Doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals occupy a crucial role in our lives. When we or someone we love gets hurt or sick, we go to a hospital or doctor's office for their ability to make us feel better.
However, medical professionals are human just like the rest of us. They can make mistakes or bad decisions that end up hurting you, as one of their patients. This can be the result of overwork, fatigue, a lack of knowledge in a specific field, or simple carelessness. Whatever the reason, the fact remains that you have been hurt. Worse, because nature of what doctors and other health professionals do, these injuries can be severe, and sometimes even fatal.
Holding medical professionals accountable for their negligent actions is why we have medical malpractice attorneys. By filing a medical malpractice claim against the doctor, nurse, or medical facility that was ultimately responsible for hurting you, you can get the compensation you need to make a full recovery, hold accountable the people who hurt you, and make sure someone else does not also go through the same pain and suffering that you have.
The Problem of Medical Malpractice
Doctors, surgeons, nurses, and other health care professionals have some of the most difficult jobs in the country. Tasked with keeping people healthy and helping them recover from serious injuries and diseases, health care providers also need to worry about making enough money to provide for themselves in the competitive business of medicine.
With so much on the line, it should not come as a surprise that mistakes are made in the day-to-day work of the medical profession. Unfortunately, just how many mistakes are made, and their overall cost to medical malpractice victims in the United States, is still a bit of a mystery. This is because the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) does not have a specific category in their death certificate data for people who died as a result of medical malpractice.
As a result, the number of people who have died or suffered significant injuries from a health professional's mistake or negligence is still uncertain. However, researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine have estimated that medical malpractice is the third leading cause of death in the country, behind only cancer and heart disease. According to their estimates, more than 250,000 people died from medical malpractice in 2014, alone. Their findings led to a call for the CDC to create a category on their death certificates for those caused by medical malpractice. However, because doctors are often the people in charge of filling out the certificate, it is unclear whether the change would make reports more accurate.
However, the problem of medical malpractice is not fully contained in the number of people who die every year. Patients suffer horrific injuries from medical malpractice, as well. In fact, according to the Civil Justice Resource Group (CJRG), it is between 0.8% and 1% of hospital patients that become victims of medical malpractice. Nevertheless, fewer than 3% of malpractice victims file lawsuits against the health care professional and facilities that caused their injuries.
This is especially unfortunate because it is only a small percentage of doctors that are responsible for the lion's share of medical malpractice claims that are filed. In fact, numbers by the CJRG show that only 4.8% of the physicians in the U.S. face more than half of the medical malpractice claims filed in the country. Since so few doctors responsible for so much of the medical malpractice in the United States, going to an attorney with a possible medical malpractice claim is crucial, as it could help prevent that particular physician from hurting their next patient, as well.
Medical Malpractice in Washington, D.C.
Medical malpractice lawsuits are a subset of personal injury claims. Personal injury claims involve suing someone for compensation for injuries that you suffered at their hands. These personal injury lawsuits can arise in a variety of situations, from injuries you suffer in a car accident to tripping on a sidewalk. They all, however, involve the same sequence of events: Someone else had a responsibility to keep you safe, they did not follow through on this responsibility, and this oversight caused you to get hurt.
Medical malpractice lawsuits fall into this sequence of events, as well. In a typical medical malpractice case, you or someone you love went to a doctor's office or a hospital or other medical facility for treatment, only to get hurt by something that one of the people who work there did. Even if what happened was not on purpose – even if it was just an accident or a negligent act – that does not mean that you should not be financially compensated for your pain and suffering. The fact that it was unintentional does not make your new hospital bills go away or make the injury you suffered any less debilitating.
However, medical malpractice lawsuits are expensive for doctors and hospitals. If they lose a medical malpractice case, they stand to lose a significant amount of money, as well as suffer a blemish to their reputation as health care providers. As a result, medical malpractice cases are fought tooth-and-nail by health care providers who want to avoid liability at almost any cost. Not only will they dig deep into their own pockets to pay for as many attorneys as it takes to win the case, they will even resort to some shady tactics to ensure they do not have to pay out a malpractice settlement or judgment.
Because of this, each and every step in the sequence of events of a medical malpractice case – the obligation of someone else to keep you safe, their failure to follow through on that responsibility, and your resulting injuries – can be turned into an uphill battle.
