People go to the doctor with expectations of maintaining and/or improving their health. They don’t expect that medical malpractice will cause a serious injury or that a doctor’s negligence will worsen a medical condition.
Fortunately, when that happens, each state allows injured patients to file a medical malpractice claim with the doctor’s insurance company to recover the physical, emotional, and financial damages they suffered.
What is medical malpractice?
Put simply, medical malpractice occurs if a medical professional fails to meet the standard of care expected of him if that failure causes harm to a patient.
Standard of care is the required level of service a medical professional owes her patients. It is based on what another reasonable professional in the same field would do under similar circumstances.
What elements must a successful medical malpractice claim establish?
To bring an action for medical malpractice, a claimant must prove each of the following.
- The doctor owed the patient a duty of care. Doctors owe their patients a duty to provide competent care and serve. Claimants must prove that a doctor-patient relationship existed.
- The medical professional failed to meet the standard of care (was negligent). This can happen either through the doctor’s actions or inaction.
- The medical professional’s negligence harmed the patient. If the doctor was negligent in prescribing the wrong medication, for example, but the patient suffers no side effects or the existing condition does not worsen, the patient likely does not have a valid malpractice claim.
- The injury caused damages. If a patient, because of a doctor’s negligent actions, suffers a minor injury that does not cause any physical, emotional, or financial damages, then the patient likely does not have a valid claim for medical malpractice.
What types of actions can give rise to a medical malpractice action?
Any action or inaction that causes injury and damages to a patient may warrant pursuing a medical malpractice case. Some examples include:
- Misdiagnosis or failure to diagnose: If the result was the worsening of the illness, a patient may be able to file a medical malpractice claim. For example, a doctor who failed to diagnose a woman’s cancer in its early stages when another reasonable medical professional would have, causing her to undergo more intensive treatment than if it were diagnosed early, may be liable for malpractice.
- Failure to treat: If the medical professional diagnosed the illness but did not treat (or incorrectly treated) it, causing the illness to worsen, the doctor may be liable for malpractice.
- Failure to warn or obtain informed consent: This means that the doctor did not let the patient know the risks of a procedure or treatment, or that the patient did not consent to the procedure. If the patient suffered harm during the procedure, she may be able to file a claim for malpractice.
Get Legal Help if You Think You Have a Medical Malpractice Case
Medical malpractice cases are complicated, require expert testimony and other evidence, and there is a limited amount of time (statutes of limitations) in which patients can bring claims, which varies by state. Seek legal counsel to review the validity of your case and to ensure you file your claim correctly and on time.
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