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
- Why People Are Hesitant to File Medical Malpractice Claims and Why They Shouldn’t BePeople often feel subject to things that are completely beyond their control and understanding. This is true not only of bigger forces in life, like the economy or the weather but of the small things. Few people, for example, have a deep understanding of how their phone works or how to fix their plumbing, so they defer to experts to fix things when they break.
- Meningitis Misdiagnosis CaseThe Pennsylvania Superior Court recently awarded more than $10 million in damages to a mother, after medical professionals failed to diagnose her infant son with meningitis.
- Are Doctors Responsible for Pain Medication Addiction?When patients are in pain, doctors often prescribe opioid pain medications. They are effective in treating pain, but can have a dangerous side effect. For many, what begins with a doctor’s prescription ends in the vicious cycle of drug addiction.
- Expert Witnesses Discuss Dangers of Using Forceps during ChildbirthThere are many dangers in childbirth, but there are none greater than when the baby is harmed during the process. This may occur with various tools, methods or if there are complications that arise in the middle of the procedure.
- Common Legal Mistakes Made by DoctorsHealth care is one of the most regulated industries in America. As doctors in private practice, a careful juggling act must occur between caring for patients, running a business, and ensuring legal compliance.
- Apology Laws and Their Effect on Malpractice LawsuitsApology laws have been passed in more than 30 states in an attempt to reduce malpractice lawsuits. These laws allow for physicians to freely express their condolences to patients or their families for any issues during treatment.
- The Most Common Forms of Medical ErrorsWe take many things for granted in our daily lives. This is especially true when we place our trust in professionals and rely on their expertise for our safety and wellbeing. For example, we count on professionals to repair our automobiles, build our homes and tend to our health. When we stop to think about this fact, it can leave us with a sense of vulnerability that can understandably make us very uncomfortable.
- When is a Surgical Error Malpractice?Every surgery – even the most minor – poses the risk of medical error. But does every surgical error constitute as medical malpractice? Malpractice is essentially negligence.
- Medical Laboratory Expert Witness in Medical Malpractice CasesMany cases have the need for a medical laboratory in issues with malpractice claims. This means that certain aspects need further testing, or there are factors in a medical malpractice suit that need clarification. This usually requires the assistance of a medical laboratory expert witness to explain these details and processes.
- Expert Witnesses Provide Testimony in Perinatal Malpractice CasesPerinatal malpractice usually involves injuries to the baby before, during or after the child has been born. These could occur through the methods used to assist the infant out of his or her mother, the procedures utilized when he or she resides within the mother’s body or the care taken with the baby once he or she has been removed.
- 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.