Medical Malpractice Law
What is Medical Malpractice Law?
Medical malpractice law governs the liability of doctors and other treatment providers when they cause harm to a patient by rendering their services in a negligent manner. All states have their own laws and procedures to handle these specialized personal injury cases. But in general terms, a doctor will be held liable if his or her conduct fails to meet the “standard of care” provided by other doctors under similar circumstances.
Errors that qualify as medical malpractice will typically fall into one of several categories. These include a failure or delay in diagnosing a patient’s condition, misreading X-rays, prescribing the wrong pharmaceuticals, failing to warn a patient of the risks or side effects of a procedure, performing services without the patient’s informed consent, and making a mistake during surgery or childbirth.
When doctors act carelessly, the results can be catastrophic for the patient. It is not surprising, then, that damage awards in medical malpractice cases are among the largest of all personal injury cases. Damages may include medical expenses, physical pain and suffering, emotional distress, lost wages, decreases in earning potential, punitive damages, as well as compensation for partial or complete impairment, disfigurement, and death.
Expert witnesses play a unique role in medical malpractice lawsuits. Many of the issues debated in these cases, such as whether a surgery was performed correctly, are too complex for judges and juries to understand on their own. This means other doctors must be called upon to study the case, render an opinion, and explain their findings. For the injured patient, the expense of hiring an expert significantly increases the cost of bringing the claim.
A number of public policy groups and elected officials oppose large damage awards in medical malpractice suits. Referred to as tort reform, this effort aims to pass legislation making it more difficult for injured people to file lawsuits, and to cap the amount of damages they can recover once they win. Proponents argue that tort reform will reduce the cost of health care, but the data is inconclusive, and the issue remains highly contentious.
Compensation for Your Suffering
The first step in pursuing a medical malpractice case is to retain an attorney. Unlike some other areas of the law, self-representation in these cases is not feasible. In fact, due to the financial resources and litigation expertise required, most attorneys do not accept medical malpractice cases. Plaintiffs should seek out a reputable law firm that specializes in medical malpractice.
The attorney will begin by conducting an in-depth evaluation of the factual circumstances surrounding the incident. Hospital records and other evidence will be gathered, and depositions (formal interviews for the purpose of recording sworn testimony) will be taken of the defendant and any witnesses. A medical expert, who will later be available to testify at trial, will then review the evidence and draft a report for the plaintiff.
The expert’s report will be turned over to the defendant’s attorneys and insurance adjuster, and settlement negotiations will take place. If the two sides can agree on the amount of damages that should be paid, they will enter into a settlement agreement. The plaintiff will be compensated, and the case will end. If the parties cannot agree, the case will proceed to trial. A judge or jury will then decide the outcome.
During the entire process, the plaintiff’s attorney must comply with a variety of procedural requirements. A single misstep can result in the case being dismissed. These requirements include a statute of limitations, which is a strict deadline for filing the paperwork to initiate the lawsuit. Depending on state law, the case may have to be presented to a medical review board prior to filing suit, and special notices to the defendant may be required.
Patients trust doctors to perform their duties with care. However, when preventable accidents occur during the course of medical treatment, injured patients and their families often encounter insurance companies that want to deny compensation, or pay far less than they should. If medical malpractice is suspected, the best way to protect a patient’s rights is to contact a qualified attorney.
Know Your Rights!
Articles on HG.org Related to Medical Malpractice Law
- Bad Outcome vs. Medical Negligence: What You Need to KnowConsulting with an attorney is strongly recommended as soon as possible after you believe you have suffered an event of medical malpractice
- Complaints of Serious Complications With the Use of ESSURE® Likely to Result In LitigationESSURE® complications may lead to litigation.
- Liability for Surgical ErrorsWhen undergoing a surgery or other medical procedure, you have the right to expect that mistakes which cause you injury will not be made. Patients trust their surgeons to have a level of skill and experience that enables them to perform their duties without error.
- Pain Medication Errors and Medical MalpracticeMedication often affects individuals differently based on body chemistry and many different factors. It sometimes requires some tweaking and testing to determine which pills work the best for the patient. To discover the right medication for the person, careful attention to the entire process is required by the healthcare professional.
- Filing a Birth Injury LawsuitWhen a woman goes into labor, she puts the life of her unborn baby in the hands of well-trained medical professionals. In most cases that person is an obstetrician, gynecologist, neonatologist, or other doctor who has had the necessary training to safety deliver babies. Some women decide to go a slightly different, more natural route, by opting to have a midwife deliver their baby.
- $17.6 Million Opiate Abuse VerdictIn a stunning verdict that is being hailed as a message to physicians who overprescribe opiate medications, a St. Louis jury awarded $17.6 million in punitive damages to a couple severely affected by opiate abuse.
- Importance of Filing Tort Claims Act Notice in New JerseyThe New Jersey Tort Claims Act (“NJTCA”), N.J.S.A. 59:1-1, et seq., provides that “parties suing public entities must comply with strict requirements for notifying and suing those entities.” Feinberg v. N.J. Dep’t of Envtl. Prot., 137 N.J. 126, 134 (1994).
- Stark Law Violations and KickbacksSection 1877 of the Social Security Act is commonly referred to as the “Stark Law.” This law has important provisions regarding physician self-referral for the purposes of Medicare and Medicaid.
- Risks Of Opioid Painkiller UseOpioid painkillers such as oxycodone, morphine, or fentanyl are legal drugs commonly prescribed by doctors to treat severe pain. They can be helpful for patients managing chronic pain conditions who may have suffered a personal injury, but can have very serious side effects if overused or abused.
- Talc Linked to Ovarian CancerIn a legal action that includes nearly 50 plaintiffs, Johnson & Johnson lost a second trial over claims that its talcum powder causes ovarian cancer.
- All Health Care and Social Law Articles
- All Tort and Personal Injury Law Articles
State Boards of Medical Examiners and Licensure
Medical Malpractice - US
- ABA - Medical Malpractice
The American Bar Association offers this brief definition of medical malpractice, as well as answers to several commonly asked questions on the topic.
- Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)
HHS is the federal agency charged with protecting the health of Americans. This includes the administration of Medicare and Medicaid. These insurance programs often play a role in medical malpractice claims.
- Illinois Medical Malpractice
Medical malpractice occurs when a doctor, hospital, or other health care provider fails to adhere to the standard of care and a patient is injured or dies as a result. Each state has its own laws regarding medical malpractice.
- Medical Liability Reform (ATRA)
The American Tort Reform Association is dedicated to “repairing” the justice system by limiting recovery for medical malpractice victims. This website explains the group’s mission and current activities.
- Medical Malpractice - Wikipedia
This Wikipedia entry describes the subject of medical malpractice, with a focus on legal actions brought in the United States. Tort reform is also discussed.
- Medical Malpractice Illinois
Medical malpractice (IL) occurs when a doctor, hospital, or other health care provider fails to adhere to the standard of care and a patient is injured or dies as a result.
- Medical Malpractice Insurance
Treatment providers carry insurance to cover claims brought by patients. Medical malpractice insurance is described on this web page published by the Insurance Information Institute.
- Medical Malpractice Law
This web page contains a number of articles on medical malpractice law. Topics include case evaluation, expert witnesses, and methods for calculating damages.