When you need surgery, have a serious injury, or become ill, it is important to visit a doctor. As patients, we trust our physicians to provide adequate and appropriate care.
In times of need, doctors, nurses, and healthcare professionals hold our lives in their hands. When serious medical mistakes are made, they can and should be held accountable for their negligence.
The answer to the question, “Can doctors be sued for negligence?” may seem straightforward, but it’s not always the case. Read on to find out why.
In this discussion, we will explore some of the important components of malpractice in order to answer our question, “Can doctors be sued for negligence?”
Not all instances of negligence are clear-cut and understanding what constitutes a valid case is helpful when deciding whether you will choose to file a claim or not.
If you think you or someone you know has been affected by medical negligence, there are numerous legal options available. The experienced team at Morgan & Morgan can review your circumstances with you and determine if legal action is right for you.
No one should have to carry the burdens of an accident or injury that another person caused. Complete the easy-to-use contact form on our website today. Our friendly staff will schedule a no-cost and no-obligation legal consultation for you.
Medical Negligence Explained
“Medical negligence” is often used interchangeably with the term, “medical malpractice.” While they are certainly related to each other, they do not mean the same thing.
When a care provider’s actions, or lack of action, fail to meet the accepted medical standards of care, their behavior is considered negligent.
The medical standard of care is typically defined as the level and type of treatment that a skilled, and reasonably competent health care professional, with a similar background and within the same medical community, would have provided under the circumstances which lead to the alleged negligence.
In other words, the important question to pose in these potential cases is: “Would a medical professional, who is similarly skilled, have provided me the same treatment under the same or similar circumstances?”
Some common examples of medical negligence include, but are not limited to:
- Failure to diagnose or misdiagnosis
- Misreading or ignoring lab results
- Improper medication or dosage
- Poor follow-up or aftercare
- Surgical error or incorrect surgery site
In some cases, mistakes are caught in time to prevent any unintended harm. In other cases, mistakes do occur but luckily, without any negative and/or long lasting effect on a patient's health.
When a doctor is found to have provided below the standard of care, but no harm was sustained or impacted the patient long term, can an individual still sue the physician for negligence?
In short –- not exactly. Two additional elements must be established in order to constitute a viable claim.
Causation & Damages
Medical negligence becomes medical malpractice when the doctor’s negligent behavior results in injury to the patient. Some examples of injury in a malpractice case can be:
- Making the patient's condition worse
- Causing unexpected or unreasonable complications
- Causing need for additional medical treatment
These are just a few examples of what could be considered an “injury” when dealing with cases of malpractice.
Causation (or fault) and damages (the injury sustained) are necessary components for medical negligence to give way to a feasible medical malpractice suit.
If the doctor's negligence was not a predictable result of a patient's harm, or if the negligence actually had no damaging effect on the patient’s condition, a medical malpractice claim is likely to fall short.
For example, suppose that a physician diagnosed you with the flu and you actually had a common cold. But if the doctor prescribed a medication that helped with your cold, the misdiagnosis did not result in harm to you.
The claimant must show that they sustained actual damages because of the misdiagnosis. If the misdiagnosis did not cause you any harm, you will not be able to prove negligence.
In another instance, let’s suppose that an anesthesiologist administers the incorrect dosage while you are undergoing surgery. As a result, you experience severe liver damage. This is a clear case of medical negligence that would likely lead to a successful malpractice claim.
In this article we have touched on what exactly negligence is, how the medical standard of care is defined, and examples of scenarios where negligence may be actionable.
But, in order to hold a physician or healthcare professional liable, how do we prove negligence?
As we’ve discussed, negligence alone is not the only indication that you have a malpractice claim on your hands. A few more elements must be at play. Let’s dive into those basics.
To hold a doctor or medical professional liable for medical negligence, the injured must be able to to establish:
- The presence of a provider-patient relationship
- The appropriate standard of care given the circumstances
- Exactly how the providers actions fell below the appropriate standard of care
- How the provider’s error harmed you.
It is important to remember that just because something may have gone wrong during a treatment course, or the treatment didn’t provide the desired result, it does not necessarily mean the physician or medical professional did anything wrong in the eyes of the law.
All malpractice cases are rooted in the same thing: A healthcare provider’s action, or lack of action, to provide treatment consistent with the accepted medical standards under the circumstances of the case.
In most situations, this typically means the provider was negligent. In some unique instances though, a physician’s actions prove to be negligent to such a degree that a malpractice case may be warranted.
Let’s say that a patient faces umbilical cord prolapse while giving birth. Umbilical cord prolapse imparts significant risk to the life of the baby if a C-section is not performed promptly.
Now, let’s imagine that the physician in this scenario fails to take this event seriously enough and is delayed in performing the C-section. This delay results in brain damage to the baby.
Here, if it is demonstrated that the doctor’s behavior fell below the medical standard of care, and that the baby would not have suffered brain injury if the procedure had been initiated earlier, a medical malpractice case may be strong.
Let’s suppose in another situation, that a patient sees a doctor for a particular illness and over the course of the treatment, their condition worsens.
A physician can not be said to have acted negligently simply on the basis of a worsened condition. There are times when a doctor is unable to cure, or even treat, an illness.
Even when an illness is possible to treat, it is not always guaranteed that all patients will respond to such treatment. As long as the provider acted in line with the medical standard of care and was skilled & reasonable in carrying out their course, no medical malpractice can be claimed to have occured.
As we can see, malpractice cases can be challenging. They are often complex and pose many medical and legal questions, none of which you should have to face alone.
If you feel you may have been a victim of malpractice, Complete the simple contact form on our website to arrange a free consultation. The legal experts here at Morgan & Morgan can help you decide the best course of action for your case. We’ll review your potential claim with the sensitivity it deserves.