Doctors take an oath to take care of us when we are injured, treat us when are sick and maintain a standard of care so as not to do harm. According to Wikipedia, “The Hippocratic Oath is an oath historically taken by physicians and other healthcare professionals swearing to practice medicine ethically and honestly.” Despite this oath, doctors are human and at times do make mistakes and unfortunately can act unethically.
The Medical Malpractice Claim
When a doctor’s actions, or even a failure to act, fall below the accepted standard of care in the medical community and causes injury or death to a patient, patients or families of deceased patients can file medical malpractice lawsuits in an effort to gain monetary settlements to recoup expenses incurred due to medical treatment and loss of employment, as well as to compensate the injured patient for pain and suffering.
The plaintiff in medical malpractice lawsuits is the patient, or in the case of a wrongful-death suit, the executor of a deceased patient’s estate.
The defendant is the health care provider that treated the patient. Although “health care provider” usually refers to a physician, the term also includes any medical care provider, including nurses, therapists and dentists.
The Foundation of Medical Malpractice Lawsuits
For medical malpractice lawsuits to be brought, plaintiffs must establish the following four elements:
- A standard of care was owed. This first element is easily established because a legal duty exits whenever a physician or hospital undertakes care or treatment of a patient.
- Secondly, there must be proof that the first element was breached when the doctor failed to abide by the standard of care.
- The doctor’s breach of care must result in injury to the patient. Causation is necessary here. The doctor’s failure to provide the standard of care must be the cause of the harm the patient experienced.
- Medical malpractice lawsuits are without basis unless the patient was damaged. In other words, even if the healthcare provider was negligent, there is no basis for a medical malpractice claim unless the patient is harmed. Likewise, harm can occur without medical negligence, such as when someone dies from a fatal disease.
These four elements establish a foundation for the filing of medical malpractice lawsuits.
Medical malpractice lawsuits begin with the plaintiff – or more likely their attorney – filing a lawsuit in the court with appropriate jurisdiction. In-between the filing of the lawsuit and the trial, the plaintiff and defendant are required to share information through a process called discovery. Discovery includes interrogatories – written questions that must be answered under oath and the answers to which can be used as evidence in court, request for documents – such as medical records, and deposition – where the deposed party verbally answers questions under oath which can also be used as evidence in the courtroom. Upon the exchange of discovery and each side’s evaluation of the strength of their case, the parties may agree to reach a settlement without the need of the court’s intervention. However, if the parties cannot agree, the case will proceed to a trial.
The plaintiff has the burden of proof to prove all of the elements discussed above by a preponderance of evidence. During a medical malpractice trial, both parties will usually present experts to testify as to the standard of care required.
Expert witnesses must be qualified by the Court, based on the expert’s qualifications. To be qualified as an expert in a medical malpractice case, a person must have a sufficient knowledge, education, training, or experience regarding the specific issues presented in the medical malpractice lawsuit in order to qualify to give a reliable opinion.
Upon the presentation of all evidence and testimony by both sides, the judge or jury must then weigh everything in order to determine which party is the most credible.
If the plaintiff prevails, the jury will assess damages to the plaintiff and against the defendant. The plaintiff’s damages may both economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages include financial losses such as lost wages and medical expenses. These damages may be assessed for past and future losses. Non-economic damages are assessed for the injury itself: physical and psychological harm, such as loss of vision, loss of a limb or organ, the reduced enjoyment of life due to a disability or loss of a loved one, severe pain and emotional distress.
Statute of Limitations
There is only a limited amount of time during which medical malpractice lawsuits can be filed. These time limits are set by statute. The length of the time period and when that period begins vary per jurisdiction and type of malpractice. Each state has different time limits. As such, it is best to meet with a qualified medical malpractice attorney sooner rather than later.
When to Consider Filing Medical Malpractice Lawsuits
In a case of medical malpractice, the patient can often become burdened with medical bills which can be compounded by income loss due to an inability to work. Beyond the financial aspects, the pain and emotional distress placed on a patient and their family can be agonizing.
A patient that believes they are the victim of medical malpractice should meet with an experienced medical malpractice attorney. All medical malpractice lawyers should offer a free consultation where the patient can explain the details of their case, get legal advice and guidance regarding medical malpractice lawsuits and learn about the attorney’s track record with their specific type of medical malpractice claim.
Some typical questions medical malpractice attorneys will ask medical malpractice victims are:
How Were You Injured?
The severity of a medical malpractice victim’s injury will determine the amount of money to which they are entitled. Typically, the more severe the injury the greater the monetary settlement or damages awarded.
What Did the Doctor Do Wrong?
A medical malpractice attorney must initially evaluate a victim’s situation to discover how the victim’s injury could have been prevented had the doctor done their duty and met the required standard of care. After the attorney’s initial evaluation, this question will ultimately be answered by a medical expert who acts as a witness when medical malpractice lawsuits proceed to litigation.
How Did the Doctor’s Error Cause Your Injury?
As indicated above, causation is a necessary element in successful medical malpractice lawsuits. The doctor’s mistake or breach of standard of case must be directly connected with the medical malpractice victim’s injury.
Your Only Legal Remedy
Keep in mind that the filing of medical malpractice lawsuits is the only remedy our legal system offers victims of medical malpractice and their families for obtaining compensation for the wrong that was done to them. Be your own advocate. If you believe you are the victim of medical malpractice contact a qualified medical malpractice attorney and discuss available options for filing medical malpractice lawsuits.