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Things To Know In A Medical Malpractice Case

At some point in our life, each of us has needed to go to a hospital or seek medical care, whether it was for ourselves or a loved one. When seeking medical care, you should not have to worry about being treated unfairly. Doctors have an obligation to the health and wellbeing of others and swear The Hippocratic Oath, an oath that is firmly ingrained in the medical industry, which encompasses the concepts of medical confidentiality and non-maleficence. The Hippocratic Oath is protected by law in many jurisdictions; hence, breaching the oath may have legal ramifications that go beyond the symbolic meaning of the oath.

Unfortunately, despite taking The Hippocratic Oath, medical personnel still commit acts of negligence on a daily basis. Johns Hopkins researchers carried out a thorough analysis of medical mishaps in the United States in 2016. They learned that medical errors cause 250,000 deaths each year in the US alone. This alarming number allows too many patients and their families to endure serious consequences or even wrongful deaths at the hands of those who have the power to save lives. In light of this, a higher standard of accountability for the services and care our medical staff performs is required.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Who can I file a medical malpractice lawsuit against?

A: Any person who engaged in malpractice may be sued. The hospital or other entity whose workers committed the malpractice may also be sued by the patient.

Q: What is the max time for filing a lawsuit for medical malpractice?

A: The statute of limitations for medical malpractice lawsuits varies from state to state and might be anywhere between one and four years. Find the state you're looking for using this guide.

Q: Why do damage caps exist, and what do they represent?

A: Laws known as "damages caps" set a ceiling on the amount of non-economic damages awarded in a given case. Damage caps aim to lower the high costs of doing business by restricting service providers' liability (which is ultimately passed on to the consumer).

Q: What is meant by the term "established customary standard of care?”

A: It allows for all patients with comparable symptoms and conditions experienced clinicians available to provide treatment.

Q: How can I collect proof for a medical malpractice claim?

A: Most of the time, you won't always be able to gather the evidence needed to demonstrate negligence in a medical malpractice case. Your attorney will likely be given more access to your medical records than you will.

What is medical malpractice?

Medical malpractice is when a hospital, doctor, or other healthcare providers negligently harms a patient. This may include misdiagnosis, medication dosage, health management, therapy, and follow-up care.

For the claim to legally qualify as medical malpractice, the following components must be present:

  • A violation of the standard of care - The law acknowledges that in like or similar circumstances, there are particular medical standards that are acknowledged by the profession as being provided by healthcare professionals who are perfectly competent. A patient has the right to believe that medical practitioners are providing them with the care that complies with these criteria. If it is judged that the standard of care was not reached, negligence may be determined.
  • An injury was caused by negligence - A medical professional must have done more than just deviate from the accepted standard of care in order for a claim of medical malpractice to be valid. The victim of the injury must also show that it would not have occurred in the absence of negligence. 
  • The injury resulted in significant damages - A patient must show that significant damages resulted from an injury incurred as a result of medical malpractice in order for their case to be successful. The cost of submitting the claim may be greater than the amount finally collected if the losses are small. To prove medical negligence, the patient must show that the damage resulted in disability, loss of income, unusual pain, suffering, hardship, or significant past and future medical expenses.

Examples of Medical Malpractice and Negligence

Failure to obtain blood type

In 2003, without ever checking to see if the blood types of the organ donors matched, Duke University Hospital performed a heart and lung transplant on Jesica Santillan, who was 17 years old at the time. 

Following the organ transplant, Jesica had severe brain damage, and her body shut down in shock. The fact that Jesica's new organ donor did not share her blood type was only discovered later by the medical staff.

Duke University Hospital made its error public after attempting to hide it for 11 days and ultimately having to start looking for a new donor. Unfortunately, Jesica had already suffered severe brain damage by that point. 

Wrong Leg Amputation

Willie King, 52, was scheduled to have a diseased leg removed in 1995. Unfortunately for Mr. King, the wrong leg was amputated, despite the fact that the correct leg's location was marked on the operating room chalkboard, the hospital's computer system, and the operating room schedule in advance of the procedure.

The surgeon's justification after the procedure when he realized what had happened was that both legs were bad and would need to be amputated eventually. The doctor's medical license was suspended for six months, and he was only charged with paying a $10,000 fine. $1.15 million was paid to resolve the lawsuit brought against the hospital and the surgeon.

Surgical instrument left

Donald Church underwent surgery at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle for the removal of an abdominal tumor. The surgeons successfully removed the tumor without any issues. The surgical team, however, did not remove the 13-inch metal retractor once the surgery was complete.

It took Mr. Church two months of excruciating pain before the surgical error was identified and finally treated. Mr. Church eventually obtained $97,000 in damages.

How Can My Attorney Help Me With My Medical Malpractice Claim?

