Medical malpractice law is a branch of negligence law holding medical-care providers liable for medical carelessness that causes injury. If you’ve been hurt by medical care from your hospital, physicians, nurses, physical therapists, medical assistants, or other providers, you may be able to file a medical malpractice lawsuit to recover money compensation – either awarded by a court or received in an out-of-court settlement.
Any medical care provider can commit medical malpractice, whether it’s through a botched surgery, a failure to diagnose, administering incorrect treatment/medications, or other medical carelessness. Laws require all medical care providers to be covered by medical malpractice insurance, to compensate patients for injuries caused by medical mistakes.
Are You Eligible?
As the Plaintiff, or person asking for legal compensation for medical malpractice injuries caused by a Defendant medical provider, you must prove certain points, called the elements of a medical malpractice case:
(1)Breach of a (2) legal duty that (3) causes you (4) damages.
As a practical matter, medical malpractice cases generally begin with someone who has obviously suffered damages, having been injured in some unexpected way by a medical care provider. The question then becomes whether you can prove that your injuries were legally caused by the breach of a legal duty by the Defendant medical provider. For the sake of simplicity, let’s just consider your doctors.
Breach of Duty – The Medical Standard of Care
Your doctor has a legal duty to provide you treatment that accords with the medical standard of care. This medical malpractice standard can vary, depending on the circumstances, like your doctor’s age and level of training, the difficulty of the procedure, the location (for example, city doctors generally have more resources at hand than do rural doctors), and your physical condition, among other things. Depending on state medical malpractice law, a Defendant doctor’s conduct may be compared to a nationwide or a local standard of what reasonably prudent doctors in his specialty would do or even what a significant number of doctors like him would do.
To legally prove a breach of the medical standard of care that applies to your situation, your medical malpractice attorney must present expert witness testimony from one or more other doctors. Medical malpractice is often first discovered when someone who suspects they’ve been hurt by one doctor seeks help from a different doctor, and your medical malpractice lawyer will gather medical records and use testimony from this second, treating physician. However, your lawyer may also suggest that you see additional doctors. This process takes time, but it helps build a stronger case against the doctor whose carelessness hurt you.
Causation and Damages
While your witnesses will testify you were hurt because of the Defendant doctor’s carelessness, the Defendant may have witnesses who claim that you (or a third party) did something to contribute to your own injury. In most states, if your actions have contributed to the problem, the law of comparative fault means that the judge or jury will decide percentages of fault for which each side is responsible. The Defendant doctor will only pay for his or her fair share of the damages. Some state laws put other limits on damages in medical malpractice cases.
Medical malpractice losses for which you could receive compensation include:
- Economic damages, like medical expenses for hospitals, doctors, nursing, testing, drugs, medical appliances, physical therapy, travel and temporary housing to access medical care, and others; future such medical expense; lost wages for missed work; lost future wages; and other related money expenses.
- Non-economic damages, like pain and suffering, loss of consortium (ability to interact normally) with a spouse or child, and others.
Statute of Limitations
You should seek help quickly, if you think you’ve been injured by medical malpractice. Statute of limitation laws in many states require you to file a lawsuit in court (not just a hospital complaint or insurance claim) within one year of the injury or reasonable discovery of the injury, or you lose your chance for any compensation. In some states, the limitations period is longer, but keep in mind that the medical malpractice lawyer you choose needs time to investigate your case before the limitations period runs.
Your best chance of success is to build the strongest possible legal case for medical malpractice. A win is never guaranteed; a medical malpractice case is legally complex, lengthy, and it can seem like a long road, to someone who’s suffering from problems brought on by a doctor’s negligence. Finding an experienced medical malpractice attorney and new physicians you can trust is crucial to obtaining the compensation you need, to help ease hardship caused by a medical malpractice injury.