Do I Have a Medical Malpractice Case?
Even doctors make mistakes, but some medical errors fall under the category of medical malpractice. These situations can leave you confused and even distrustful of medical providers.
Understanding whether your experience qualifies as medical malpractice can help you decide how to move forward.
Medical malpractice means a health care provider injures a patient due to professional negligence. This can be a negligent action or the omission of something the medical professional should have done that leads to an injury. Another way to look at it is failing to provide the level of care that would be expected based on commonly accepted standards of care.
Not all situations where the patient declines or dies qualify as medical malpractice. Some health conditions are incurable, and even patients with curable conditions will react differently to various treatments. A patient might decline, experience more symptoms or die from a condition even when the doctor does all the right things. Malpractice requires that the professional’s negligence was the cause of the injury or complication. This can be difficult to prove. Sometimes a doctor makes an error, but it’s not clear if the error caused the additional medical problems.
It's not always easy to determine what qualifies as medical malpractice, and every case is different. Looking at some examples can help you gain a better understanding of what qualifies.
- Misdiagnosis due to not recognizing symptoms, ordering tests, etc.
- Delay in diagnosis due to negligence
- Mistakes during testing, including improper evaluation and mislabeled labs
- Ignoring medical history when deciding on treatments or medications
- Prescribing the wrong medication or the incorrect dosage
- Making errors during surgery, such as operating on the incorrect body part or leaving items inside the patient
- Childbirth injuries, such as errors during a C-section or incorrectly using forceps
- Anesthesia errors
- Hospital infections
Not all negative outcomes in these situations qualify as malpractice. For example, a surgery might not be successful, but it's not malpractice unless the surgeon was negligent.
Medical malpractice can be difficult to prove, and the cases are often difficult to win. Several legal and medical considerations go into the decision. Understanding whether you have a case can save you time and money if the situation doesn't qualify. While states often have slightly different definitions of medical malpractice, the case typically needs these four things:
- A doctor-patient relationship. For example, a malpractice claim can’t be based on something you overheard a doctor say to someone else or something you read in a magazine article.
- Negligence on the part of the doctor during the diagnosis or treatment
- Injury that was directly caused by the doctor's negligence
- Specific damages as a result of the injury, including physical pain, mental suffering, additional medical bills to correct the issue or loss of work due to the injury
Because some states might have additional requirements, it's important to review the rules where you live and speak with a lawyer as soon as possible. There is also a statute of limitations for medical malpractice lawsuits, usually between 1 and 3 years, but some states have slightly longer periods. You need to file the lawsuit within the statute of limitations, or you're not able to take legal action. Many states also limit the amount you can receive in damages as part of a medical malpractice case.
Document everything related to the incident that you think qualifies as medical malpractice. Take photos if relevant and get copies of your medical records. Include copies of medical bills, especially those that you incur to correct the injuries caused by the medical malpractice.
Contacting a medical malpractice attorney is your next step. These attorneys have extensive experience in identifying medical malpractice and successfully fighting for compensation. An attorney can tell you if your situation qualifies as medical malpractice based on your state's laws. They can also tell you if you have a strong case. Your attorney will use the evidence you have and do more investigating to build a case. The attorney helps you file the lawsuit, negotiates with the other party and litigates the case if it goes to trial.
You can file a lawsuit against an individual health care provider, such as a primary care physician, a radiologist, a registered nurse or an anesthesiologist. You can also file your lawsuit against a medical facility, such as a hospital, clinic, medical lab or surgical center. The choice depends on the situation. The facility can sometimes be held liable if the doctor is an employee instead of an independent contractor, or if the hospital should have recognized the negligence that led to the injury. Some medical malpractice cases list multiple defendants. An experienced medical malpractice attorney can help determine the best approach.
Your case doesn't have to go to court. Many medical malpractice cases can be settled out of court. Your attorney can help negotiate a settlement to avoid a trial. This option is often more cost-effective for everyone involved because the situation can be resolved faster without the extensive preparation and processes that go into taking the case to court. If the other party won't work with you or doesn't offer a satisfactory settlement, your attorney might advise going to court.
Not all situations involving medical negligence have to end in a lawsuit. Especially for minor injuries or complications, you may consider talking to the medical professional or facility involved in the situation. Sometimes, the health care provider will help make the situation right. If not, you can often get more information from the meeting, and you can document that you tried to create a solution with the medical professional.
However, be careful about speaking with anyone other than an attorney. Your statements and interactions with medical providers could hurt your case if it goes to court. If the malpractice was serious, speaking to an attorney right away may be the best option.
You can also contact the governing medical board over the professional or facility. The board can investigate the situation and determine if disciplinary action is necessary. State medical boards typically have a complaint board where you can file a report. Providing as much information as possible assists the medical board in their investigation.
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