Medical malpractice can happen in any type of medicine, from neurosurgery to ophthalmology. Some medical errors are minor and may not cause any major problems. More serious medical accidents can cause permanent injury, including disability, paralysis, and decreased lifespan.
Instead of frightening patients into worrying about every possible medical procedure, it is important for patients to have the necessary information to empower them in their health care. Patients should understand their healthcare rights, medical options, and when to question doctors about the care they receive.
This information can help patients understand the most common type of medical malpractice claim, other common causes of medical errors, and how injury victims can recover compensation through a medical malpractice lawsuit.
If you have questions about the medical care you received, when you think the doctor might have made an error, and your medical malpractice rights, talk to an experienced attorney. Contact an experienced medical malpractice lawyer for legal advice about your medical injuries.
When Is a Medical Injury Considered Malpractice?
Not all medical injuries are caused by medical malpractice. Medical side effects and adverse effects happen all the time but they may just be a risk of the procedure. Instead, medical malpractice is a type of professional negligence.
In a medical malpractice case, the doctor does something (or fails to do something)that other reasonable doctors would not have done. For example, if a doctor’s medical training, experience, and practice protocols required a doctor to take a certain action and they did not if that deviation was the cause of the victim’s injuries, it could be considered malpractice.
In medical malpractice claims, this is known as the standard of care. Doctors owe their patients a duty of care to provide the medical standards appropriate under the circumstances. If the doctor deviates from medical standards and causes the victim to suffer injury or harm, the doctor could be legally responsible for the patient’s injuries.
For example, a patient complaining of certain symptoms gets a blood test. The test results are irregular and medical standards would cause doctors to get an additional diagnostic test to rule out a common medical problem. However, if your doctor didn’t get the diagnostic test and instead just sent the patient home, that could be a deviation from the medical standards.
If the patient suffered a serious medical complication that the diagnostic test could have prevented, the doctor may have committed medical malpractice.
What Is the Most Common Type of Malpractice?
Researchers undertook a multi-year study looking at thousands of medical malpractice claims across the country to evaluate the most common causes of medical malpractice. The study, published in the medical journal Diagnosis, identified the three most common misdiagnosis-related medical malpractice claims.
From more than 55,000 medical malpractice cases involving high-severity injuries, there were 3 diseases that accounted for over 74% of the serious cases. The most common misdiagnosis error type involved vascular events. Vascular event diagnostic errors accounted for almost 23% of all high-severity diagnostic error malpractice claims. Of the vascular events, the most common types of claims involved:
- Myocardial infarction (MI)
- Venous thromboembolism
- Aortic aneurysm and dissection
- Arterial thromboembolism
According to the National Safety Council, stroke was the 5th leading cause of death in the U.S., following heart disease, cancer, COVID-19, and preventable injuries. Stroke can be caused by blood clots, hemorrhage, or atherosclerosis. When something blocks the blood supply to the brain, the patient can be at risk of permanent injury or death.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), someone in the U.S. has a stroke every 40 seconds, adding up to almost 800,000 people each year. About 140,000 die each year from a stroke. The most common type of stroke is an ischemic stroke, followed by a hemorrhagic stroke and transient ischemic attack (TIA).
Missing a stroke can be dangerous for the patient. Failure to identify a stroke can mean the patient loses valuable time to address the injury and reduce the risk of permanent damage. The “Golden Hour” refers to the first hour after the first signs of a stroke when a patient has the best chance for survival and treatment to avoid permanent damage.
An acronym to help identify signs of a stroke is based on FAST:
- F-face drooping
- A-arm weakness
- S-speech difficulty
- T-time to call 911
Some doctors may not recognize the signs of a stroke, even if there are other indications of a serious medical condition. Some patients don’t show face drooping or arm weakness. Patients may express altered mental status, dizziness, or nausea. In some cases, a doctor may misdiagnose a stroke as a seizure.
Myocardial Infarction Misdiagnosis
A myocardial infarction (MI) is more commonly known as a heart attack. A heart attack or infarction occurs when one or more areas of the heart don’t get enough oxygen. Lack of oxygen could be caused by cutting off the air supply or a blood clot cutting off blood flow to the heart muscle.
Most cases of MI are caused by a buildup of plaque in the arteries. Cholesterol and other substances build up in the arteries and can break off, causing a blockage at a narrow point on the way to the heart. The heart is a sensitive organ and the loss of oxygen can cause heart cells to suffer damage and die. It may only take a matter of minutes before cell damage starts to occur.
The classic symptoms of a heart attack include chest pain and pressure, pain in the shoulders, neck, and arms, shortness of breath, sweating and cool, clammy skin, and fatigue. Unfortunately, not all patients show a heart attack with the same signs and symptoms. Chest discomfort can be confused with indigestion or other conditions.
Women commonly experience different symptoms of an infarction compared to men. Many never report the standard complaints of chest pain and chest pressure. Signs of a heart attack in women can be more subtle.
Statistically, women of color receive lower rates of treatment for heart health care. Women experiencing a heart attack can be misdiagnosed as having the flu, acid reflux, or anxiety. Some doctors even downplay the symptoms of a heart attack for female patients.
