When you or a loved one is sick, injured, or otherwise need medical treatment, you put a special kind of trust in your doctors, surgeons, nurses, and other medical professionals. You trust that they will seriously and professionally work to help you as much as possible and avoid the kind of medical malpractice you might hear about.
Often, your medical professional will do the best, most professional job they can. But what happens if they fail you? What if a medical professional is negligent and puts your life, or your family member’s life, at risk? Unfortunately, this is happening more and more in the United States. A recent, blockbuster Johns Hopkins study shows that medical errors are the third-leading cause of death in this country, only surpassed by heart disease and cancer.
Have you been injured as a result of a medical error? Click here to download our medical malpractice checklist and learn the five steps you can take to file a successful claim.
If you or a loved one were injured because of medical malpractice, contact our attorneys at Morgan & Morgan today for a free, no-risk case evaluation. These type of cases have tight deadlines, so you should consider calling as soon as possible if you think you have a case. We have decades of experience winning large jury verdicts for our clients, including $38 million for a woman whose infant suffered serious birth defects because of an ill-timed C-section (although past results don’t necessarily guarantee future outcomes). We don’t charge any medical malpractice attorneys’ fees unless we win your case.
Read on to learn more about:
- What medical malpractice is;
- Examples of medical malpractice;
- How to know if you have a case; and
- What an attorney can do for you.
What Is Medical Malpractice?
Medical malpractice takes place when a healthcare provider provides treatment that falls below the accepted standard of care in the medical community, putting the patient at risk of injury and death. In general, if a healthcare provider fails to act where others with similar training would have, the medical professional may be liable for any resulting injuries and other losses. In that instance, you might have a medical malpractice case.
An example of a medical malpractice case: You go to a hospital complaining of abdominal pain, you will be examined by a physician, who will then make a determination on the proper course of treatment. At this point, you have established a patient/doctor relationship. As a physician, he or she automatically has a duty of care to their patients—which includes you. If the physician determines you need surgery to remove your appendix, the physician has a duty to perform this surgery as any other reasonable surgeon would under the same circumstances.
In general, if a healthcare provider fails to act where others with similar training would have, the provider may be liable for any resulting injuries and other losses.
You will likely read a lot about “negligence” or “medical negligence” when researching medical malpractice. Here’s a loose definition or example of medical negligence: A negligent act or omission is a breach of duty that could include removing the wrong organ; causing excessive damage to the body on the surgical site; or leaving a tool in your body after surgery. At any rate, if you sustain an injury during or after surgery, you must prove that the breach (negligent act) was the direct cause of the injury that resulted in compensable damages.
Examples of Medical Malpractice
Patients can be victims of medical malpractice in a variety of different ways. Below are some examples.
Anesthesia errors are one area in which patients can suffer greatly from the negligence of medical professionals. There are three kinds of anesthesia: local, regional, and general. Each one is used in different circumstances and carries differing possible complications. One of the most serious complications of an anesthesia error is anesthesia awareness, when a patient awakes during surgery and can see or feel the ongoing surgery.
Generally, if anesthesia is used incorrectly, and a patient is injured or dies, the negligent professional may be held liable for any resulting damages. Patients who experience anesthesia errors may be able to recover compensation for their physical and emotional injuries.
Some examples of negligence by an anesthesiologist or other healthcare professional include:
- Choosing the incorrect drug;
- Administering drugs that interact negatively with one another;
- Administering the wrong dosage of the drug;
- Giving a drug to an allergic patient;
- Failing to monitor vital signs;
- Failing to act upon changes in vital signs;
- Administering anesthesia too late;
- Failing to intubate;
- Failing to use machines correctly;
- Using faulty equipment;
- Shutting off the alarm on the pulse oximeter; and
- Failing to inform the patient of instructions regarding the procedure.
Emergency Room Errors
Although the emergency room environment is hectic and rushed, medical professionals are still expected to uphold a high standard of care for their patients. Sometimes, though, negligence by doctors, nurses, and other medical staff members can lead to serious and debilitating injuries. When an error occurs in an emergency room, victims may be able to file lawsuits to recover compensation for their injuries.
Examples of emergency room errors include:
- Misreading charts, x-rays or test results;
- Failing to diagnose cardiac problems that may lead to a heart attack;
- Misdiagnosing or delaying a diagnosis, most frequently for blood clots, aneurysms, appendicitis, strokes or pulmonary embolisms;
- Making medication errors;
- Failing to recognize or treat postoperative infections; and
- Failing to monitor patients post-treatment.
In certain cases, the hospital where the patient was injured can also be sued in a hospital negligence lawsuit. First, hospitals are charged with adequately evaluating prospective employees’ qualifications, including prior experience, certifications and level of education. If a hospital hires an incompetent or under-qualified medical professional, it may be held liable for any patients injured by that employee’s incompetence. For instance, if a hospital fails to check whether an employee has the proper degree or certification and that employee causes an injury, the hospital may be found liable.
