What Is Medical Malpractice?

by Team eLocal
Injured woman visiting phychologist for advice

Medical malpractice describes a negligent act by a healthcare professional that leads to the injury of a patient. While that definition seems simple, in practice, it may be a lot more complicated.

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Understanding what constitutes medical malpractice helps you determine if an experience you had with your healthcare provider qualifies. It's also important to understand what you can do if your doctor commits medical malpractice.

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What Is Medical Malpractice?

Medical malpractice is a situation where a healthcare provider commits a negligent act or omission leading to patient injury. It can be caused by a doctor, hospital or other healthcare professionals. You can't claim medical malpractice just because you don't like how things turned out after medical treatment — not everything can be cured or provide optimal results. There has to be significant harm that was caused by the provider's negligence.

What Are Some Examples of Medical Malpractice?

Here are some examples of medical malpractice to help you better understand what qualifies:

  • Diagnosis failure: Misdiagnosing a patient, delaying the diagnosis or not diagnosing them at all can delay necessary treatment, which can make the condition much more difficult to treat or cause additional issues. For example, misdiagnosing cancer when there was evidence of the condition could delay treatment and allow it to spread.
  • Surgical errors: A surgeon who does something that demonstrates negligence, such as performing the wrong procedure, working on the wrong body part or using surgical instruments that aren't sterilized, could be sued for medical malpractice.
  • Postsurgical care negligence: Healthcare providers can demonstrate negligence after a surgery or medical procedure. This might include not taking steps to prevent an infection or discharging you too soon.
  • Improper treatment: Another instance of medical malpractice is using an improper treatment that's not reasonable or administering an acceptable treatment the wrong way.
  • Medication errors: You could have a medical malpractice case if the doctor prescribes a medication that's not reasonable for your condition or prescribes the correct medication inaccurately, such as a higher dose than necessary.
  • Childbirth injuries: Negligence during childbirth that leads to injuries to the mom or baby can qualify as medical malpractice. Examples include not performing an emergency C-section in a timely manner or using forceps incorrectly during the delivery, resulting in injury.

These situations typically need to be major errors that have a significant impact on your life.

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Can You Sue for Medical Malpractice?

You can sue your healthcare provider if the situation qualifies as medical malpractice. The qualifications and restrictions are set by each state, so it's important to understand what qualifies where you live. For example, medical malpractice cases have a statute of limitations that can vary by state, meaning how much time you have to file the lawsuit may be different based on where you live. Some states also require you to notify your healthcare provider before you file a medical malpractice lawsuit.

In general, the following criteria must be met:

  • Relationship: You need to have proof that there was a doctor-patient relationship, such as showing documentation of your appointments and payments for services.
  • Standard-of-care violation: Healthcare providers are expected to provide medical treatment based on what's accepted by the profession. Failing to do this can qualify as negligence.
  • Resulting injury: Negligence alone isn't enough to sue for medical malpractice. The patient also has to sustain an injury because of those actions.
  • Significant injury: Medical malpractice cases are often expensive, difficult and lengthy. For that reason, you typically need to have significant damages due to the doctor's negligence to make it worth it. This might include long-term disability, loss of income due to missing work, extensive medical bills or extreme pain.

Contacting a medical malpractice attorney is the best way to understand your rights. They can review your case and determine whether filing a malpractice lawsuit is feasible.

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