There may be specific procedures that must be followed if you intend to sue a doctor or another healthcare provider for medical misconduct. The typical person lacks the knowledge, resources, or experience necessary to bring their own claim to a satisfactory conclusion since medical malpractice lawsuits are inherently complex.

If you elect to hire a lawyer, you may anticipate them doing the following at each stage:

  1. Your attorney will review the care you received to look for any instances in which your provider may have strayed from the established standards of care. To pinpoint precisely the time and circumstances surrounding your doctor's negligence, investigators will speak with witnesses, review documents and charts, and investigate the facility's procedures.
  2. Your attorney will consult with the appropriate experts. Expert testimony is frequently sought in situations of medical misconduct. For instance, if your heart attack was incorrectly diagnosed, you could need other cardiologists to testify in support of your claim. If you opt to work with a well-known attorney who has a substantial professional network, you can be sure they will be able to obtain the testimony your case requires.
  3. Your attorney will acquire crucial evidence. A resourceful legal team will scour the globe for evidence to back up your claim. They will gather the proof you require to prove that your provider deviated from the accepted standard of care, enabling you to pursue the highest settlement amount.
  4. All arrangements will be made by your attorney. While your lawyer manages the legal process for your claim, you can step back and focus on more important things, including your recovery. Your attorney will handle almost all aspects of your case, including calculating damages, arranging a settlement, and preparing for trial.

Nursing Malpractice 

Most people think that medical malpractice occurs when a doctor doesn't provide the proper treatment or services. Contrary to belief, it can also occur when a nurse violates the standards of their profession and causes injury to a patient. Both a doctor and a nurse could be sued for medical misconduct in different ways. The patient will likely want expert testimony in order to demonstrate both the standard of care that a competent nurse would have delivered and the reason for their injury. The expert may need to be a nurse who works in the same specialty of medicine as the defendant rather than a doctor or another medical professional. In some instances, the negligent behavior may be so obvious that an expert witness is not required, such as when a nurse disregards a doctor's orders and delivers the wrong drug.

Common Nursing Medical Malpractice

Any outcome that falls short of perfection is not always evidence of nursing malpractice. There are various situations when malpractice occurs regularly. One of the simplest is when a nurse gives a patient the wrong prescription or forgets to give the patient the medication as prescribed by a doctor. Sometimes a nurse will mistakenly identify two patients and give each of them the incorrect medication. Or they might provide the medication wrongly, such as by injecting it in the wrong place or administering the wrong dosage to the patient.

Misuse or inappropriate handling of medical equipment is another obvious example of nursing malpractice. A more serious example would be a  nurse failing to remove equipment from a patient's body after surgery or dropping a heavy piece of equipment on them. The patient's attorney may occasionally need to investigate the situation to determine if the nurse or the supervising doctor was responsible for a specific mistake made during surgery because multiple medical professionals may be involved in the process.

A more subtle kind of nursing negligence occurs when a nurse fails to respond to an emergency that they can or should see. The hospital or doctor's established emergency handling procedures must be followed. (The hospital or doctor could be charged with malpractice if there are no protocols in place.) However, a nurse must closely monitor a patient's condition and inform the doctor of any problems.

Statute of Limitations In Medical Malpractice

The statutes of limitations for medical malpractice differ from state to state, but they are frequently short. In some states, you might only have a year to submit your claim. The Standard Deadline, The Discovery Rule, The Statute of Limitations for Minor Children, and The Statute of Repose are some of the three- or four-part statutes of limitations that the majority of states have created for situations involving medical negligence. The intricacy of medical malpractice statutes of limitations is heightened by these additional elements.

The Standard Deadline

The Standard Deadline is the statute of limitations first component, which gives victims of medical malpractice a set period of time after the malpractice occurs in which to file a complaint, normally ranging from two to six years, depending on the state, is the standard deadline.

The Discovery Rule

The discovery rule exempts the standard deadline. States established the discovery rule as a result of a high number of medical malpractice victims losing their opportunity to file a lawsuit because they learned of their claim years after the traditional statute of limitations had expired.

The Statute of Limitations for Minors

The third type of statute of limitations is the minors' deadline. After reaching eighteen, a minor has two years to file a claim if the child's parents chose not to pursue a claim when the child was a minor. 

The Statute of Repose

Any law that prohibits bringing legal action when a defendant engages in certain behavior, even if the plaintiff has not yet suffered harm. Since the time period begins to run from the date of the defendant's activity, even if the injury has not yet happened, a statute of repose is often more favorable to defendants than a statute of limitations.

Standard of Care 

First off, you need to understand that "standard of care" is a legal term, not a medical term. Therefore, rather than doctors, it is primarily used by attorneys. The standard of care is typically only discussed or considered by doctors when they are testifying in court over instances of medical negligence or when they are attending seminars on the issue.

