Medical malpractice lawsuits are a way to hold doctors and other medical professionals accountable if they cause injuries to patients due to negligence. If you believe that a doctor’s negligence contributed to otherwise avoidable injuries, you may be able to file a medical malpractice suit against the negligent care provider. Through a medical malpractice suit, injured individuals may recover compensation for their injuries and other related damages.
Recent studies have shown that hundreds of thousands of people sustain injuries or die each year due to medical errors, making it the third-leading cause of death in the U.S. However, very few people sue negligent doctors for malpractice.
If you believe that you or a loved one may have been a victim of medical malpractice, the following is a guide to help you understand the nature of these cases. Medical malpractice laws differ depending on the state, but you may have a case if a doctor breached their duty of care.
A Doctor’s Duty to Provide Adequate Care
Doctors and other medical professionals must treat patients in ways that minimize the risk of additional injury. A doctor’s duty generally consists of four key elements. These are:
#1. Sufficient Knowledge
Medical professionals should display the knowledge needed to provide the proper level of care to patients. They should have attained this knowledge through adequate training and education in their particular specialty.
Doctors can practice many specialties, such as:
- Family practice
- Internal medicine
- Plastic surgery
- General surgery
- Gynecology and obstetrics
- Oncology and hematology
- Orthopedic surgery
#2. Necessary Skills
Doctors must also have the skills needed to provide adequate care for patients and exercise their knowledge in their area of specialty.
#3. A Standard of Care
Doctors also need to practice the standard of care required in their specialty. Doctors must provide the level of care that other competent doctors in the same practice provide.
#4. Sound Judgment
Additionally, doctors need to use their knowledge and expertise to make sound judgments when treating patients. Doctors who fail to practice sound judgment generally breach the standard of care when treating patients.
The Different Types of Medical Malpractice
If a doctor or other medical professional failed to provide adequate care, and their negligence resulted in injury, you may file a lawsuit to seek compensation.
Some examples of malpractice include:
- Prescribing the wrong medication or dosage.
- Failure to diagnose a condition or misdiagnosis of a condition.
- Surgical errors or performing procedures in the wrong area of the body.
- Conducting unnecessary surgeries or other extraneous procedures.
- Providing inadequate follow-up care.
- Premature discharge from a hospital or other care facility.
If any of these acts took place under a doctor’s care, you will need to prove that the provider’s negligence resulted in your injuries. With the help of a qualified medical malpractice attorney, you may be able to build a case and recover full compensation.
Recoverable Damages for Malpractice
Depending on the case, patients injured from medical malpractice may recover certain damages in a lawsuit. These can include a combination of economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages are relatively easy to calculate because they come with a specific monetary value, while non-economic damages are less tangible and may require more effort to calculate.
Some examples of economic damages in malpractice cases include:
- Medical expenses
- Lost wages due to the inability to work
- The cost of ongoing treatment or rehabilitation
Non-economic damages may include:
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of enjoyment
- Psychological distress
- Loss of consortium
In rare cases, medical malpractice lawsuits may also result in punitive damages awarded to injury victims. These damages punish doctors for instances of egregious negligence and recklessness. Some states limit these damages.
An experienced medical malpractice lawyer can determine which types of compensation you are eligible to seek in a medical malpractice suit.
How to Determine If You Have a Medical Malpractice Case
To succeed in a medical malpractice case, you and your attorney will need to be able to prove:
#1. That There Was a Provider-Patient Relationship
You will first need to prove that the injury victim had an established provider-patient relationship with the doctor or other medical professional they wish to sue. Normally, patients can prove that they had a qualifying relationship if they visited the professional for an appointment.
#2. That the Doctor Was Negligent
A patient also needs to prove that the medical professional was truly negligent. It’s not enough for patients to merely be dissatisfied with a treatment or the results of the treatment. Specifically, the patient must prove that the doctor neglected to meet a standard of care that another similarly trained provider would have met.
#3. That the Negligence Resulted in the Injury
Injured patients must provide clear evidence that the doctor’s negligence led to their injury. This can sometimes be difficult because these cases tend to involve people who already have an injury or illness. However, patients may still prove that negligence aggravated their existing injury or caused another unrelated injury.
#4. That the Injuries Contributed to Damages
After proving that a professional was negligent and that this negligence caused an injury, patients still also prove that they sustained damages because of the injuries. These include both economic and non-economic damages, from medical bills and lost wages to disability and pain and suffering.
The Steps for Beginning a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit
If you suffered injuries because of an instance of malpractice and want to file a lawsuit against the negligent medical professional, your lawyer may wish to take these steps.
