Common Types of Medical Malpractice


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Medical malpractice is when a healthcare professional breaches their duty of care to a patient, resulting in injury or death. Fortunately, these cases are fairly rare, but when they do occur the consequences can be devastating. Some people wonder what kinds of treatments might lead to medical malpractice. These are some of the most common types of medical malpractice.

First, you should remember that not every situation in which one is unhappy with a doctor or other health care professional amounts to malpractice. You should consult with an attorney before moving forward with a claim for medical malpractice, not only to determine whether you have a viable cause of action, but also for help finding the experts you will need to prove your case and navigating the legal process in general.

1. Misdiagnosis. Missed or delayed diagnoses are major causes of malpractice complaints. When a doctor misdiagnoses a condition or, alternately, fails to diagnose a condition for some period of time, the patient could miss treatment opportunities that might have presented serious harm or death. Indeed, a misdiagnosis could lead to the prescription of treatments that are not appropriate for the patient, also potentially resulting in harm. The key to such a case is showing what the treating doctor did wrong and how a competent doctor should have gone about diagnosing the condition. If a reasonably skillful and competent doctor would not have made the same mistake under the same circumstances, then the treating doctor may be liable for malpractice.

2. Childbirth Injuries. A number of injuries can be caused by medical malpractice to a fetus during pregnancy or to a child during the birth process. Some of these injuries can be quite severe, such as brain injuries (like cerebral palsy and seizure disorders), fractured bones, and full or partial paralysis. Of course, many of these are caused by natural causes, as well. Nevertheless, if a doctor's negligence caused these conditions or the doctor failed to take steps to treat a condition that could lead to these conditions, medical malpractice may have occurred.

These injuries can arise at a number of different junctures. If negligent medical treatment is provided during the pregnancy, it could harm the fetus, the mother, or both. Examples of negligent prenatal care include failing to diagnose a medical condition of the mother (like preclampsia, Rh incompatibility, hypoglycemia, anemia, or gestational diabetes), failing to identify birth defects, failing to identify ectopic pregnancies, or failing to diagnose a disease that could be contagious to the mother's fetus (like herpes, HIV, or lupus). If the negligence occurs during childbirth, it may be as a result of failing to anticipate birth complications due to the baby's size, failing to note that the umbilical cord has become tangled around the baby, failing to respond to signs of fetal distress, failing to administer a cesarean when needed, or improperly using forceps or a vacuum extractor.

3. Medication Errors. Medication errors are one of the most common forms of medical malpractice and can occur many ways. For example, a doctor might make a mistake on the initial prescription, administer a drug inappropriately, or fail to take notice of a potentially harmful drug interaction. In a hospital setting, one common form of injury results from the wrong medication being given to the wrong patient. However, the most common medication errors, by far, involve improper dosage.

4. Anesthesia Errors.. Anesthesia mistakes are relatively infrequent, but can be more dangerous than surgery mistakes. Even small error by the anesthesiologist can result in permanent injury, brain damage, or death. Typical causes of malpractice by anesthesiologists include failing to investigate the patient's medical history for possible complications, or failing to inform the patient of necessary preoperative procedures (like not eating for a certain period before surgery). Other common anesthesia errors include giving too much anesthesia to the patient, failing to monitor the patient's vital signs, improperly putting a tube in the trachea to assist the patient with breathing (“intubation”), or using defective equipment.

5. Surgery Errors. Occasionally, a surgeon might make a mistake in the operating room. A surgeon might make negligent errors during the surgery itself, like puncturing an organ or blood vessel, operating on the wrong body part, or leaving surgical equipment inside the body. Alternatively, nursing staff could be negligent in postoperative care, resulting in giving the wrong medications, using improper procedures that could lead to infection, or failing to give the patient adequate instructions for their own postoperative recovery needs.

If you believe you or someone you know has suffered at the hands of medical malpractice, you should contact an attorney. You can find an attorney on our website under the “Law Firms” tab, and there are additional resources regarding medical malpractice and many other areas of legal concern. Most attorneys will handle a medical malpractice claim for you on a contingency fee basis, meaning you will not pay out of pocket, but rather, will split a small portion of any settlement or judgment with the attorney. If there is no recovery, you generally do not pay.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.

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