People in Pennsylvania and surrounding areas have every right to view hospitals where healing occurs. In the vast majority of cases, they are. But what happens if a visit to a hospital results in a medical or other error that harms you?
If a hospital visit results in harm that the hospital itself is liable for, you may sue the hospital for medical malpractice. In Pennsylvania, the statute of limitations for bringing a medical malpractice claim is two years from when the malpractice occurred. (The statute of limitations refers to a period after an injury or other harm, after which the court will not agree to hear a case.)
However, in many medical malpractice cases, the person harmed doesn’t immediately know what happened. They only know they don’t get better or they’ve developed an issue. If your physician diagnoses you with strep throat and the symptoms are later diagnosed correctly as cancer of the throat, months may elapse.
In those cases, the statute of limitations is tolled (or stopped) for the period that a person did not know medical malpractice had taken place. It will begin again on the date they discover the harm. In other words, if a physician initially diagnosed you with strep throat and the symptoms later receive an accurate cancer diagnosis, the date you learned this begins the statute of limitations clock.
The experience of leaving a hospital and your health not improving or taking a bewildering turn for the worse can be painful and frightening. It’s prudent to contact a medical malpractice lawyer. Why? Because hospitals and their insurers may close ranks if they believe you think medical malpractice may have occurred. A lawyer can help you negotiate so that justice is done.
In addition, medical malpractice cases are complicated, with strict requirements that must be met for the case to proceed. Your attorney will need time to prepare a case. The bottom line with suing a hospital is this: don’t wait until the statute of limitations is close. See a lawyer if you think you have a case.
Table of Contents
- Medical Malpractice: The Scope of It
- What Types of Compensation Can I Receive from a Negligent Hospital?
- What If My Loved One Died Because of a Hospital’s Malpractice?
- In What Circumstances Would I Sue a Hospital?
- How Does a Medical Malpractice Case Progress?
Medical Malpractice: The Scope of It
Experiencing harm resulting from a hospital stay is a subset of medical malpractice. It’s helpful to know what the definition of medical practice is.
Briefly, it occurs when a hospital, physician, or other health care provider does not deliver the standard of care the medical community determines is appropriate and accepted. It often fails to diagnose property, misdiagnoses, or delays in diagnosis.
Medical malpractice is professional negligence committed by a healthcare organization, such as a hospital, or a healthcare practitioner, such as a doctor or nurse. Negligence, in general, refers to failure to deliver the standard of care expected. Negligence parties are liable for harm and injuries proceeding directly from the negligence.
What Types of Compensation Can I Receive from a Negligent Hospital?
Medical malpractice suits aim to recover damage compensation for the injuries and harm.
You may seek the following in compensation for a medical malpractice suit.
- Medical bills for the care received to date
- Medical bills for future care arising from the injuries and harm
- Lost wages from work if the harm renders you unable to work
- Future loss of income or potential earnings affected by the injury or harm
- Cost of medical equipment, devices, or retrofitting a home for your care
- Pain and suffering relating to your injury
- Emotional or mental distress due to the malpractice incident and harm
- Permanent disability or disfigurement due to the malpractice
- Loss of consortium
- Loss of quality of life
What If My Loved One Died Because of a Hospital’s Malpractice?
Tragically, some medical malpractice suits involving hospitals result in death. In those cases, a type of lawsuit called “wrongful death” can be brought against the negligent parties.
In the Keystone State, the personal representative of the deceased person’s estate ordinarily brings a wrongful death suit. (A personal representative is often called an executor.) However, if the personal representative does not do so in six months, the deceased’s beneficiaries may commence such a suit.
Although the personal representative bears responsibility for bringing a wrongful death suit, these suits are intended to award damages to the deceased’s family members: spouse, children, and parents. A suit may also seek compensation for the estate itself.
The allowable compensation includes:
- Hospital and medical expenses between the date of injury and the death
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Lost wages and benefits, including amounts the deceased could have been expected to earn had they lived
- Loss of the deceased’s household comfort, services, society, and guidance
- Estate administration expenses
In What Circumstances Would I Sue a Hospital?
When the general public thinks of medical malpractice, it may be more common to think of an individual healthcare provider, such as a physician, rather than a hospital. But, of course, hospitals are providers of care, and if the care goes wrong in some way, they are very often culpable.
Specifically, hospitals may be a party to a malpractice case if the following occurs.
- An employee of the hospital makes a medical or other error resulting in harm in the scope of their employment - Doctors are often private contractors to hospitals rather than employees. But hospitals employ many medical providers, including nurses, anesthesiologists, physician’s assistants, pharmacists, radiologists, patient care technicians, janitorial staff, emergency room personnel, and more. Any one of these and more could fail to render an appropriate standard of care. In addition, any harm suffered by a patient, even the spilling of hot coffee by a food technician that causes burns, can imply negligence and improper training on the part of the hospital.
- Negligent training - Hospitals are notable for the specialized training that most workers must undergo to be employed. Federal and state laws require training the hospital itself and possibly local authorities. If employees aren’t trained on how to do their jobs properly, the employer may bear responsibility for any harm that results.