If a hospital fails to check whether an employee has the proper degree or certification and that employee causes an injury, the hospital may be found liable.
Second, hospital employees and staff sometimes engage in conduct that amounts to medical malpractice, for which the hospital can be held liable. Some of these include:
- Making an inaccurate diagnosis;
- Neglecting a patient or refusing to offer the patient proper treatment;
- Ignoring a patient to the point that his or her condition becomes unstable;
- Failing to send a patient to a specialist if his or her current physician’s care is insufficient;
- Failing to order obligatory diagnostic tests to help determine treatment options;
- Administering the incorrect medication or amount of a drug;
- Using anesthesia erroneously;
- Misusing medical equipment;
- Performing pointless or nonconsensual surgery; and
- Failing to adhere to hospital protocol that results in an injury such as an infection.
Hospital Vicarious Liability
Hospitals can be vicariously liable for any injuries caused by the negligence of their employees, including technicians and nurses, because employers have a duty of care to direct and supervise their workers. This liability covers negligence of employees, as well as systemic problems within the hospital, including unreasonably long wait times for the emergency room and infections acquired from unclean instruments.
Hospitals, however, usually can’t be held liable for the negligent actions of independent contractors. Many doctors are not hospital employees, but are typically employed by the hospital on a freelance basis while they run their own private practices. Hospitals may only be found negligent for the actions of independent contractors if they are found to lack the requisite experience, are under-qualified, or acted with the “apparent agency” of the hospital — that is, they seemed to be acting under the direction of the hospital. If an attorney can prove that the professional was represented to be an employee of the hospital, the patient relied on that representation, and was injured as a result, the patient may be able to sue the hospital, as well.
Some hospitals try to get around this “apparent agency” problem by requiring their independent contractors to notify patients that they are not hospital employees or by placing signs indicating their status around the facility. If patients are not reasonably apprised of their physician’s independent contractor statuses, the hospital may be liable for any resulting injuries.
Medical Device Error
Although medical devices are used regularly to diagnose, treat, or prevent diseases, sometimes their failure or misuse results in serious injury or death to a patient.
There are three major types of defects in medical devices that might cause injury and open up a manufacturer to liability: manufacturing defects, design defects, and inadequate warnings. In the case of one of these problems, the device maker may be sued if the defect causes injury or death.
In addition, medical devices may be misused by medical professionals. When improper training, inadequate knowledge, recklessness, or negligence in using a medical instrument or device leads to the injury of a patient, the medical professional that misused the device may be held liable.
Misdiagnosis or Delayed Diagnosis
Failure to diagnose an illness correctly can have devastating effects on a patient and his or her family. Injuries resulting from a medical misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis can leave patients with debilitating pain and lasting physical impairments and, in the worst cases, result in fatalities.
Commonly misdiagnosed conditions include breast cancer, lung cancer, ovarian cancer, prostate cancer, brain tumors, infections, appendicitis, ectopic pregnancies and vascular diseases.
To recover compensation in a misdiagnosis lawsuit, an injured patient must prove that the healthcare professional was negligent.
Here are some examples of negligence resulting in misdiagnosis.
Failing to listen to the patient: When patients tell their doctors that they aren’t feeling well, it is the responsibility of their doctors to listen and examine these symptoms. Should a doctor fail to examine a symptom and his or her patient gets sicker, the doctor can be liable for a misdiagnosis.
Failing to recognize symptoms: Doctors are trained to make diagnoses based upon their patients’ symptoms. If a healthcare professional fails to make an accurate diagnosis, despite symptoms indicating a particular illness, he or she may be held liable for medical malpractice.
Failing to examine medical history: Physicians have a responsibility to examine their patients’ personal and family medical histories. A physician may be considered negligent if he or she didn’t examine a patient’s medical history, the patient becomes sicker, and the illness would have been easily identifiable after examining the patient’s medical history.
If you or a loved one were a victim of medical malpractice, contact us today for a free, no-risk case evaluation.
Ordering an improper test: If doctors order incorrect tests based on the symptoms in their patients, they may be negligent if their patients sustain further injuries. Additionally, doctors can be found negligent if they fail to order standard tests after observing certain symptoms in their patients.
Failing to interpret tests correctly: When doctors order tests for their patients, they are responsible for correctly interpreting the results. Should a doctor carelessly interpret a patient’s test, he or she may be considered negligent and held liable for any unnecessary injury or sickness that results.
