Do I Have a Medical Malpractice Case?
By Victoria Ipri, Staff Writer
No individual visits a doctor with the idea that harm will be inflicted. Sadly, though, medical mistakes do happen and the results can be both costly and devastating.
In many US states, a patient who believes harm was caused by a medical professional may sue the professional for medical malpractice. To win the case, the individual must prove the doctor acted with negligence and that negligence caused the injury.
What constitutes sufficient negligence? Your medical malpractice case must prove these four elements:
- The health care professional owed you a duty of care
- The professional breached (did not meet) the accepted standard of care one could expect to receive from another competent doctor providing the same care
- You suffered injury or damages recognized by law
- A connection can be made between your injury and the professional’s medical mistake
The second point, that of the accepted standard of care, is often debated. The law does not demand perfection from health care professionals, and not every medical mistake qualifies for a lawsuit. The professional standard of care is defined as “that level of care, skill, and treatment which, in light of all relevant surrounding circumstances, is recognized as acceptable and appropriate by reasonably prudent similar health care providers.” In other words, point number four applies: the physician’s care must fall below the standard of that which could be achieved by another competent medical professional in the same situation, after consideration of all the facts.
Which Types of Medical Mistakes Can I Sue For?
A medical malpractice lawsuit can be brought because of actions your physician took or actions the physician should have taken but did not. Consult with a knowledgeable medical malpractice attorney for the laws in your state.
Five common reasons for medical malpractice lawsuits:
- The doctor failed to properly diagnose you. For example, the correct diagnostic tests a reasonably careful physician would order in your circumstances were not ordered.
- The doctor provided an incorrect treatment based on known facts.
- You suffered unnecessary medical treatments.
- Errors were made during surgery - for example, the surgeon operated on the wrong body part.
- Lab results were misread, preventing your access to the correct treatments.
In each of these instances, and to qualify for a medical malpractice case, a medical mistake made by a health care professional must be identified as one that another competent professional would not have made in the same circumstances. It is important to note that the law makes allowances for differences in circumstances and among people. The medical professional provides care based on what he or she know and the medical equipment available. If the patient does not reveal some important fact – for example, doesn’t tell the doctor about all the medications being taken – this may preclude the doctor’s legal responsibility for a medical mistake, because the doctor acted responsibly within the confines of the available facts.
An additional standard to which medical professionals can be held is relevancy. If, for example, the patient visits an orthopedic doctor for a broken bone, expecting specialized care from this doctor is reasonable because the doctor has specialized knowledge in that field.
Finally, the patient must show that the injury is a direct result, not just of the doctor’s care, but of the doctor’s carelessness. For example, a patient needing open heart surgery will experience some pain related to the spreading of the breastbone to gain access to the heart. This is a procedural necessity and therefore does not qualify as careless medical treatment.
The Testimony of Expert Witnesses is Key
When listening to the evidence of a medical malpractice case, the judge and/or the jury must be informed as to what constitutes “reasonably prudent similar health care providers”, so that a fair comparison can be made. However, much of the medical evidence presented will reach beyond the knowledge of jurors, who have no medical training. Expert witnesses are key, because they can testify regarding the types of actions that should be taken by a reasonably prudent doctor. Depending on your type of medical malpractice case and the specialty level of the medical professional, expert witnesses may also be required to have first-hand knowledge of the specialty. Because locating the right expert witnesses can be time consuming, it is always wise to consult with a competent personal injury lawyer for help with your case.