What is medical malpractice?
Medical malpractice occurs when a patient is harmed by a medical professional who fails to provide them with competent medical care. This failure to provide competent care results in minor or serious injury. A medical professional is a broad term to include individuals like physicians, nurse and surgeons. It also includes organizations such as a hospital or clinic.
A medical malpractice lawsuit also includes a wrongful death lawsuit. A wrongful death claim is filed on behalf of the patient because they died. Their death typically results from the alleged medical malpractice.
Duty to Provide Competent Care
A medical professional has a duty to provide a patient with standard care, or competent care. Standard care doesn’t mean a patient has to like the care received. It also doesn’t mean it has to be the best care.
The term standard care doesn’t really have a real definition. The courts take a subjective view of standard care. It compares the treatment the medical professional gave to the patient to another professional in the same or similar situation.
For example, a patient had all the signs and symptoms of heart attack. The treating physician fails to order a test to detect a heart attack. The patient later dies. If another physician in the same or similar circumstance would have ordered the test, the treating physician provided substandard care.
A personal injury lawyers often use expert medical witnesses to prove their case. A personal injury lawyer suing on behalf of the plaintiff would have an expert witness testify their client received substandard care. The other side would have an expert witness prove the treating medical professional provided standard care.
Do No Harm
When a medical professional provides substandard care, the question becomes if they harmed the patient. The court places the burden on whether an injury occurred on the plaintiff’s attorney. The court assumes the plaintiff sought medical treatment because they were injured. The treating medical professional may have provided substandard medical treatment, but may not have caused harm.
Substandard care causes additional injuries. These injuries are often documented in additional medical bills. For instance, a patient went into the hospital for a simple procedure, was injured by the treating medical professional. The patient would show those additional medical bills as proof they were injured by the medical professional.
Noneconomic and Economic Damages
Money, or damages, is awarded to a patient who was injured by a medical professional. Each medical malpractice claim is different. Thus, the particular amount a patient receives depends on the severity of their damages. The court separates damages in two categories: noneconomic and economic damages.
Economic damages are medical bills, lost wages and lost earning capacity. These damages can be calculated through bills or documents showing a loss. Other damages that can’t be calculated are noneconomic damages.
Noneconomic damages are subjective. For example, a jury can’t calculate a patient’s pain so they have to make an estimate. Noneconomic damages include things like pain and suffering and mental anguish.
Punitive damages are rarely awarded. They don’t have anything to do with the patient directly. Punitive damages are given to a patient to punish the treating medical professional for their conduct. The medical professional’s treatment may have been seriously negligent or reckless. Punitive damages range from $1 to millions of dollars.
Basic Requirement for a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit
Both a wrongful death lawsuit and medical malpractice claim have the same steps to proving damages. These damages include:
1. The medical professional had a duty to provide standard care to the patient
2. The medical professional breached the duty to provide competent care
3. The substandard care caused the patient an injury
4. The patient incurred damages the medical professional must pay
Seek Legal Advice
To determine if you have a medical malpractice claim, talk to a personal injury lawyer. The lawyer will determine if there’s a case and how to proceed. Many medical malpractice claims often end in a settlement rather than a trial. A settlement involves the medical professional paying the patient money to avoid court. The medical professional may or may not admit fault by settling the case out of court.