Medical Professionals Owe You a Duty of Care
In a medical malpractice case, one of the things that you will have to prove is that the medical professionals who hurt you had a duty to keep you safe. Unfortunately, this is not always an easy thing to show.
Doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals all have a duty to comply with standards of practice that are accepted in the medical community. While this sounds simple and straightforward, the reality is that these “standards of practice” are often difficult to define: It is not like doctors have a written rulebook on what to do in every conceivable situation they could face while on the job.
As a result, proving that there is a standard of practice that is accepted in the medical community, and what exactly this standard of practice entails, can be hard to determine. Until it is settled, however, a medical malpractice lawsuit can only go so far.
As an example of how this works, imagine going to a doctor's office for a routine checkup. The doctor takes your blood pressure and all of your vital signs, and then uses his stethoscope to listen to your heart. While listening to your heartbeat, your doctor notices a slight discrepancy but decides not to investigate further – the odds of it being a sign of heart disease is low. You get sent home, unaware that you actually have heart disease, which continues to worsen because your doctor did not follow through on the symptoms and put you through further tests.
In this case, the important question becomes whether it would have been an accepted standard of practice in the medical community to put you through further heart tests after listening to your heart. If it is a standard of practice, then your doctor should have followed through on it. However, if it was not, then your doctor would be under no expectation to put you through another battery of tests to look for a heart condition. Setting the standard of practice in this situation would require consulting other doctors to figure out what should have happened. The doctor's defense team is going to go to great lengths to show that the doctor was just going through with the medical field's normal procedures, and was under no expectation to order further tests. It is up to your medical malpractice attorneys to show that he was.
Another potential problem is that there are often a handful of medical professionals acting behind each and every medical procedure that you go through. In even the simplest of surgeries, there are often several nurses who prepare you for the doctor to examine. Then the doctor examines you to make sure the surgery begins correctly. Then the surgeon steps in to perform the surgery, itself. In between the doctor and the surgeon, though, there is often an anesthesiologist, and in surgery there are often several attending nurses.
With so many people involved, it can be difficult to pinpoint who, exactly, was responsible for making sure you did not get hurt during the procedure. Over the course of even a basic medical procedure, you can get handed from one person to or another, numerous times and multiple people can be in charge for different issues all at the same time. This is why a medical malpractice lawsuit gets filed against anyone who could possibly have had some role to play in your injuries. If someone is left out or overlooked in the lawsuit, the doctors and other parties that you sue will claim that it was the missing person who had a duty to exercise reasonable care at the time of the malpractice.
Medical Professionals Can Breach that Duty of Care
Only after the accepted standard of practice is established can your medical malpractice attorneys go about proving that a doctor, nurse, or medical facility failed to follow it.
Even here, though, the lawyers representing the hospital or medical professional will do all they can to show their client did all that he or she had to do to uphold their professional responsibility. If it was determined that the standard of practice that had to be followed is anything close to what was actually done in your case, you can expect the other side's lawyers to make it sound like all that could be done, was actually done.
For example, in the hypothetical case of the doctor who listened to your heart during the routine checkup, but missed the signs of heart disease, attorneys for the doctor and the clinic hosting the doctor would likely go into great detail over exactly what the doctor heard while listening through the stethoscope. If it was established that it would have been standard medical procedure to order more tests after hearing a certain rhythm, then you can count on the doctor's attorneys stressing that the doctor heard a different rhythm, or that it was not conclusive that he heard the right one. These detailed arguments are all par for the course in medical malpractice claims, and make having skilled medical malpractice attorneys on your side crucial.
Breaching that Duty of Care Has to Cause Your Injury
Even after determining exactly what the doctor was supposed to do, and showing that the doctor did something else, instead, your medical malpractice claim is not necessarily over. To succeed, you also have to show that your injury was caused by that specific oversight. If your injury was caused by something else, then the doctor or another medical professional who made a mistake is off the hook.
On the one hand, this makes sense. Even if a particular doctor or nurse made a mistake or acted negligently, no matter how egregious their conduct was they should not have to pay for something they did not do. They may have gone completely against standard medical procedures, but if it did not affect you in some way, then no harm was done.
However, on the other hand, this becomes a huge practical problem. Many medical procedures happen behind closed doors where no one except other medical professionals can see what happened. Without direct knowledge of what happened, it can be difficult to point to the particular action or oversight that caused your injuries. Sometimes, the best you can do is narrow it down to a small handful of potentially negligent people. In many cases, though, this is not enough for a medical malpractice case to succeed.
