Most people associate the term “medical malpractice” with a doctor making a mistake, but it’s a legal term that’s much more in depth than any simple definition.
Whenever a medical professional accepts a patient, they are legally bound to provide a level of care meeting or exceeding industry standards. That’s open-ended, and the medical community defines it with the question, “what would a competent medical professional have done given the same patient and circumstances?”.
It’s worth noting that doctors are not the only defendants in medical malpractice claims. Dentists, plastic surgeons, specialists, and even pharmacists may also be accused.
Even if the care provided fails to live up to industry standards, you may still not have a valid medical malpractice claim. Medical malpractice demands that the care in question caused some type of damage to the patient. In this usage, damages are also a legal term, but they have a fairly broad meaning. An exasperated medical condition, unnecessary medical bills, non-treatment of a treatable condition, emotional duress, and loss of income may also qualify as damages depending on the situation.
There is a statute of limitations on medical malpractice claims, but it varies by state and on the claim specified. According to a study conducted in 2013 by BMJ Open, the three most common reasons for a medical malpractice claim are Failure to Diagnose, Negligent Treatment, and Failure To Warn.
Failure to Diagnose describes situations in which a medical professional failed to diagnose a patient at all, or misdiagnosed them leading to incorrect care.
Negligent Treatment refers to situations in which a mistake was made that a reasonably competent medical professional would have avoided, given the same patient.
Last, Failure To Warn deals with cases where medical professionals failed to adequately explain the risks and benefits associated with any treatment option before beginning it. Even if no other mistakes were made, a failure to obtain informed consent (wherein the patient understands the risks of any procedure and agrees to take them on) prior to treatment is enough to bring forth a medical malpractice claim.
The process of bringing a medical malpractice claim varies by jurisdiction. Some states require the plaintiff to jump through a few hoops first, such as providing the defendant with advance notice of an intent to sue, obtain a certificate of merit from a qualified medical professional attesting to the validity of their claim, and/or agree to mediation to attempt to resolve the matter without litigation.
Once that’s done, both sides share the information that they have collected in a process called discovery. You may be able to get a medical malpractice settlement at this juncture if your case is irrefutable, but otherwise you’re headed to trial.
As with most cases, the burden of proof is on the plaintiff in medical malpractice lawsuits. Both sides are expected to provide expert witnesses (meeting certain criteria defined by the Court) to testify to the quality of care provided, with either a jury or a judge deciding which side made the more credible argument.
After the trial, either side may appeal to begin a new trial. A plaintiff dissatisfied with the amount of their monetary award may sue for additur in some jurisdictions. Likewise, a defendant who feels that they have been ordered to pay too much may be able to sue for remittitur to decrease the amount.
The process is filled with legalese, but the most important thing to remember is that laws are on the books to protect the victims of medical malpractice. If you feel that you or a loved one may have been such a victim, you should not hesitate to contact a qualified attorney to discuss the particulars of your case.