When patients receive misdiagnoses, their illnesses have time to progress without adequate treatment. In the worst of cases, this can result in death. Additionally, when patients are misdiagnosed with illnesses from which they are not suffering, they can be subjected to painful and risky treatments. In either of these instances, if a doctor was negligent in misdiagnosing the illness, he or she may be liable for any resulting losses incurred by the patient.
“Postoperative care” refers to the monitoring and subsequent care that a patient receives following surgery or treatment. Medical professionals are responsible for monitoring patients for complications that arise from surgery or treatment, preventing and treating infections, monitoring vital signs, giving detailed instructions to patients for post-surgical care, and correctly prescribing medicine to patients to aid in the healing process and prevent complications. If a doctor fails to properly monitor a patient or fails to notice symptoms, that patient may suffer a severe injury. In these cases, the patient may have a viable medical malpractice lawsuit.
Some of the types of infections, illnesses, and conditions that commonly arise from postoperative negligence include:
- Viral infections;
- Internal bleeding;
- Necrotizing fasciitis;
- Infections at the site of surgery;
- Tissue necrosis (death);
- Organ perforation that went unnoticed;
- Urinary tract infections (UTIs);
- Staphylococcus (Staph) infections;
- Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA);
- Bloodstream infections;
- Blood clots or pulmonary embolism;
- Respiratory infections like pneumonia; and
Other examples of medical malpractice include:
- Chiropractic malpractice
- Cosmetic surgery malpractice
- Dental malpractice
- Medication error malpractice
- OBGYN malpractice
- Orthopedic malpractice
- Psychiatric malpractice
- Surgical error malpractice
To learn if our attorneys can help you file a medical malpractice claim and recover the compensation you deserve, fill out our free case review form.
How Do You Know If You Have a Medical Malpractice Case?
You might be asking yourself, “How do I know if I have a medical malpractice case?” or “How Can I Prove a Medical Malpractice Case?” If you’re considering filing a medical malpractice suit, keep in mind that an experienced attorney can go a long way toward determining if you have a case and, if you do, advocating for your rights. (Make sure to act as quickly as possible, because as we established earlier, in most states there are strict time limits governing how long you have to sue after an injury.)
Here are factors that generally go into proving a patient has a medical malpractice claim and how that patient can potentially succeed in a medical malpractice case.
Patient/doctor relationship: Individuals pursuing medical malpractice cases must be able to prove they had a physician-patient relationship with the doctor. The patient must hire the doctor and the doctor must have agreed to work for the patient. Medical practitioners can only be sued for acts of malpractice committed within the scope of employment.
Duty of care: Physicians are required to perform their duties consistent with the medical community’s accepted standards. Doctors and other medical professionals have a legal obligation to their patients to act in the same manner that another practitioner in the same field and situation would.
Doctors and other medical professionals have a legal obligation to their patients.
Breach of duty: For medical practitioners to be considered negligent, they must have violated the “duty of care” they owed their patients. For the duty of care to have been broken, the doctor must have failed to act how another medical practitioner would have acted in a similar situation.
Causation: In addition to negligence, patients must also prove causation to have a valid claim. Injured patients must prove that the medical practitioner’s breach of duty was the cause of their injury. Through medical records, other documents and expert witness testimony, patients must be able to show a causal relationship between the doctor’s negligence and their injury.
Damages: The injury caused by the healthcare provider’s negligence must have caused either economic or non-economic damages. This means that medical professionals cannot be held liable unless the injured patient incurred additional medical bills, lost wages or damage to their future earning capacity, or pain and suffering. You can file a medical malpractice lawsuit if your provider is negligent and injures you or a loved one.
If you sue, you might be able to recover compensation for your injuries, pain and suffering, and more. Complete our free, no-risk case review form today to have our office review your case and discuss whether you are eligible to file or not.
Damages in a Medical Malpractice Case
Although we touched on medical malpractice damages above, here is some more detailed information on the type of damages in a medical malpractice case.
Damages are awarded to compensate the injured patient for the harm caused by a medical professional’s negligence. Compensatory medical malpractice damages attempt to make the victim “whole” again and provide financial compensation for economic and non-economic losses.
Also known as “actual damages,” economic losses that may be covered include:
Medical expenses: These damages cover the cost of hospital stays, doctor visits, physical therapy, prescription drugs, assistive devices and similar expenses. When an injury is severe or permanent, the medical malpractice victim may also be awarded compensation for future medical expenses.
Lost wages: Patients who must take time away from work to recover from their medical malpractice injuries may be able to collect compensation for lost wages.
Loss of earning capacity: When patients are unable to earn the same amount of money as they did prior to the accident, they may be awarded compensation for the loss.
Pain and suffering: Medical malpractice damages for pain and suffering typically compensate victims for physical pain caused by their injuries. These damages may also include compensation for emotional distress, which refers to the anxiety, depression, fear, frustration, and other mental suffering that can develop as a result of a medical malpractice injury.
