What Constitutes A Medical Malpractice Lawsuit?
Medical malpractice occurs when a patient is harmed and suffers as a result of a professional medical caregiver’s failure to provide the appropriate care that measures up to accepted standards of care. Essentially, when a doctor or other caregiver makes a mistake or fails to provide the right care, a patient can be harmed or even killed. This is medical malpractice.
Medical malpractice is both a medical and a legal concept. For a patient to win a suit against a doctor or medical facility, there must be evidence that the professional was negligent, caused harm and that the harm resulted in significant damages. Medical malpractice is important because it helps provide justice and compensation for individuals but also because it forces medical professionals to take greater care with patients and to work up to a certain standard of care.
Let’s take a look at the legal side of medical malpractice.
What is Medical Malpractice?
Medical malpractice occurs when a physician fails to provide the same care or medical skill as would be expected of the average medical provider in similar circumstances. It is a form of professional negligence.
Medical malpractice does not occur in every situation involving a physician’s treatment mistake. For a medical mistake to rise to the level of malpractice, the physician’s actions must cause injury and fall short of what would be expected of the average practitioner in a similar situation. If a physician defendant’s peers would have avoided making the mistake, then the physician’s medical negligence (and associated patient injuries) can be considered malpractice.
The subjective nature of this definition can be confusing. After all, how would a patient know if another physician would or would not have made the same mistake? For this reason, most successful medical malpractice suits involve mistakes that deviated from established and widely accepted guidelines for medical care.
What is Standard of Care?
The medical standard of care refers to the type of care that a reasonably skilled and competent medical provider with a similar level of education within the same area would have provided to a patient under the same treatment circumstances in which the alleged malpractice occurred. In other words, the accepted standard of care would be the care that you might expect to receive from an average doctor in the same field of practice under the same circumstances. The doctor’s medical knowledge and specialty are taken into account when determining the standard of care that should have been applied. This means that determining whether a doctor’s care fell below or met the standard of care involves looking at whether a doctor with the same types of skills and education would have provided you with the same treatment under the same circumstances. The accepted standard of care can vary from situation to situation.
Determining the appropriate standard of care involves taking the following into account:
- The doctor’s medical knowledge
- The skills of the doctor as compared to the skills of an average doctor in the same field
- How an average, reasonable doctor would have provided the care
- What the traditional, accepted medical practices are
What is a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit?
A medical malpractice lawsuit is a lawsuit that involves some type of negligence committed by a health professional or medical institution that resulted in harm and damages to a patient. The lawsuit can be brought by the patient or someone representing the patient, such as a parent or adult child. Most cases are led by an experienced and certified medical malpractice lawyer.
A medical malpractice lawsuit must prove several factors to be successful. The first is that the plaintiff had an established patient-medical professional relationship with the defended. Then, the case has to prove that the doctor or institution breached the duty of reasonable care. The breach may occur in one or more of several ways: a mistake with medications, failure to diagnose a condition, failure to warn about the risks of a procedure, surgery errors, incompetence and many others.
Once breach of duty is established, the lawsuit must prove that the breach caused harm to the patient. For instance, failure to diagnose a condition may lead to lack of treatment and the worsening of the condition and symptoms. The final piece of evidence is that this harm caused the patient significant damages. For instance, if the undiagnosed condition causes other symptoms and illnesses, it may cause the patient more pain, suffering and costs in medical bills.
The Four Legal Elements of Medical Malpractice
The rules of medical malpractice suits vary by state, but there are some basic guidelines that are common to any case. Most importantly there are four factors that are crucial in proving that medical malpractice has occurred.
Any suit must meet these requirements to be successful:
- The Existence of a Medical Relationship
First it has to be established that there was a professional, medical relationship between the patient and the individual or team accused of malpractice. This shows that there was a legal duty on the part of the professionals to provide reasonable care. This is easy to prove in most cases, as the relationship is assumed as soon as a patient comes under the care of a medical professional.
- A Breach of Professional Duty
A breach of duty occurs in the context of standards of care. Defining standards of care can be tricky, but in a malpractice case it must be shown that a medical professional violated these standards resulting in a breach of their professional duty to the patient. A professional duty to provide certain standards of care doesn’t necessarily mean the best care, but it must be reasonable and competent.
