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
- When Patients Place Trust in Professionals, Accountability is VitalWhen you suffer from a medical condition in the United States, you are forced to place your trust in the hands of a vast network of doctors, nurses, pharmacists, drug makers, and medical device manufacturers. If you’re told that you have a heart condition, you might be able to seek a second opinion if you’re lucky enough to have the financial resources or health insurance, but you can’t double-check the diagnosis based on your own intuition or a quick web search.
- Is Your Doctor Experienced Enough to Operate on You?When you need a medical operation, you will naturally have a lot of concerns and questions about your health and your recovery, but one question that may not immediately occur to you is: how experienced is your doctor at the surgery they are going to perform on you? It should, however, be among the top of the list of your questions regarding surgery.
- Handling Online Defamation of PhysiciansWith the growth of online review websites, physicians nationwide face an increasing risk of unwarranted defamation. No one wants to hear disparaging remarks about them. When statements are false and have a negative impact on a physician’s practice, the remarks are especially troubling.
- Nursing Malpractice Claims LivesNurses are often the front line of medical care for patients. When a nurse fails to provide a certain standard of care and that failure injures a patient, medical malpractice may be involved.
- Off-Label Use of Medicine and LiabilityA recent case has resulted in an ophthalmologist being held liable for injury to a patient who lost their vision from off-label use of a medication, known as Avastin. “Off-label” use is the unapproved use of a medication that has been approved for other uses.
- Burnout among Doctors Can Have a Major Impact on Quality of CareWhen Dr. Dianne Shannon started practicing medicine, she wanted to help people. She was an internist working in outpatient clinics in Boston, and, while she enjoyed the opportunities she had to give aid to people in need, the demands of the job took their toll.
- Cardiology Expert Witness and Why Lawyers May Need OneWhen someone has been involved in medical malpractice with the heart, a cardiology expert witness is often necessary. These professionals have knowledge of what standard guidelines should be used when performing surgery, medical treatment and in prescribing medication. If the physician appointed to the patient did not follow standard procedure, he or she could be liable for damages to the victim of the incident.
- Autopsies Are Useful in Proving Medical MalpracticeAn autopsy is the internal and external examination of the body used to determine the cause of fatality. An autopsy is comprehensive, involving surgical procedures, laboratory analysis, and the assessment of medical records.
- Protecting the Elderly in TexasA state's elderly residents are among their most vulnerable residents. Recent Texas legislative issues/news announces a new state law scheduled to take effect in September. No longer will nursing homes with multiple citations for repeated violations get a break from hefty fines imposed by regulators.
- Pain after Flu Shot? There’s a Government Program for ThatPain after a flu shot could be a sign of Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS), a potentially-serious shoulder injury or another vaccine-related medical condition. Individuals diagnosed with injuries and illnesses following their flu vaccinations are entitled to no-fee legal representation under the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP).
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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.