Loss of consortium: The surviving spouse may be awarded compensation for things like the loss of assistance, aid, and companionship of his or her loved one in the case of a wrongful death caused by medical malpractice. Surviving parents may be awarded compensation for the loss of love, affection, and companionship of their minor children as a result of their wrongful death. Likewise, minor children may be awarded compensation for the loss of things like assistance, aid, and companionship of their parents as a result of their wrongful death.
Other damages: There are other damages available in certain situations, including loss of life’s enjoyment, compensation for disability or disfigurement, loss of parental support, and loss of companionship. When nurses, doctors, or other medical professionals act with gross negligence — meaning that their conduct was willful or malicious — injured patients may be entitled to punitive damages. Rather than compensate these victims for their losses, punitive medical malpractice damages aim to punish the defendant and deter others from engaging in similar conduct.
What Does a Medical Malpractice Attorney Do?
If you’ve determined that you might have a medical malpractice case, you probably have some questions: How do I choose a good attorney and what can a medical malpractice lawyer do for me when I actually find one?
One thing to keep in mind: Medical malpractice lawsuits differ from other personal injury cases, because they involve two intertwining areas of expertise: law and medicine. These cases are inherently complex and require the attention and skill of an attorney who is well-versed in both of these areas. The attorney you choose should:
- Have a firm understanding of medicine;
- Be able to navigate through a complex medical record;
- Know which experts to consult;
- Know which questions to ask; and
- Be able to anticipate the tactics of the doctor’s team of lawyers.
An attorney with the know-how like that will help you to pursue your medical malpractice claim by doing at least the following:
- Reviewing information given to us to establish if you have a claim;
- Collecting additional evidence to support your claim;
- Determining the value of your claim;
- Determining potential liable parties;
- Helping you understand your legal rights and options moving forward; and
- Handling complicated technical rules and procedures the court or state may have.
While the evidence and facts may be on your side, the strength of your case may ultimately hinge on the ability of your attorney to prove a causal link. At Morgan & Morgan, our attorneys know how to package, present, and explain supporting (and adverse) evidence to a jury; question expert witnesses; rebut claims made by the defense through intelligent and thoughtful means; and turn neutral facts into favorable evidence or negate facts that are unfavorable to your case.
If you feel ready to file a lawsuit against your medical provider for injuries you or a loved one suffered because of negligence, contact our attorneys today.
How Long Do You Have to File a Lawsuit for Medical Malpractice?
Under laws in certain states, a statute of limitations limits the amount of time under which an injured patient may pursue a medical malpractice lawsuit against a negligent party. Failure to file a claim within this window could prevent the right to recover compensation.
In some instances, if there is fraud, misrepresentation, or other foul play on the part of the medical professional, the time frame may be extended to give the injured party additional time to file a suit. Because of this strict time period, it is important for victims of medical malpractice to contact a contingency-fee medical malpractice attorney as soon as possible after a medical mistake.
Why Morgan & Morgan Has Won Millions for Injured Patients
Our attorneys at Morgan & Morgan have recovered millions of dollars for injured patients, because we’ve been doing this a long time. We know what to expect from healthcare professionals’ and hospitals’ attorneys — having an attorney who can anticipate the tactics employed by a healthcare professional’s counsel to rebut or negate your claims can be a key factor in the outcome of your case.
Morgan & Morgan’s attorneys have recovered millions of dollars for patients injured and unable to work or enjoy their lives because they were victims of medical malpractice. Contact us today to learn how we can help.
Our attorneys’ strength lays not only in our courtroom and negotiation strategies — although these are huge strengths — but also the resources made available by our law firm. At Morgan & Morgan, we employ full-time medical malpractice paralegals, consultative nurses, and outside expert physicians and other medical care professionals at the top of their respective fields to help us establish a link between your injuries and the defendant’s negligence.
With the assistance of these experts, our attorneys have compiled a track record of results helping medical malpractice victims recover compensation for their injuries. While each case is different, we have recovered multi-million dollar results for our clients, including:
- a $38.75 million verdict for a family after their doctor failed to perform a timely C-section, which resulted in the serious injury of their infant child;
- a $28.5 million verdict relating to a doctor’s failure to timely diagnose or treat of encephalitis; and
- a $6.3 million verdict for a client after her doctor failed to treat her heart disease, leading to cardiac arrest and a permanent vegetative state.
There are countless other verdicts we’ve won for medical malpractice victims and their families.
Sometimes these medical mistakes come at a time when you’ve already suffered because of a workplace accident or a car crash, compounding the difficulty you face in recovery. Many legal situations can see you spending time in the hospital. Our firm is ready to help you. We believe in justice for the people.