Many people who are injured because of a medical error do not know they were a victim of medical negligence. Even if injury victims do suspect that there was a mistake, they may not be sure their case involves medical malpractice. How is an injury victim supposed to know if they have a medical malpractice case? If you have questions about a medical malpractice claim and want to know your options, talk to an experienced medical malpractice team for advice.
Was My Injury Caused by Medical Malpractice?
An injury could be caused by medical malpractice if a doctor deviated from the standards of care which caused the patient to suffer an injury as a result. Generally, this means if a doctor did something that other doctors would not have done, and it causes harm, the doctor can be held responsible for their actions. Types of medical malpractice cases may include:
- Birth Complications
- Birth Injuries From Extraction Devices
- Surgical Errors
- Diagnostic Errors
- Prescription Errors
- Emergency Room Errors
- Hospital Injuries
- Defective Medicine or Equipment
- Negligent Intubation
- Anesthesia Errors
- Plastic Surgery Malpractice
Asking the doctor, nurses, or the hospital if something went wrong may not help you find out whether or not you have a case. Even if the doctor knows they made a mistake, they may try to cover it up or try to convince the injured patient that it was an unavoidable accident and not caused by the doctor’s mistakes. Instead, talk to an advocate who will have your best interests at heart.
Many patients do not want to pursue a medical malpractice claim because they are not sure if their injury was caused by medical negligence. Keep in mind, you don’t have to be 100% sure if the injury was caused by an error. It can be a complex medical issue and most patients don’t have the medical training or experience to know if the doctor did something wrong. A simple meeting with a medical malpractice law firm can help you understand whether you may have been injured by medical mistakes.
How will your medical malpractice attorney know if your case was caused by medical negligence? Med mal attorneys, like the trial attorneys at Gilman & Bedigian, have a lot of experience in medical malpractice claims because they focus on just these types of cases. Your attorneys will also work with medical experts to review the medical records to find out just what went wrong. With the right law firm on your side, you will have advocates to help you recover damages after an unfortunate medical injury.
What Do You Have to Prove in a Medical Malpractice Case?
In a medical malpractice case, the plaintiff needs to prove all the elements of the claim. The elements in a medical malpractice case include:
- There was a doctor-patient relationship between the defendant and plaintiff;
- The doctor owed the patient a duty of care;
- The doctor breached the duty of care;
- The breach caused the patient’s injury; and
- The patient suffered harm or damage as a result.
In a civil medical malpractice case, the finder of fact is usually the jury. The jury is selected from the community and can represent your peers, including people of different ages, different backgrounds, and different professions. If the jury agrees that all the elements are met, then you have proven your medical malpractice case.
During the trial, the plaintiff (generally the injury victim or their family) will try and prove their case. The defendants (doctors or hospitals) will try and argue their side, to make the jury doubt the plaintiff’s case. In addition to the parties in a lawsuit, the judge will oversee the case and make legal determinations. The jury will also hear from medical experts to help them decide whether the doctor deviated from the standard of care, which caused the injury.
Was There a Patient-Doctor Relationship?
A doctor owes a duty of care to their patients. If the doctor was treating the patient, diagnosing a patient, or operating on a patient, they owe the patient a duty to provide a certain level of care. The level of care can depend on the type of medical practice and the doctor’s individual training and experience.
In most medical malpractice cases, the issue of a doctor-patient relationship is not at issue. The relationship can be demonstrated through medical records or even the doctor’s own admission that they were treating the patient. This generally means the doctor owed the patient a duty of care to act as a reasonable doctor would under similar circumstances.
However, in some cases, the plaintiff may have to demonstrate the doctor owed a duty of care. For example, if a doctor never actually saw a patient, they may try and claim there was no duty to provide care to the patient. However, doctors may still owe patients a duty of care, even if they never actually saw them. This could include doctors who interpret diagnostic tests or provide telemedicine care.
In other medical malpractice cases, the injured patient is making a claim against the hospital and not just a doctor. Hospitals also owe patient’s a duty of care. For example, under federal law, hospitals have a duty to provide a minimum level of screening and emergency care for patients who come to the emergency room. If there is an emergency or the patient is not medically stable, the hospital can’t just discharge the patient or transfer the patient to another facility before stabilizing the patient.
What Is the Medical Duty of Care?
Drivers owe other people on the road a duty of care to drive like a reasonable person. However, the duty of care of doctors is much different. Doctors and health care providers are held to a higher standard of care because of their position of trust and medical training.
A doctor owes the patient a medical standard of care to act as a reasonably prudent doctor. What would a reasonably prudent doctor do under similar circumstances? If your doctor did something different that caused an injury, your doctor may have breached their duty of care. A breach of the medical standard of care can be very fact specific and depends on several factors, including:
- Doctor’s degree of skill
- Doctor’s education and learning
- Medical practice area
- Medical community
When evaluating the type of care provided, it may depend on the individual doctor’s education, learning, knowledge, and practice area. For example, a plastic surgeon accused of botching a facelift may be evaluated by another plastic surgeon, based on the surgeon’s experience, education, and medical community. Similarly, in a medical malpractice case alleging a birth injury caused by the OB/GYN’s errors would be evaluated by an experienced OB/GYN, with the training, experience, and education that qualifies them to answer questions about the standard of care.