For example, consider the doctor who did not catch the signs of heart disease in your routine checkup. Maybe the doctor did make a note of it in your chart, but that note did not make it to the person who was responsible for setting up a follow up appointment. If this were the oversight that prevented you from getting the medical care and attention you needed, the doctor is no longer the negligent party.
Practically speaking, this can become a nightmare. If the responsible person or party is not sued, then a medical malpractice lawsuit can fail. Attorneys representing doctors and hospitals know this, and try pushing blame onto whoever is not involved in the lawsuit, in an attempt to deflect responsibility onto someone else and get out of court.
Sometimes, however, you may not have to directly show that a specific person was the cause of your injury. The legal doctrine of res ipsa loquitur, which means literally that “the thing speaks for itself,” can let you prove that the doctor or hospital was negligent without directly showing that they were the ones who made the oversight that hurt you.
When it applies to a case, res ipsa loquitur creates a legal inference that negligence must have happened, based on the specific injury you suffered and your inability to prevent it from happening. A common example of this is when a foreign object is left inside a patient during surgery. The only way for this to have happened is for someone to have been negligent. When you were under anesthesia and the only people who saw what happened all work for the same hospital, the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur can save your case.
Contributing to Your Injury in Any Way Can Doom Your Claim
Unfortunately, there are instances where a patient who is the victim of medical malpractice was also negligent. For example, if you go into surgery but forget to notify the doctors, nurses, or surgeon that you have an allergy to latex, and then the doctors use latex gloves and cause a serious allergic reaction, then you have contributed to your own injuries.
In many states, if a victim and the wrongdoer share the fault of the victim's injuries, then the fault can be apportioned between the two and the amount recovered by the victim is decreased by how much he or she was at fault. For example, in a car accident that was 70% the defendant's fault and 30% the plaintiff's fault, any recovery the plaintiff got in a personal injury lawsuit would be decreased by 30%.
In the District of Columbia, however, we use a rule that is much harsher for people who are filing lawsuits to get compensation for their injuries. The District of Columbia follows the doctrine of contributory negligence, which completely bars recovery if you were found to have contributed to your injuries in any way. This means that, in theory, even if you were found to be 1% at fault for your injuries, you stand to lose all of the compensation that you otherwise would have gotten from a successful lawsuit.
The Contentious Issue of Damages in Medical Malpractice
Proving that you were the victim of medical malpractice is a long struggle. However, even after you have proven that you were hurt by the negligence of a medical professional, the battle is not over. You still have to show how much pain, suffering, and loss you have been put through.
This is made difficult by the fact that courts are not able to restore your health to you, after you have been the victim of a medical mistake. Judges cannot turn back time to before the malpractice happened. Instead, the most that a court can do is award you monetary damages equal to what you have lost. Unfortunately, distilling your loss into a dollar amount is not something that is easy to do. Because of this difficulty, the issue of computing your damages can become one of the most contentious parts of a medical malpractice case.
When figuring out what your damages were from an instance of medical malpractice, it is helpful to understand them in terms of economic damages, on the one hand, and non-economic damages, on the other.
Economic damages are the easier of the two to figure out.
The economic damages that you suffered in a medical malpractice scenario include the actual financial costs of dealing with and treating the injuries that you suffered, as well as the costs of living with the injury. This covers the medical bills that you have already paid, the medical bills that you likely will pay in the future to treat the injury that was caused by the medical malpractice, the income that you lost from your job because of your time dealing with your injury, and the lost earning potential that you will have to do without because of the malpractice.
Some of these damages are easier to quantify than others. Your medical bills are easy to show because there are records detailing exactly what the expense was, and what it covered, on hand for both parties. Your lost income could also be easy to show because it is easy to prove how much time you missed from work as a result of your injuries, and how much this missed time was worth, in wages. Unfortunately, this often results in hugely different numbers, depending on your occupation. Football players who are hurt on the operating table and can no longer play at their prior level are set to get significantly more than an electrician in lost income and earning potential.
