One in five Americans believes they experienced a medical mistake while receiving health care, and studies claim more than 250,000 people in the U.S. die every year from medical errors, while others report numbers to be as high as 440,000.
No one wants to get sick or injured, but when they do, they certainly want to be able to trust the medical professionals assigned to treating them. Unfortunately, human errors happen, but it can be life-changing when a medical professional makes an error.
While Americans need to keep up with their overall health and medical needs, it is also essential for medical professionals to perform their duties with caution and the utmost care. Those charged with caring for individuals’ health must be held accountable if medical errors occur, and that may mean an experienced medical malpractice attorney is needed.
What Is Medical Malpractice?
Medical malpractice occurs when a medical professional is negligent in care or fails to take action that causes harm or injury to a patient. Medical malpractice usually involves mistakes in doctors’ offices, hospitals, pharmacies or other health care settings. However, not every mistake a health care provider makes is considered medical malpractice. So if you’ve had a negative medical outcome, how do you know if you’re a victim of medical malpractice?
For a medical malpractice claim to be successful, four legal “elements” must come together – duty of care, breach of care, causation and damage.
- When a doctor enters a doctor-patient relationship, a certain level of care is owed to the patient. This is called duty of care.
- When that duty of care is not met at a reasonable level of care expected of other doctors in the same community and under similar circumstances, a breach of care has occurred.
- As a plaintiff, the victim of medical malpractice must be able to prove the causation, the error, or the negligent act, that caused injury was due to the breach of the duty of care.
- The plaintiff must also show that they suffered damages, such as physical or financial injuries.
Types of Medical Malpractice
In addition to the legal elements, certain types of errors need to occur to be considered medical malpractice. Common claims filed by patients injured by negligent health care providers include:
Surgical errors: There are risks associated with any surgery, but when a mistake is made during surgery that could have been prevented, it could be considered medical malpractice. Common surgical mistakes include leaving a foreign object inside a patient after surgery, performing the wrong surgery, and operating on the wrong part of the body. Anesthesia errors can also occur during surgeries that involve a general anesthetic not working as it should.
Failure to diagnose: You may suffer because of a doctor’s failure to diagnose. A medical professional should take every step to rule out other conditions, perform multiple tests if needed, and ensure the conclusion they arrive at is the right one. Failing to diagnose a medical condition or illness can delay a necessary or lifesaving treatment. When that failure is the result of negligence on behalf of health care providers, it may be an act of medical malpractice.
Misdiagnosis: A misdiagnosis is when a doctor makes a diagnosis for a condition, but the diagnosis is not correct. For example, a patient presents with symptoms of a stroke but is treated for a bout of indigestion. A doctor is expected to know the difference. A misdiagnosed or undiagnosed stroke could have lifelong effects.
Delayed Diagnosis: Failure to treat a condition in a timely manner can be considered medical malpractice if a doctor fails to identify a treatable illness and it worsens.
Medication errors: An illegible prescription, dosage errors and prescribing an incorrect drug can occur in a hospital or when filling a prescription at a pharmacy. Medication mistakes can lead to further medical problems and even death.
Birth injuries: If a preventable medical error occurs to a mother or baby during childbirth and it results in a birth injury, it could be considered medical malpractice. Some examples include birth injuries due to failing to monitor the mother or child, diagnosing symptoms of an underlying problem, or a mistake with a birth chart.
Let a Medical Malpractice Lawyer Do the Work
An injury caused by medical malpractice can cause additional injuries, more medical bills and other life-altering issues. You should be able to focus on healing and let a medical malpractice lawyer determine your best legal path to receiving compensation and holding the negligent party responsible.
To navigate all the complexities of medical malpractice, the injured patient or the patient’s representative should have a knowledgeable medical malpractice lawyer on their side to help prepare their medical malpractice case. After a medical error injury, you should contact a lawyer immediately so they can document your injuries, request medical records, analyze medical records, subpoena entities for evidence in the case and interview witnesses who can support your claim.
Medical malpractice lawsuits are often tried in a civil court, not a criminal court. In a civil medical malpractice case, the negligent party did not necessarily break the law with their actions but instead caused the victim harm and loss. When choosing a medical malpractice lawyer, make sure they can create a team of experts who can strategize, gather necessary information and serve as skilled litigators and negotiators in a court of law when the situation requires.
Also, since there are strict time limits for filing medical malpractice cases, a lawyer will keep track of deadlines and make sure your case is handled within the statute of limitations.
If you suspect that you or a loved one has been injured or died because of a medical mistake, you should consult a lawyer to protect your legal rights. At Paulson & Nace, our medical malpractice attorneys have represented clients throughout Washington, DC, Maryland and West Virginia and produced many groundbreaking decisions and millions of dollars in awards for our clients. If your family is suffering because of a negligent medical professional, contact Paulson & Nace to schedule a free case evaluation. Call (202) 463-1999 or contact us online for more information.
Both an Emory School of Law graduate and MBA graduate of Goizueta Business School at Emory, Chris Nace focuses his practice on areas of medical malpractice, drug and product liability, motor vehicle accidents, wrongful death, employment discrimination and other negligence and personal injury matters.