- Negligence Caused Harm
A case of malpractice only exists if that breach of duty leads to an injury or some other type of harm in the patient. This can also be tricky to prove, as the professional actions or negligence have to be separated from the illness or injury the patient already had. For instance, if a patient dies of cancer, the family may believe that the medical team was negligent in some way, but it can be difficult to determine whether it was the cancer or negligence that led to the death.
- The Harm Resulted in Damages
There must be some specific and significant damage caused to the patient if all the above elements are proven. For example, negligence may have caused chronic pain, death, mental anguish, expensive additional medical bills, or an inability to go back to work and earn a living.
Most Common Types of Medical Malpractice Claims
A medical malpractice lawsuit is a legal case in which a plaintiff brings a case against a defendant for negligent medical care. The plaintiff is either the patient who has been harmed or family of patient if it is a minor or someone who has passed away. The defendant in this type of case may be an individual doctor or other type of medical professional, or it may be an institution, such a hospital.
- Failure to Obtain Informed Consent
Medical errors are sometimes caused when a patient consents to a medical procedure without being fully informed of the expected results, potential risks and reasonable alternatives to the recommended course of action.
- Misdiagnosis, Failure to Diagnose or Delay in Diagnosis
When a doctor fails to recognize the signs of disease or other abnormality, treatment is delayed or denied. This can result in life-threatening consequences for the patient. Nearly 1/3 of all screening mammograms return false a false negative in patients with breast cancer. Doctors who do not follow up appropriately on false negative studies for breast and other types of cancer may be found negligent in the case.
- Birth Injuries or Negligent Maternity Care Practice
Birth injury medical malpractice claims arise from birth injuries to the mother or infant, wrongful birth (when a serious birth defect is not disclosed) or wrongful pregnancy (when a termination fails). OBGYNs face more medical malpractice claims than any other type of medical professional.
- Surgical Errors
Surgical errors account for astounding amount of all medical malpractice cases brought before the courts. These types of errors can take the form of wrong site surgery (operating on the wrong body part), wrong patient surgery, unsanitary surgical tools, as well as organ and/or nerve damage. In some cases, surgical errors are preventable mistakes or are caused by negligence. Sleep deprivation or stress is one of the most common preventable causes of surgical errors. Years of schooling and training cannot make up for a doctor who is physically exhausted or mentally distracted.
- Anesthesia Errors
When a patient undergoes surgery, they are typically put under sedation by a trained anesthesiologist. Since anesthesia can result in an unexpected reaction in the patient, it is up to the anesthesiologist to fully understand the patient’s medical history and monitor the patient’s vital signs while they are in surgery.
- Medication Errors
Medication errors can take the form of errors in dosing, prescribing the wrong medicine for the diagnosis or prescribing the right medication for the wrong diagnosis. Pharmacists may be held responsible for injuries if they fail to warn patients of possible dangerous side effects or account for how interactions between the new medication and current medication.
Who Can File a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit?
A number of requirements must be satisfied in order to pursue legal action for a medical professional’s mistake. The incident must have involved the following characteristics to classify as medical malpractice meriting legal compensation:
- Duty of Care
The physician and plaintiff must have had a valid doctor-patient relationship at the time of the mistake.
- Violation of Standard of Care
The doctor must have committed an error that their physician peers would not have committed in the same situation (negligence).
- Injury Caused by Violation of Standard of Care
The damage sustained by the patient must be directly attributable to the doctor’s deviation from standard medical treatment.
- Injury Merits Damages
The error must have caused harm in a way that entitles the plaintiff to legal compensation (e.g., physical pain, emotional suffering, lost wages and other legal damages).
Contact a Medical Malpractice Lawyer in California
Medical malpractice suits can be difficult to navigate due to the emotional nature of the unfortunate outcomes of these types of cases. It’s important to contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney who can help you and your loved ones decide what may be the best course of action to potentially recover damages due to medical negligence.
If you believe that you or a loved one was seriously injured as the result of a medical provider’s negligence, contact an experienced medical malpractice lawyer today.
At DuQue Law, our dynamic team has years of experience representing patients that have been harmed by medical malpractice. We seek justice for patients and their families who have suffered from preventable medical errors. Call us now at 1-877-241-9554 to learn more about your legal options. A free consultation is just a phone call away.