However, other forms of economic damages are more difficult to quantify. Your future medical expenses require an extensive understanding of how medical malpractice injuries develop, over decades of time. Each unique injury can impact your health in countless ways and can manifest itself in complications years into the future, requiring extensive and costly treatment that you should be compensated for. Additionally, your future earning potential is, at best, only guesswork. Does it include a promotion at your job? A new opportunity in your field that could have doubled your income? These are both arguments that a skilled medical malpractice attorney like those at Gilman & Bedigian will make to ensure you get the compensation you lost.
Altogether, economic damages can accumulate very quickly. This is why malpractice defense attorneys who represent doctors and hospitals fight them with everything they have at their disposal. By fighting back on every single expense that you bring forward, they are hoping to minimize the damage to their pocketbook, even if that means they deprive you of the full recovery that you were hoping for.
Even though economic damages can be difficult to determine accurately, non-economic damages are even more of an issue.
Non-economic damages compensate you for the pain and suffering that you have gone through and will go through, as a result of the medical malpractice that caused your injuries. Additionally, family members can be compensated for the loss of financial support and consortium that they suffered from your injuries.
Compensation for your pain and suffering varies greatly on the specific circumstances in your case. Medical malpractice injuries come in a lot of shapes and sizes. Some of them have intensive pain in the immediate aftermath of the malpractice. Others have simmering pain for years afterward. Some also result in permanent disfigurations or debilitations that can drastically impact how you live your life.
Putting a dollar amount on the trials and tribulations that you face after a serious medical malpractice injury is almost impossible. However, it is the only way for courts to step in and ensure that you get compensated for the wrongs that you have suffered through. As a result, it is absolutely crucial to have a skilled medical malpractice attorney on your side. The medical malpractice attorneys at Gilman & Bedigian can show a court just how much you have been hurt by the negligence of a medical professional, overcoming the other side's claims that you are just fine and ensuring you get the compensation that you need to make a full recovery.
Every once in awhile, an instance of medical malpractice comes up that is so egregious and shocking that it makes all of the others pale in comparison. Some of these involve doctors intentionally hurting a patient. Others involve health care professionals being so extremely negligent or reckless that there was almost no chance for their unfortunate patient to come out without suffering a serious injury.
While these circumstances are rare, they can happen. When they do happen, in addition to being compensated with economic and non-economic damages, you could also stand to get punitive damages, as well. Punitive damages go above and beyond what you need to fully compensate yourself for what you suffered, and are meant to punish the people who have so grievously wronged you. Medical malpractice law makes use of punitive damages to teach a lesson to doctors and other health care professionals who so shirk their duties.
While punitive damages are rare, and typically only on the table for the most extreme forms of medical malpractice, they could still be an option if you have been hurt by medical professionals.
Another aspect of medical malpractice lawsuits is that different states put a limit on the damages that you can get if your suit is successful. Damage cap statutes are common in the United States, and are typically the result of incessant state legislature lobbying by insurance companies and the health care industry starting in the 1970s. In their attempt to minimize malpractice insurance premiums and cut down on the costs of providing health care, these organizations managed to convince states to put a limit on how much compensation you can get in a medical malpractice lawsuit, regardless of how much you were hurt. To do this, most of the states in the U.S. passed laws that put a ceiling on the amount that medical malpractice victims could recover from the doctors or hospitals that caused their injuries.
These damage caps vary widely, depending on which state you are in. For example, Maryland limits the amount of non-economic damages that you can get in a medical malpractice lawsuit to about $850,000. Pennsylvania has a provision in its state constitution that prohibits a damage cap on economic damages but does limit punitive damages to twice the total of economic and non-economic damages.
Washington, D.C., on the other hand, does not place any limit on damages in medical malpractice lawsuits. This makes D.C. an outlier in the country, as one of only sixteen states that has stood up to the interests of the health care industry and refused to pass a law that limits the compensation that you can get in a medical malpractice case. By taking a stand for medical malpractice victims, the District of Columbia helps ensure that patients who are hurt by their doctors actually get what they deserve, rather than shorting them the compensation that they need to make a full recovery from their injuries.
Statute of Limitations
An issue that is especially important to the field of medical malpractice is the statute of limitations.
A statute of limitations is a law that prohibits lawsuits from being filed for an injury after a certain amount of time has passed. By only allowing lawsuits to be filed within the window provided, a statute of limitations forces plaintiffs to file their lawsuit while evidence is still fresh, and allows defendants to repose after the statute expires, in the knowledge that no lawsuit can be filed, anymore.
