice claimants can seek compensation for both the economic and non-economic impacts of their injury, such as:
- All reasonable medical treatment provided for the injury that was incurred by the health care provider’s error
- Wage loss for the period in which the claimant was too injured by the error to work.
- Loss of future earning capacity if the injury incurred due to the medical error results in permanent disabilities and the claimant can no longer work.
- Physical pain and suffering, emotional distress, and other non-economic quality-of-life impacts incurred as a result of the error
The Claims Process When a Patient Dies as a Result of an Error
Family members can seek compensation for the expenses and impacts of a loved one’s death due to a medical error through the wrongful death claims process. This process is very similar to the personal injury claims process.
The compensation you may recover through a wrongful death claim includes:
- Expenses associated with treating the deceased’s final injury.
- Reasonable costs are associated with a funeral service and burial or cremation.
- The loss of companionship, comfort, and society provided by the deceased to their spouse.
- The loss of moral support, parental instruction, and nurturing provided by the deceased to their children.
- The loss of financial support that the deceased provided for their family members.
An Attorney Is an Important Part of a Successful Medical Malpractice Claim
All legal claims are complex for those who do not have experience and education in the law. However, medical malpractice claims are particularly complex, and having an attorney to help you navigate the process is vital to the success of your claim. An experienced medical malpractice attorney’s services include determination of liability, communication with the at-fault party’s insurance provider, negotiation of a settlement, filing the claim within the state’s statute of limitations, and more.