#1. Determine Your State’s Statute of Limitations
The first step to take when starting a medical malpractice lawsuit is to determine the statute of limitations in your state. The statute of limitations dictates how long you have to file a claim or lawsuit from the time you sustained or became aware of your injuries. In most states, the statute of limitations for medical malpractice cases is two years, but in some states, you have just one year, and in others, you have as long as four.
#2. Contact a Medical Malpractice Attorney in Time
Reach out to an attorney long before your state’s statute of limitations ends. Two years may appear to be ample time, but medical malpractice claims and lawsuits can take many months to settle.
#3. Request Copies of Medical Records
Obtain and preserve medical records as soon as you can after the incident. This will help prevent others from making any alterations to your records that might harm your case, and it will help support your case early on if you have this documentation readily available.
#4. Contact the Health Care Provider to Discuss the Case
Before filing a lawsuit, get in touch with the health care provider to find out if they can address the problem and explain what happened. If speaking to your doctor or health care provider doesn’t result in a satisfactory outcome, you can file a complaint with your state medical board.
#5. Ask for a Referral to Switch Medical Providers
If your doctor is aware that you’re considering filing a medical malpractice lawsuit, they may attempt to affect your medical records or care to decrease the chances of a successful case. To prevent this from occurring, switch to another doctor for continuing care.
#6. Keep Seeking Treatment to Maximize Recovery
Your recovery is critical and should take top priority. After switching to a new health care provider, continue seeking medical treatment if required and focus on recovering. Continuing treatment will help your lawyer gain a deeper understanding of the nature of your injuries, which can help your case even further.
#7. Maintain a Journal
When filing a medical malpractice claim or lawsuit, try to maintain records of your injuries, treatment, and recovery through a pain journal. This journal can help ensure you continue to document your progress before your memories fade over time. A journal is often particularly helpful in proving pain and suffering when seeking these non-economic damages.
#8. Find out if Your State Requires a Certificate of Merit
Some states may require individuals to obtain a certificate of merit, which you can request through a medical expert. This allows you to file a lawsuit through the state’s legal system. Today, 28 states require a certificate of merit. Speak with your attorney about whether you need one. Your attorney can help you obtain one if need be.
Who Else Could Victims Sue in Medical Malpractice Claims?
Although many medical malpractice lawsuits involve doctors, this isn’t always the case.
Patients injured through malpractice may also be able to file a claim or lawsuit against:
- Doctors’ assistants
- Nursing staff
- Medical device manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies
- Hospitals and other facilities
When Hospitals Are Liable for Medical Malpractice
Hospitals sometimes engage in negligence that leads to medical malpractice, making them liable in certain cases. Additionally, they may be liable when doctors and other employees practice negligence in their facilities.
Hospitals and other health care facilities need to confirm that all of their employees have met the necessary qualifications to secure a position. These qualifications could include education, training, and licensing. Otherwise, the facility may be responsible under certain legal theories. For example, a hospital may be liable under the corporate negligence doctrine, which makes a hospital liable for the misconduct of a private physician
In addition to employees who meet certain standards, hospitals need to have a sufficient number of registered nurses working in the facility. Failure to procure sufficient staff could also make hospitals liable due to nursing staff shortages.
The Costs of a Medical Malpractice Suit
Medical malpractice cases can be expensive to pursue. The reason for this is that these cases often require thorough investigation with the help of medical experts.
Medical malpractice lawyers typically represent clients in these cases on a contingency fee basis, which means that they don’t charge clients unless they reach a settlement or win at trial. However, in addition to the contingency fee, you may need to cover other costs including court costs, the cost of hiring medical experts, and discovery expenses. Your attorney should make you aware of these and other potential costs before the case begins.
Why You Should Hire an Attorney to Handle a Medical Malpractice Case
Medical malpractice cases can be extremely challenging to prove. A knowledgeable and reliable attorney can evaluate a potential client’s case and determine if they have a viable claim or lawsuit. Additionally, upon taking on a case, a lawyer can work to gather evidence to help prove liability, negotiate with insurers, and help prepare a case to go to trial if required.
Ultimately, hiring an attorney can be an injury victim’s most crucial step when seeking compensation after a medical malpractice incident. If you want to file a medical malpractice lawsuit against a doctor who you believe injured you or a loved one, it’s best to consult a medical malpractice lawyer as soon as possible. Doing so may help increase your chances of building a successful case and receiving full compensation for your injuries and damages.