Patients rely on their healthcare providers to make sound decisions and provide competent care. There is simply no room for mistakes in a medical setting. Medical errors can result in unnecessary pain, suffering, and additional medical costs.
The law may entitle you to compensation if a medical error results in injuries. Learn more about what qualifies as a medical error and how a lawyer can help you.
Medical error versus unfavorable outcome
You may not always receive the outcome you hoped for when you receive medical care. However, that does not mean a medical error occurred.
A medical error is a preventable mistake. In other words, what happened to you was avoidable.
Common types of medical errors
Below are some of the most common medical errors. However, this is not an exhaustive list of preventable mistakes that can happen in a medical setting. You should consult with a lawyer if any medical error harmed you or your loved one.
Patients deserve an accurate and timely diagnosis. Mistakes can cause delayed or ineffective treatment.
Diagnostic mistakes include:
- Wrong diagnosis
- Missed diagnosis
- Late diagnosis
These errors may cause a disease or chronic condition to progress.
There is no room for error during surgery. But unfortunately, preventable mistakes can and do happen. Patients are particularly vulnerable under anesthesia, as they can’t speak if something goes wrong.
Preventable surgical mistakes include:
- Operating on the wrong body part
- Making an incision in the wrong location
- Cutting or slicing healthy tissue
- Leaving surgical equipment in the body
Many of these errors lead to injection and require a second surgery to treat. According to “Medical Error Reduction and Prevention,” at least 4,000 surgical mistakes occur each year in the U.S. It’s likely that more surgical errors occur but are never detected or reported.
Healthcare professionals that attend births make split-second decisions. Mistakes made by doctors and hospital staff can harm birthing individuals and their babies.
Birth injuries can include:
- Delayed C-sections
- Improper use of forceps or vacuum extraction
- Mistakes in administering an epidural or other pain medication
- Failure to recognize a nuchal umbilical cord during delivery (cord wrapped around baby’s neck)
Mistakes made during labor and delivery can permanently injure a child. Families experience distress during what should be a happy occasion.
The dispensing of medication can involve several individuals: the prescriber, the pharmacist, and the nurse who administers the drug. Medication errors can cause severe harm and death.
Examples of medication errors include:
- Wrong medication
- Wrong dose, too much or too little
- Prescribing a drug that is not compatible with pregnancy
- Prescribing a drug for which the patient has a documented allergy
According to “Medication Dispensing Errors And Prevention,” almost half of all medication mistakes occur during the ordering or prescribing stage.
Improperly sterilized equipment
Trained personnel are responsible for sterilizing surgical and medical equipment.
Mistakes in equipment sterilization occur when:
- Sterilization equipment malfunctions
- Technicians don’t receive property training
- Hospital personnel circumvent the sterilization process due to a lack of equipment, staffing, or overbooked operating rooms
Improper or incomplete sterilization exposes patients and hospital staff to harmful pathogens.
Medical personnel relies on documentation recorded by other staff.
Examples of communication breakdowns in a medical setting include:
- Forgetting to document important information
- Recording the wrong information
- Software malfunctions that erase or don’t save data
Omissions or errors can lead to inappropriate treatment or delayed care.
Where do medical errors occur?
A preventable mistake can happen anywhere a person receives medical care:
- Out-patient clinics
- Doctors’ offices
- Emergency rooms
- Birthing centers
- Dental clinics
- Mobile medical units
- Prison hospital wards
- Drug rehabilitation centers
A medical error can change someone’s life forever, no matter where it happened.
Who is responsible for a medical error?
The law allows patients to sue doctors for medical malpractice. In other situations, the hospital may be responsible for mistakes made by other healthcare providers. An attorney can help identify the negligent parties and hold them accountable for their mistakes.
Are you eligible for a medical error settlement?
The simple fact that a medical error occurred isn’t enough to build a case.
You may seek a settlement if both the following statements are true:
- What happened was a preventable mistake and
- You sustained damages because of that mistake
All medical errors are unfortunate and can make you lose faith in the medical system. However, the purpose of a settlement is to reimburse you for the damages you experienced. Damages include bodily injury, pain and suffering, and medical bills.
The only way to know if you qualify for a medical error settlement is to speak with an attorney. Most law firms that handle medical error cases offer a free consultation. They’ll let you know if you qualify and what legal options are available.
Reasons you need a medical error attorney
Medical error cases are complex. You may jeopardize your claim if you attempt to represent yourself. There are several reasons why you need a lawyer.
Medical errors can be difficult to uncover
The healthcare facility may tell you that what occurred was a known complication or natural progression of your condition when, in fact, it was not. A lawyer can consult with independent medical experts to review your case.
You may receive a lowball offer
It may seem like a best-case scenario if the healthcare facility immediately admits to the mistake. They may even offer to pay for your related medical care. However, this is rarely a generous or altruistic offer.
This type of reimbursement keeps the medical error hidden. No medical facility wants the attention of a lawsuit. You may be eligible for much more than what they voluntarily offer you. What if you miss work while you recover? Your physical pain and emotional suffering? The related medical care do you need five years from now?
It’s in your interest to consult with an attorney if the medical facility or another responsible party voluntarily offers you money. If you accept, you may forfeit your right to pursue a lawsuit later. You could still have bills to pay and lost income but no legal recourse.