- Failure to supervise - Medical personnel in a hospital vary in their scope of practice. Physicians, for example, may diagnose, but a certified nursing assistant (CNA) cannot. Some nurses may diagnose under a doctor’s supervision. If they diagnose without a physician’s supervision, the hospital may be liable for failure to have proper supervision.
- Allowing medical providers with a competence issue to continue - All too often, medical providers accused in malpractice cases have a pattern of committing the error previously. Hospitals can be liable if they know of a competence issue and fail to follow up appropriately.
- Understaffing - Unfortunately, understaffing is an issue in healthcare, hospitals, and other facilities. Understaffing can lead to misdiagnoses, wrong diagnoses, and failure to diagnose.
- Injuries or harm acquired in the hospital itself - Some injuries, such as implements left in patients after surgery, occur in the hospital itself. Some reports indicate that 770 cases occur over a decade—which may not seem common, but is roughly seven per year. These cases can result in bacteria and septicemia and nearly always necessitate a prolonged stay or additional surgery. Hospital-acquired infections (HAI) refer to infections stemming from hospital stays. They can result from implements such as catheters or from bacteria in the hospital. HIA’s are the leading cause of preventable death and disability among hospitalized patients. Hospitals can bear responsibility for injuries and harm picked up in the hospital itself.
How Does a Medical Malpractice Case Progress?
Medical malpractice cases are quite different than other personal injury cases. First, you need to have reasonable grounds to suspect that a hospital was responsible for injuring or harming you somehow. The initial grounds may be that you failed to respond to treatment. Yet, when you went to a different doctor and received a different diagnosis, you did respond and were restored to health. Compare that with the aftermath of a car accident, which is also a personal injury case. There is no uncertainty about whether you were or were not struck by a car.
It is prudent to consult a medical malpractice attorney if you have grounds for suspicion. The initial consultation is free, and a lawyer can help you in multiple ways.
Among those ways:
- Gathering evidence and preserving it - all legal cases are ultimately won through evidence. Your medical records at the hospital and other institutions can establish a vital link in the chains of a successful case. Unfortunately, such evidence can be lost, erased, or even destroyed. A lawyer’s office will have much more success getting evidence than an individual.
- Discovering every potentially liable entity - Let’s say you were diagnosed with strep throat. The symptoms were later diagnosed as cancer. Not only were you misdiagnosed, but a delay in cancer diagnoses allows cancer to proceed untreated. In a case like that, multiple parties may be liable, perhaps the doctor and the hospital.
- Proving that the negligent party’s actions caused your injuries - One of the reasons attorneys need to discover all potentially negligent parties is that, to establish a successful claim, they must be able to prove that your injuries stemmed directly from the negligent party’s actions and not some other cause. Insurance companies will often try to prove that, yes, something occurred, but it wasn’t the responsibility of their insured party. In other words, they may try to argue that you had strep throat and that the cancer was a tragic event unrelated to misdiagnoses or failure to test and interpret symptoms accurately.
- Establishing a just damage claim - Insurance companies will also try to lowball any claim they receive by arguing that it is worth less than the patient’s claims. They may try to minimize your symptoms or attribute them to another cause. Attorneys, however, have access to expert opinion in the medical and healthcare economics communities. They can make sure that justice is done with your damage claim.
- Gathering evidence to support your injury claim - Evidence must also be gathered and preserved to support a damage claim, quite separate from the evidence that establishes who or what caused the malpractice.
- Obtaining a Certificate of Merit - In Pennsylvania, a patient alleging malpractice or their attorney must obtain a signed Certificate of Merit and file it with the initial lawsuit complaint or within 60 days of filing. A licensed professional must review the claim. They must certify that there is a reasonable probability that the defendant’s (the hospital’s) actions fell outside the generally accepted standards of the profession and caused the plaintiff harm. The professional needs to have the education, training, and experience to testify at the trial if it goes to trial.
- Negotiating with the insurance company - Unfortunately, insurance companies are not in the business of providing justice. Insurance carriers are in business to make a profit and to make their profit margins as large as possible. They will try their best to deny or minimize claims, as a result, whether it’s fair or not. They may deny that their insured had a role, that your injuries or harm had the scope you say they did, or identify other parties who caused the injury. Fortunately, lawyers know insurance companies’ strategies and can negotiate them successfully.
- Bringing a case to court - If insurance company negotiations fail, a lawyer can help you bring a medical malpractice case to civil court for damages. Courts are often willing to grant higher damage awards to medical malpractice victims that insurance companies are, because they feel more sympathy (and are not a for-profit business). Most importantly, insurance companies know this fact! They would very much like to avoid court if possible.
In addition, courts can impose punitive damages to punish a pattern of misconduct, if they see one, in addition to the damages you seek. This could involve hospitals repeatedly ignoring examples of incompetence.
If you have additional questions, contact a medical malpractice lawyer in near you.