How Do I Know If I Have a Medical Malpractice Case?
Medical malpractice cases involve harm to patients resulting from a medical professional’s negligence. While the general rules around statutes of limitations and other aspects of these cases vary depending on the state and the nature of the case, there are certain requirements that circumstances must meet to qualify as medical malpractice cases.
The following is a breakdown of the different requirements and additional details about medical malpractice claims.
Basic Requirements for a Medical Malpractice Claim
If a patient wants to file a medical malpractice claim, there are some requirements his or her case must meet.
Typically, patients in these cases must be able to prove four things:
- That there was a doctor-patient relationship
- That the doctor practiced negligence
- That this negligence resulted in an injury
- That this injury led to certain damages
Understanding each of these aspects can help determine whether a patient has a valid medical malpractice case.
Proving There Was a Doctor-Patient Relationship
The first step in proving negligence is showing that a doctor-patient relationship existed. This entails the patient hiring the doctor and the doctor agreeing to provide direct care, including diagnosis and treatment. Without this formal relationship, individuals won’t be able to build a substantial medical malpractice case.
Proving the Occurrence of Negligence
In some cases, patients may simply be dissatisfied with the treatment or care they received. However, this alone won’t enable patients to file a medical malpractice claim. Patients need to prove that the doctor was negligent in his or her practice by showing that the doctor caused injuries when other doctors with the same level of experience and training wouldn’t have. Specifically, a patient and his or her medical malpractice lawyer would need to show that the doctor failed to meet the standard of care in place and that the doctor breached a duty of care.
Proving That Negligence Resulted in Injury
Medical malpractice cases often involve patients who are already injured or ill at the time of receiving care, which can make it difficult to prove that a doctor’s negligence directly caused an injury or illness. To help prove that negligence was the root cause of an injury, patients often turn to medical experts who can investigate the claim and determine whether the doctor’s negligence caused harm.
Proving That Injuries Led to Quantifiable Damages
After proving that negligence took place and resulted in harm, patients also need to show that the injuries sustained caused economic or non-economic damages.
Economic, or special damages, include those that are relatively easy to quantify due to specific dollar amounts associated with them. These can include medical expenses for additional treatment, emergency care costs, lost wages due to time taken off from work during the recovery process, lost earning capacity due to disability, the cost of raising a child with special needs due to disability, and physical therapy.
Meanwhile, non-economic damages include damages that aren’t as easy to calculate because they are less tangible in nature. These include the pain and suffering that victims experience, which is subjective and varies from patient to patient. Other types of non-economic or general damages include mental anguish, anxiety and depression, insomnia, loss of enjoyment of life, loss of consortium, and sometimes post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) resulting from a particularly traumatic experience.
In addition to these damages, some cases may include punitive damages. While the courts award economic and non-economic damages to compensate victims for the injuries and pain and suffering they experience, they award punitive damages specifically to punish defendants. A case may involve punitive damages if a doctor knowingly caused harm to patients, such as instances when practitioners intentionally cause harm to make a profit. The goal is to make sure that medical professionals don’t exhibit similar levels of negligence in the future.
Common Types of Medical Malpractice
There are many scenarios that could count as forms of medical malpractice. These include:
When Prescribed Treatment Isn’t Working
If a patient is taking a prescribed treatment, and it isn’t helping treat the condition, the patient may be a victim of a misdiagnosis. This can lead to a worsening of the condition that the doctor failed to diagnose. Additionally, the wrong treatment can have certain side effects that cause even more harm.
When Surgical Errors Occur
Surgeries often come with a degree of risk, but negligence can result in surgical errors that are otherwise avoidable. Surgical errors may include:
- Complications such as infections resulting from improperly sterilized surgical instruments
- Receiving the wrong surgical procedure
- Injuries resulting from careless placement on the surgical table
Injuries Caused by Poor Communication
Communication breakdowns lead to medical errors in some instances. Prior to performing any procedure, doctors need to communicate what the procedure will entail to the patient. In surgeries involving multiple parties such as anesthesiologists, assistants, and other staff, doctors also need to communicate the procedure to each individual to ensure the surgery goes smoothly. However, doctors may not communicate effectively, which could cause harm to patients.
When There is Insufficient Follow-Up
Doctors may neglect to follow up after a procedure and treatment, which could prevent the patient from healing properly and making a full recovery. Doctors should always provide follow-up treatment and address any questions or concerns the patient has.
When a Practitioner is Inexperienced
Doctors may have a level of inexperience or enable individuals with inadequate experience to partake in certain procedures. For example, medical students might be involved in a procedure, even though med students are not trained to recognize or report critical medical errors, potentially leading to errors that remain unaddressed and unreported.
These are simply some of the many types of scenarios that can lead to a medical malpractice claim.
Special Requirements in Medical Malpractice Cases
Many states in the U.S. have certain rules and procedures in place for filing and navigating medical malpractice claims. These could include the following:
Filing Before Reaching the Statute of Limitations
Patients typically need to file a medical malpractice claim as soon as possible after sustaining damages and recognizing that malpractice may have occurred. In most states, the statute of limitations is two years after becoming aware of malpractice-related injuries or illnesses. After this statute of limitations passes, victims may not be able to file a claim or lawsuit. However, there may be some exceptions to the statute in place. For instance, if a patient was a minor when malpractice took place, they may wait until they are 18 to file a claim.
Special Notice Requirements
Certain states may require patients to notify doctors of a malpractice claim before filing.
Special Medical Malpractice Review Panels
Depending on the state, the patient may need to initially submit the claim to a review panel specializing in malpractice. This panel consists of experts who will scrutinize evidence, listen to arguments from both sides, and hear expert testimony to determine whether malpractice has taken place. The panel is unable to award damages and its decision won’t replace the decision in a medical malpractice lawsuit, but patients will need to go through this process before taking their case to court.
If a medical malpractice case goes to trial, the court will require expert testimony to help prove that malpractice occurred. The experts involved are typically those with expertise in a field pertaining to the case.
Damage Award Limits
States may also have a specific cap in place for the amount of compensation that patients can recover in medical malpractice cases.
Understanding the Requirements to File a Successful Claim
With a good understanding of the requirements of a medical malpractice claim, individuals will be able to better determine if they have a medical malpractice case and whether they qualify for compensation with the help of an attorney.