Did the medical professional fail to exercise the degree of care, skill, and learning as a reasonably prudent medical professional in the same profession would have given in the same or similar circumstances?
Expert Witnesses and the Duty of Care
How is the jury supposed to evaluate whether the doctor breached the medical duty of care? This is where expert witnesses come in. In cases that involve questions of medicine, science, or technology, experts can be used to provide reports and testify on the standard of care. In a medical malpractice case, the jury would hear from medical experts from the plaintiff and from the defendants.
First, the jury would generally hear from the plaintiff’s medical experts, who would testify that based on their experience and training, the doctor deviated from the standard of care which caused the patient’s injuries. The jury would then hear from the defendant’s witnesses who might claim the doctor’s actions were not a deviation from the standard of care. It would be up to the jury to ultimately decide the issue, based on the evidence presented. Did the plaintiff prove that the doctor:
- Failed to get the informed consent of the patient?
- Failed to properly monitor a patient during surgery?
- Failed to follow sanitation procedures that caused an infection?
- Misdiagnosed the patient?
- Prescribed the wrong medication?
- Left surgical items behind in a patient’s body after surgery?
- Failed to diagnose cancer?
Did the Medical Error Cause the Injury?
Even after the injury victim shows the doctor made an error, they still have to show that the error caused the injury. For example, if a patient suffered a heart attack but the only error the doctor made was misspelling the patient’s name on the medical record, that minor mistake may be unrelated to the heart attack. However, if the doctor made an error that caused a delay in treatment and the injury victim suffered a heart attack as a result of the delay, that may have been caused directly by the doctor’s errors.
Causation in a medical malpractice case may include both cause-in-fact and proximate causation. Cause-in-fact means that the injury could not have otherwise occurred but for the breach of care. Proximate causation means the error has to be foreseeable or a proximate cause of the error.
In a wrong-site surgery case, the doctor failing to check the medical records and cutting off the wrong leg is a cause-in-fact to the injury. Causing unnecessary injury to the wrong body part is a foreseeable effect of failing to check the medical records.
How Do I Prove Damages in a Medical Malpractice Claim?
The last part of the elements of a medical malpractice case involves damages. Damages are the losses associated with the injury. In order to get an award for medical malpractice, the plaintiff has to show the damages suffered as a result of their injuries. Damages in a civil lawsuit are based on “compensatory damages.”
Compensatory damages are intended to put the injury victim back into a similar position they would have been but for the accident. It may be impossible to actually put the victim into the same position after a medical error. Medical malpractice cases can cause unnecessary medical procedures, disability, disfigurement, and scarring. No amount of money can replace the limb after a negligent amputation. However, the jury will come up with an award amount that they believe fairly compensates the victim for their losses.
Damages in a medical negligence case can include both economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages can include financial losses, including:
- Medical bills
- Future medical expenses
- Loss of income
- Loss of earning capacity
- Costs of medication
- Costs of in-home care
- Home modifications and transportation costs
Non-economic damages can be just as important for an injury victim. Non-economic damages may be harder to put an exact number on but are clearly damages to the victim. These types of damages may include:
- Unnecessary pain and suffering
- Chronic pain
- Mental distress
- Loss of enjoyment in activities
- Loss of support to family and loved ones
Unfortunately, some injury victims are limited in the amount of non-economic damages they can recover. Doctors in some states have lobbied hard to get politicians to put caps into place, to limit their liability. This leaves some injury victims unable to recover the full extent of their damages. Malpractice victims in places like Chicago do not have to worry about caps because such caps were deemed to be unconstitutional.
Fortunately for injury victims in places like Washington D.C., and Pennsylvania, there are no express caps. Unfortunately, victims in states like Maryland are subject to a cap on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases.
How Can I Win My Medical Malpractice Case?
Remember, you do not have to prove medical malpractice in a medical malpractice case. That is the job of your attorney. Your experienced medical malpractice attorney has the experience, training, education, and resources to build a strong case to take to court. Your attorney understands the elements of the claim, the specific legal requirements for taking a case to court, settlement negotiation strategies, and knows where to find top medical experts to support your case.
With the right team on your side, you can feel confident that you are in good hands. If you have any questions about how to prove medical malpractice after a medical injury, reach out to an experienced malpractice lawyer. Your lawyer can review your case, get a medical expert’s review, and help you understand your legal options to file a claim against the doctors, hospitals, and caregivers. Contact experienced personal injury trial attorneys who have successfully represented medical error victims and their families to recover financial compensation. Contact Gilman & Bedigian online or at 800-529-6162 for a free consultation.