Medical Malpractice Law – Overview
Medical malpractice is the term used to describe an event when a healthcare professional neglects to provide appropriate treatment, does not take appropriate action or gives sub-standard treatment that results in harm, injury or death to a patient.
According to reports by the Medical Malpractice Center, around 15,000 to 19,000 patients file medical malpractice suits against doctors every year in the United States.
Negligence usually involves a medical error. This error could be in the diagnostic stage, in medication dosage, treatment, health management or aftercare.
Medical malpractice laws help patients to recover compensation for any harm that results from sub-standard treatment by a certified healthcare provider.
The regulations and standards governing medical malpractice differ between states and countries.
What is Medical Malpractice?
Every physician, doctor, surgeon, healthcare provider and the hospital is expected to provide a certain standard of healthcare service. The physician is not always liable for causing harm that a patient may experience.
However, healthcare professionals are legally responsible in case the patient gets injured or harmed because the healthcare provider deviated from the set of standards regulating medical practice.
According to malpractice experts in the US, there are several factors that are considered before a case of negligence is termed medical malpractice.
The factors that determine a medical malpractice case include:
Failure to provide standard care – Medical malpractice law requires healthcare professionals to follow certain standards or potentially face an accusation of negligence.
Injury resulting from negligence – If a patient feels that their medical provider was negligent, but no injury or harm occurs there can be no claim of medical malpractice. In such cases, the patient has to prove that the injury or harm caused would not have resulted except for the negligence on the healthcare provider’s part.
The injury should have significant consequences – The patient should show that the harm or injury caused by medical negligence directly caused considerable damage.
Considerable damage is defined as:
- Enduring hardship
- Considerable loss of income
- Constant pain
Are there different types of Medical Malpractice Errors and Malpractice?
Yes, there are different types of medical errors and malpractices that can be the foundation of a medical malpractice lawsuit against a healthcare provider.
The different types of error and malpractice include:
- Incorrect surgery
- Unnecessary surgery
- Failure to diagnose
- Premature discharge
- Failure to recommend/advise appropriate tests
- Failure to act on lab results
- Not following up on patient after-care
- Prescribing wrong medications
- Prescribing the wrong dosage
- Leaving things inside patient’s body after surgery
- Operating on the wrong part of the body
- The patient suffers persistent pain after surgery
- Potentially fatal infections acquired at the hospital
- Pressure ulcers
Besides this, fires in hospitals and patients committing suicide while under the care of hospital staff also constitute grounds for a medical malpractice lawsuit against the healthcare providers, hospital, and hospital staff.
This is an extremely essential aspect of healthcare. If the patient does not give express consent (permission) to a medical procedure and the doctor still proceeds with the procedure which results in causing harm or injury to the patient, even if the procedure was done correctly, can be grounds for medical malpractice lawsuit.
For instance, if a surgeon fails to inform a patient that there is a marginal risk of losing a limb from complications of the surgery and the patient ends up losing their limb, then the doctor/surgeon is liable, even if the surgical procedure was done perfectly.
The reason is that the patient may not have agreed to proceed with the surgical procedure if they had known of the potential risk.
What does a Medical Malpractice Case Involve?
Here are some commonly-used terms that are frequently heard in a medical malpractice lawsuit:
The plaintiff is the person who files the complaint. In legal terms, the plaintiff is the person who brings a lawsuit against another in a court of law. It is the person who initiates the suit, or the one who is suing.
This can be the patient, a legally-designated person acting on the patient’s behalf. If the patient is dead, then the administrator or executor of the patient’s estate can be the plaintiff.
The defendant is the party against whom the lawsuit/complaint has been filed, or the one getting sued. In medical malpractice, it is usually the healthcare provider who is the defendant. This could be a physician, doctor, surgeon, therapist, nurse or any other medical care provider.
3. Prevailing Party
The prevailing party is the side that wins the case, either the plaintiff or the defendant. If the defendant wins the case, then the plaintiff has lost and will not receive any compensation.
4. Losing Party
This is the side that has lost the case.
The fact-finder in any medical malpractice lawsuit is the judge or the jury.
To prove a case of medical malpractice, the plaintiff needs to prove that four elements existed:
- A duty was owed by the health care provider or hospital
- A duty was breached because the healthcare provider or hospital did not conform to the expected standard of healthcare.
- The breach causes an injury or was closely linked to causing the injury.
- Considerable damage was caused to the patient, whether it is physical, emotional or financial.
What kind of Compensation does a Plaintiff get in a Medical Malpractice lawsuit?
The plaintiff, if they win the case, may be awarded compensation and punitive damages.
1. Compensatory damages
This may include financial damages, including life care expenses, lost earning capacity and medical expenses. Under this, past and future losses are assessed.
It may also include non-financial damage, such as physiological or psychological harm, including but not restricted to extreme pain, loss of vision or limb and emotional distress.
2. Punitive damages
These are awarded if the defendant is found guilty of willful or malicious misconduct. This is a form of punishment and is compensation in addition to the actual damages.
Medical malpractice lawsuits can be expensive, time-consuming, and stressful. If you are thinking of lodging a medical malpractice lawsuit, make sure to consult with expert medical malpractice lawyers to consider all the pros and cons before acting on the decision.
The reason is in the case of minor injuries, patients tend to spend more money on the lawsuit procedures than they can expect to receive as compensation.