Medical malpractice cases can be big news, but these cases run the gamut from minor injuries to permanent injuries to death. What is medical malpractice? It’s a mistake, often called medical negligence, made by a doctor, nurse, or other medical professional that results in a patient’s injury. Doctors and medical facilities maintain malpractice insurance policies to pay for these mistakes, and patients can file lawsuits against the doctor and medical facility or hospital to receive money for the injuries.
The most obvious type of medical malpractice is a mistake made during surgery. This famously happened to comedian and former Saturday Night Live star, Dana Carvey. He had a blocked artery to his heart, but the surgeon ended up operating on the wrong artery. This meant that Carvey had to undergo a second surgery. In this high profile medical malpractice case, Carvey was awarded $7.5 million.
Other surgical mistakes could lead to infection, paralysis, accidentally cutting a vital organ, or leaving a foreign object inside the patient’s body. Surgical mistakes are only one type of medical malpractice, however. These cases can involve any number of mistakes, such as:
Misdiagnosis – A doctor may inaccurately determine that a patient has one condition or disease when it is later discovered that the patient had a different condition or disease. If the real disease goes untreated, it can lead to injury or death. A misdiagnosis may also lead the doctor to prescribe the wrong medications or unnecessary surgery, which can cause injury to the patient.
Delayed diagnosis – In this case, the physician fails to determine that the patient has a serious illness such as cancer or heart disease. Obviously, if the person isn’t treated because the doctor failed to recognize the illness, it could lead to injury or death. A delay can also occur if someone is forced to wait in an emergency room for too long, for example.
Anesthesia Mistakes – Anesthesiologists are responsible for the medication that causes a patient to sleep during a medical procedure. Since people can be sensitive to these medications, it’s the responsibility of the anesthesiologist to review a patient’s medical history to try to ensure that the anesthesia medication won’t cause problems. If it does, the anesthesiologist and medical facility may be sued for the patient’s injuries.
Prescriptions – Before prescribing medications, a doctor needs to know all other medications that a patient may be taking because it can be dangerous to mix them. It can also be dangerous to take some medications if the patient has a specific disease. For example, a particular heart medication may be dangerous for someone with Parkinson’s Disease.
Childbirth – If medical personnel make mistakes during childbirth, the result can be death or permanent disabilities, such as brain damage in the baby.
Of course, these are just a few of the more common forms of medical malpractice. Dental malpractice and all sorts of other possibilities exist in the medical field.
What to Do If You Have Been Injured by Medical Malpractice
If you believe that you or a loved one has been injured by medical malpractice, the first thing you need to do is consult a lawyer. These kinds of cases can be very complicated, so it’s absolutely necessary to have an experienced attorney working on your behalf.
Why are these cases so complicated? It can often be difficult to prove that the medical professionals acted negligently. All medical records have to be carefully examined to determine if malpractice really did take place. Did the doctor not perform his or her duties up to the standards expected of the profession? This can be likened to a driver who runs a red light or doesn’t stop for a stop light.
It is also important to note that each state has what is called a “statute of limitations” on medical malpractice claims. So, you need to act quickly if you believe malpractice has taken place because after a period of time, you will no longer be allowed to file a lawsuit.
Most lawyers who work on medical malpractice cases don’t require you to pay them a fee up front. They work on what is called a “contingency” basis, which means that they take a percentage of the total settlement you receive when the case is finished. The lawyer takes a certain risk here, so it’s to the lawyer’s advantage to only take cases that are likely to lead to a settlement that will be higher than the costs of the lawsuit. This means, first and foremost, that there must be what is called “causation.”
Causation means that it must be provable that the injury occurred as a direct result of the medical professional’s negligence. Most of the lawyers who handle medical malpractice cases have medical investigators to help them develop the evidence to prove that you or your loved one was indeed a victim of malpractice.
It’s also to the lawyer’s advantage to try to get you as much money as possible and to try to keep your case from going to court. This means that the lawyer will negotiate on your behalf with the lawyer for the malpractice insurance company, working to obtain a settlement for you. Experienced medical malpractice attorneys know what settlement amounts are reasonable to expect for different kinds of cases.
How long do medical malpractice lawsuits take to settle? This varies greatly and depends on a number of factors. The more complex the issues involved, of course, the longer it will probably take before a settlement will be reached.
The most important reason for filing a medical malpractice lawsuit is to receive the money you need for medical care related to the injury. If the injury is permanent, such as in the case of cerebral palsy or paralysis, the costs can be enormous and will last a lifetime. The injured person or the caretaker of the injured person may not be able to work for a period of time, so there may also be a loss of income – before the settlement and perhaps also in the future.
In addition, there may be money awarded for what is called “pain and suffering” and for “loss of consortium,” which refers to a loss of benefits by the injured person’s husband or wife. Punitive damages are also sometimes awarded, which is punishment when the negligence is extreme. Monies in the settlement that are for non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering, punitive damages, and loss of consortium, are restricted in some U.S. states.
Another reason for filing a medical malpractice suit, however, is to make sure that the medical professional isn’t negligent with other patients. This doesn’t mean that the doctor will be forced to stop practicing medicine, however. In most cases, the malpractice is considered to be an honest mistake. The negligence must be extreme for a doctor to lose his or her medical license, and the health department is the agency that must make that decision.