Statutes of limitation are crucial pieces of our legal system. However, things become complex when they are applied to the field of medical malpractice. This is because statutes of limitation rely on people knowing that they have been injured in some way. The clock on a typical statute of limitation starts running – or tolling – when the event that causes the injury happens.
But even determining what was the event that caused a medical malpractice injury is not always so clear. Sometimes, it is easy – a surgeon leaves a scalpel inside a patient during an appendectomy. Other times, however, it is far more complex, like when a physical therapist incorrectly performs a strength-building exercise every session for six months in a row. The injury likely was not caused at any specific physical therapy session. Instead, it was the cumulative effect of a continuous string of medical malpractice.
The real problem with how statutes of limitation are used in the world of medical malpractice, however, comes from the fact that malpractice victims often are not aware that they have been hurt for months or even years afterward. For example, in the case of the doctor who did not see the signs of heart disease during a routine checkup, it could be years before you discover that you actually had a heart condition all that time and that you should have been getting treatment for it all along. When does the statute of limitations begin to toll, in that situation? When the doctor does not conduct further heart testing, or when you discover that you have a serious medical condition that was not being treated? If the statute of limitations started tolling when you left the doctor's office, it might have already expired, leaving you without recourse and unable to file a medical malpractice lawsuit.
Unfortunately, in Washington, D.C., the statute of limitations for medical malpractice claims is not very straightforward. Unlike many other states, the District of Columbia uses a multi-step statute of limitations to determine if your lawsuit can be filed or not.
The first step in D.C.'s statute of limitation for medical malpractice is a standard deadline of three years. Under 12-301(8), if you do not file a malpractice lawsuit within three years of the malpractice occurring, then you have lost your right to file a case against the health care professionals that hurt you. However, if you were hurt by an instance of medical malpractice that occurred more than three years ago, there are several exceptions that could save your claim.
The first of these exceptions is called the discovery rule. This hugely important exception to the District's statute of limitations for medical malpractice protects people who were hurt by a medical professional but do not know it for years afterward. The discovery rule works by preventing the three-year statute of limitations from starting to toll until you know, or reasonably should have known, that you have been hurt, that this injury was caused by a medical professional, and that there is evidence that your health care provider did something wrong. In this way, the discovery rule protects your rights as a patient by holding back the statute of limitations for medical malpractice claims until you either knew that you had a claim, or should have known that you have a claim.
The second exception to the standard statute of limitations in the District of Columbia is for minors and children who are hurt by their health care provider. This straightforward exception to the three-year rule allows people who were the victim of medical malpractice while they were under the age of 18 – or their legal guardian – to file a lawsuit at any point up until their 21st birthday.
Finally, the three-year standard deadline for filing a medical malpractice lawsuit can be extended if you were in a mental hospital or prison at the time of the malpractice, or if the people you are suing either fraudulently concealed the malpractice, or left the District after hurting you. Because there is frequently some sort of cover-up on the part of the doctors and hospital involved in a medical malpractice claim, this final exception to the standard three-year deadline could save your claim.
A problem that can also complicate the statute of limitation determination is the fact that, in D.C., people who want to file a lawsuit for medical malpractice must notify the soon-to-be defendants of their intent to sue at least 90 days before filing the lawsuit. This can doom some otherwise perfectly good medical malpractice lawsuits if this notification requirement is overlooked. The final decision on whether to file the lawsuit or not has to be made nearly three months before the statute of limitations is set to expire.
Medical Malpractice Attorneys at Gilman & Bedigian
Medical malpractice is a significant problem in the health care system of the United States. With so many instances of doctors being negligent or making poor decisions and causing serious injuries, it is important for anyone with a possible malpractice claim to see an attorney. Doing so not only initiates the legal process that could result in you getting the compensation you need and deserve to overcome your pain and suffering but could also go a long way to ensuring the medical professional who hurt you does not commit malpractice on another unsuspecting patient.
This is why the attorneys at the law firm of Gilman & Bedigian represent medical malpractice victims in Washington, D.C. We know what it is like to go through the extreme pain and suffering of a botched medical procedure. We also know how to fight for your rights and interests both in and out of court to make sure you and your family get the financial compensation you need to recover.
If you or a loved one has been victimized by medical malpractice in Washington, D.C., you need to contact the medical malpractice attorneys at the law firm of Gilman & Bedigian online or call them toll-free at (800) 529-6162.