You deserve maximum compensation
Medical error attorneys pursue maximum compensation as allowed by the law. No amount of money can undo a medical error, but it can make life easier going forward. You should not have to worry about getting by or how the error affects your family’s future.
An overview of a medical error legal claim
Some medical errors, such as surgery on the wrong body part, are immediately evident. Other mistakes may not be as obvious, at least initially. Such cases require some investigation.
While each medical error lawsuit is different, most follow a general path. Knowing what to expect throughout the claim process can make things easier. The steps listed below are an overview of what can happen, starting with your consultation.
Consult a medical error lawyer
Most law firms that take on medical error cases offer free consultations. The attorney or firm representative will ask you questions about what happened. This meeting is also a chance for you to ask questions. You’ll leave knowing if you have a valid legal claim.
You decide what to do next
A consultation does not obligate you to hire that law firm or pursue a legal claim. But knowing what your legal options are can help you decide what course of action to take.
Your lawyer builds your case
After you hire an attorney, they start working on your claim. Some medical errors are apparent and result in a straightforward case. Other situations require an investigation and consultation with other professionals. Your attorney assesses your current and future damages to determine an adequate settlement amount.
Your lawyer will pursue a settlement on your behalf. Often, this involves back-and-forth negotiations with an insurance company or the responsible party. The negotiation phase can seem long when you’re injured. However, a fast settlement is not necessarily an adequate one. Dedicated attorneys pursue maximum compensation for their clients, even if it takes a year or more.
Possibly, a court trial
Many medical error cases settle without a trial. However, your lawyer will let you know if a trial is in your interest. As the injured party, you can decide if you want to take your case to court. Your attorney can help you weigh the pros and cons.
Your case concludes
A settlement compensates you for your damages and helps secure your financial future. This payout also holds the negligent party responsible for their mistake.
3 Situations when you should consult a medical error attorney
1. You’re not sure if what occurred was avoidable.
Lawyers partner with independent medical experts. They can determine if an outcome was simply unfortunate or if you are the victim of an avoidable mistake.
2. The hospital immediately agrees to pay your medical error-related expenses.
Don’t let a healthcare facility’s “generosity” fool you. Not charging you for the care that injured you is a fraction of what you should receive. You may also qualify for compensation for lost wages, emotional distress, and future medical expenses.
3. The healthcare facility asks you to sign paperwork about the error.
You should consult with an attorney before you sign any paperwork. You could sign away your right to pursue adequate compensation and take legal action.
The cost of hiring a medical malpractice attorney
Most attorneys handling medical error cases work on a contingency fee basis. They don’t charge any money upfront to get started on your case. They collect their fees usually a predetermined percentage of your settlement after your case concludes.
Contingent fees offer several benefits to injured individuals. The firm doesn’t collect any attorney fees if they lose your case. (However, you may still owe court fees or other expenses.) You have the assurance that you have a strong, valid claim.
Each medical error law firm sets its own fees and policies. Before you hire an attorney, make sure you understand their payment structure.
Fatal medical errors: Wrongful death lawsuit
We extend our sympathy if your loved one died due to a medical error. Surviving family members may qualify for a wrongful death lawsuit. A settlement can’t make up for losing your loved one, but it can secure your financial future.
State laws limit who can file a wrongful death claim and how much time they have to do so.
Typically, relatives can pursue a fatal medical error lawsuit:
- Many states give priority to the deceased spouse
- Parents, if the deceased did not have a spouse or children
- Possibly other relatives and court-appointed representatives
An attorney can inform you if you qualify to file a wrongful death lawsuit.
Medical error compensation: How much is your claim worth?
A settlement compensates you for your medical error-related damages. Personal injury law categorizes these damages as either economic or non-economic.
Economic damages in a medical error lawsuit
Economic damages are expenses that have a set price:
- Lost income
- The cost to hire professionals to perform services you can no longer perform due to your injuries (childcare, house cleaning, yard work)
- Medical care for your medical error-related injuries
The expenses associated with a medical error can add up quickly.
Non-economic damages in a medical error lawsuit
A medical error can cause physical injuries and psychological distress.
You may qualify for compensation for:
- Physical pain
- Emotional suffering
- Loss of self-esteem due to permanent scarring
- Loss of companionship for your spouse
It can seem strange to put a price tag on a medical error’s emotional and psychological effects. However, a settlement provides closure and may help you move on.
Deadline to file a medical error lawsuit
State laws govern how long you have to pursue a legal claim after experiencing a medical error. This deadline is called the statute of limitations. The time you have depends on the state’s specific laws and whether your case is personal injury or medical malpractice.
Laws and specific circumstances vary, but the clock may start ticking:
- The day you experienced the medical error injury; or
- The day the medical error injury was made known to you; or
- The day you reasonably should have known about the medical error injury
It is in your best interest to contact an attorney if you suspect that a medical error occurred. The courts may not hear your case if you attempt to file after the deadline.
You preserve your legal rights when you act right away. It may be easier for an attorney to build a strong case right after you experience a medical error injury. Many forms of evidence fade over time.
Get legal help after a medical error
Do you wonder if an unfavorable outcome was really a medical error? Or if you have a valid legal claim? Get answers from an experienced law firm today through your free consultation.