Venous Thromboembolism Misdiagnosis
Venous thromboembolism (VTE) occurs when there is a blood clot in a vein. The most common types of VTE include deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolism (PE). The symptoms of PE can include shortness of breath and chest pain.
DVT usually occurs in the legs and pulmonary embolism occurs in the chest. DVT symptoms can include leg pain, aching, and red skin. DVT commonly occurs after a surgical procedure. Patients may be left to rest and have limited mobility. Lack of movement can increase the chances of clotting.
What Are Other Common Types of Medical Malpractice?
Vascular events account for a large percentage of medical malpractice misdiagnosis cases but there are many other common types of malpractice claims. Among misdiagnosis claims, the next most common diseases involved:
Many patients come to their doctor with complaints that indicate an infection. Unfortunately, doctors may not recognize the signs and symptoms of an infection, even with supporting evidence from blood tests and other diagnostic tests. The most common types of infection misdiagnosis included:
- Meningitis and encephalitis
- Spinal abscess
Cancer can be one of the most frightening diagnoses. However, failure to diagnose cancer is even worse than getting a cancer diagnosis. Delayed diagnosis can increase the risk of damage caused by cancer, increase the likelihood of cancer spreading, and decrease treatment options. The most common medical malpractice cancer misdiagnosis claims included:
- Lung cancer
- Breast cancer
- Colorectal cancer
- Prostate cancer
How Often Does Medical Malpractice Occur?
Medical malpractice occurs far more often than most people realize. In addition to misdiagnosis, delayed diagnosis, and wrong diagnosis, there are medical sentinel events, which are defined as, “Any unexpected occurrence involving death or serious physical or psychological injury, or the risk thereof.”
The leading sentinel events in 2022 were:
- Delays in treatment
- Unintended retained foreign object
- Wrong surgery
Falls in a hospital can be dangerous for patients, especially older patients with other medical conditions. Falls often occur because medical facilities and healthcare workers aren’t following proper fall prevention procedures. Falls don’t just cause minor bruises. Of the reported patient fall injuries, 5% resulted in death and 70% resulted in severe harm.
Treatment delays can be preventable. According to the Joint Commission report, outcomes associated with delays in treatment resulted in death (66%), severe harm (17%), and permanent harm (14%).
Never Event Malpractice Claims
Unintended retention of a foreign object and wrong surgery are also known as never events. These kinds of errors never happen except when there has been medical negligence. These are some of the medical malpractice cases that many people can’t believe happen as often as they do.
According to one study, an estimated 1 in 1,000 intra-abdominal surgeries resulted in a retained foreign body. That may sound rare but with so many operations performed every year, there may be more than 1,500 patients leaving a surgical operation with more inside their body than when they started.
In a retained foreign object case, the surgical team fails to keep track of the surgical instruments used in the procedure. As the surgical team is closing up the patient, they leave some devices behind inside the patient, like a needle, surgical sponge, scalpel, towel, or scissors.
The patient goes to recovery having no idea what happened. However, the following days, weeks, or months may leave the patient suffering pain, infection, discomfort, and other health conditions associated with surgical objects left behind inside their body. It can take months or years before the patient finds out they were a victim of a left-behind surgical object malpractice error.
How Does the Injury Victim File a Malpractice Claim?
Filing a medical malpractice claim usually starts with talking to an experienced medical malpractice legal team. Medical malpractice cases are usually more complex than other types of personal injury claims. Malpractice cases require working with medical experts who can review your case, identify the medical errors, and certify support of your claim.
A medical malpractice case is a type of civil lawsuit where the injury victim is trying to recover financial damages from the negligent parties. There is a limited amount of time to file a medical malpractice claim under state statute of limitations laws. Each state has its own time limit, so make sure you reach out to a malpractice lawyer as soon as you can after a medical injury.
Medical malpractice cases can take a lot of time because there may be many parties involved, including multiple doctors, nurses, specialists, hospitals, and insurance companies. Your attorney can keep you updated on your case and let you know when you can expect to recover compensation for your medical injuries.
Recovering Compensation After a Medical Malpractice Claim
Damages in a medical malpractice lawsuit are for your compensatory losses. Damages are supposed to compensate you for your losses, including medical bills, lost income, future medical costs, and pain and suffering. Damages can help you move on after a medical injury.
If a loved one dies because of a medical mistake, the surviving family members may be able to get justice with a wrongful death lawsuit. A wrongful death claim can help the family get compensation for loss of support, loss of benefits, funeral expenses, and burial costs.
Medical malpractice damages are also a way for you to hold the negligent medical community accountable for their actions. It can take financial penalties, like a medical malpractice award, to sit up and take notice of their practices and how they can improve patient care. Filing a medical malpractice lawsuit can help improve medical care for others.
Experienced medical malpractice lawyers, like the trial attorneys at Gilman & Bedigian, have extensive experience in medical malpractice lawsuits because they focus on just these types of cases. With the right legal team on your side, you will have the resources to help you recover damages after suffering a misdiagnosis or other medical injury. Contact Gilman & Bedigian online or at 800-529-6162 for a free consultation.