Each state has a slightly distinct definition of "standard of care" in medicine, but generally speaking, it refers to the attention and knowledge that a typical doctor would give to a patient in their area of competence.

Other medical professionals who specialize in certain areas of medicine, such as obstetricians, gynecologists, cardiologists, and orthopedists, are often held to a national standard of care.

If the injured patient can show through reliable expert testimony that the practitioner engaged in a practice of medical negligence, the first condition for establishing a claim for medical malpractice against a doctor has been satisfied. However, the injured party must be able to show that the doctor's carelessness resulted in particular losses or injuries.

Damage Caps

Per Findlaw, damage caps are defined as laws that cap the amount of non-economic damages that can be awarded in a case. Damage caps are intended to benefit the economy. Large awards that would force defendants like hospitals and the government into bankruptcy are prevented by damage caps. It also aids in discouraging unfounded accusations against organizations. 

When a doctor, surgeon, nurse, dentist, or other health care provider breaches their legal duty of care by providing services that are subpar or substandard to the industry standard of care, the patient is frequently the one who suffers.

In other states, the amount of damages that a victim of medical malpractice may receive has been capped. Recent studies claim that by arbitrarily restricting the full and equitable financial compensation of injured patients and their loved ones, these damage caps impede everyone's access to high-quality healthcare.

According to recent reports, reducing compensation for medical misconduct has the following effects:

  • A rise in medical mistakes as a result of medical personnel becoming more aware of being held for less liability.
  • If doctors' personal accountability is restricted, more purportedly "risky operations" will be performed, increasing the cost of healthcare under Medicare Part B.

Medical Malware Malpractice 

Legislators are taking note as the need for healthcare cybersecurity readiness grows. Industry estimates state that 679 hospitals experienced cyberattacks in 2021, a record high for the field. Urging the United States Department of Health and Human Services to issue a warning that those figures may climb. Recent occurrences may even have ushered in a new era in which healthcare delivery organizations (HDOs) and device manufacturers may be held liable for not only lost data but also patient harm for failing to follow best practices and guard against known dangers.

Example of Medical Malware Malpractice

 Teiranni Kidd visited Springhill Medical Center in Mobile, Alabama, in 2019 for a cesarean section. Unfortunately, the infant's delivery issues resulted in serious brain damage, and two months later, the baby died as a result of ongoing complications.

Kidd did not discover that the hospital's computer systems had been attacked while she was there, causing them to malfunction and perhaps threaten patient care until after the death of her baby. Due to the ransomware attack, the medical staff at Springhill hospital was unable to conduct tests that would have revealed the baby's illness and possibly prevented further injury. If Kidd had known this information from the beginning, she might have decided to be transferred to a different hospital, averting the baby's eventual death.

Later, in 2021, with the continuing Kidd v. Springhill dispute, a breach in the open-source Apache program known as Log4j was found, leaving establishments vulnerable to attack. Manufacturers of equipment and technology took some time to assess the situation and revealed no potential threats. Sadly, this was not the case for Kidd in 2019.

No company will ever be completely safe from cyberattacks, but those who are known to be frequently targeted by threats, like schools, hospitals, and government organizations, should invest in the tools that will help them more accurately assess their risks, defend themselves from attacks, and act quickly when attacks do occur. In the case of Kidd v. Springhill, this will enable the hospital to uphold their sacred obligation to "do no harm," better protecting both themselves and their patients.

Works Cited

Goguen, David. “Medical Malpractice State Laws: Statutes of Limitations.” AllLaw, https://www.alllaw.com/articles/nolo/medical-malpractice/state-laws-statutes-limitations.html. 

Jahn, Warren T. “The 4 basic ethical principles that apply to forensic activities are respect for autonomy, beneficence, nonmaleficence, and justice.” NCBI, 27 August 2011, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4863255/. 

Smith, Wesley D. “Hippocratic oath | Definition, Summary, & Facts | Britannica.” Encyclopedia Britannica, 5 July 2022, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Hippocratic-oath..

“Study Suggests Medical Errors Now Third Leading Cause of Death in the U.S. - 05/03/2016.” Johns Hopkins Medicine, 3 May 2016, https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/media/releases/study_suggests_medical_errors_now_third_leading_cause_of_death_in_the_us. 

“What is a Damages Cap?” FindLaw, 29 November 2018, https://www.findlaw.com/injury/accident-injury-law/what-is-a-damages-cap.html. Landi, Heather. “Healthcare data breaches hit all-time high in 2021, impacting 45M people.” Fierce Healthcare, https://www.fiercehealthcare.com/health-tech/healthcare-data-breaches-hit-all-time-high-2021-impacting-45m-people.

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