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Medical professionals can perform lifesaving procedures. But, they can also make mistakes -- errors that can lead to serious health issues, or worse. Johns Hopkins’ patient safety experts have calculated that more than 250,000 deaths per year in the United States are due to medical error.  According to the safety experts’ calculations, these errors rank as the third leading cause of death in the United States only behind heart disease and cancer. Medical errors give rise to medical malpractice lawsuits. Simply defined, medical malpractice is a negligent act or omission by a doctor or other medical professional which results in harm to a patient. 

Elements of medical malpractice

HKQ Law’s Attorney Michelle Quinn notes that “in order to prevail in a medical malpractice lawsuit, four elements must be proven: (1) duty, (2) breach of duty, (3) injury, (4) cause.” A duty must be owed to a patient by the healthcare provider. Such a duty would be created by a doctor-patient relationship. To show breach of duty, the patient must prove that the medical professional violated his or her “standard of care”. That standard is based on the generally accepted medical practices that medical professionals in the same specialty carry out for patients suffering from a similar medical issue. Proving breach of duty often hinges upon expert testimony. The breach of duty must result in an injury. (Either a new one, or aggravation of existing one.) That injury must have been caused by the defendant.

Who can be liable for medical malpractice?

Medical malpractice is not limited to doctors. It can also be committed by others in the health care industry, including nurses, anesthesiologists, technicians, dentists, and pharmacists, as well as healthcare facilities such as hospitals or nursing homes. Hospitals can be held directly liable for their own negligence, and can also be held "vicariously" liable for the negligence of their staff.  (Likewise, a doctor is generally liable for any negligence on the part of his assistants and staff in carrying out his orders or caring for his patients.) Keep in mind that more than one party can be responsible for an injury.

Types of medical malpractice

Medical malpractice can include (but is not limited to):   

  • Surgical errors
  • Emergency room negligence
  • Failure to diagnose
  • Medication errors
  • Misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis
  • Failure to administer proper treatment
  • Failure to resuscitate or rescue
  • Failure to obtain a patient’s informed consent
  • Injuries caused by medical devices or implants
  • Failure to diagnose or treat hospital infections

Statute of limitations

For medical malpractice claims in Pennsylvania, the statute of limitations is two years. Pennsylvania follows a “discovery rule” under which the statute does not begin to run until the injured party discovers or reasonably should have discovered the injury. If a child is injured by medical malpractice before the age of 18, the two-year statute of limitations does not begin to run until the child reaches the age of 18.

Lawsuit process

In Pennsylvania, a medical malpractice lawsuit commences with the filing of a complaint, or Writ of Summons, usually in a Court of Common Pleas. At that time or within 60 days, a "certificate of merit" must be filed relative to each healthcare provider being criticized in the lawsuit. That document declares that an "appropriate licensed professional" has reviewed the plaintiff's medical malpractice case and has offered a written opinion that there is a valid claim of negligence against the healthcare provider. Before a trial, the parties engage in a procedure known as discovery, which allows each party to obtain evidence from the other party. Discovery often enables the parties to reach mutual understanding and settle the case. Many medical malpractice cases are resolved before trial. If the case does go to trial, the plaintiff must meet the “preponderance of evidence” standard – the jury must be convinced that it was more likely than not that the medical professional was negligent.

Monetary damages

In the event of a settlement or a favorable verdict, the patient (plaintiff) receives financial compensation (damages). Economic damages compensate for actual costs, such as medical expenses and lost wages due to time off for work. Non-economic damages cover intangible costs such as pain and suffering. In the event that the defendant’s conduct is found to be intentional, malicious, willful, or recklessly indifferent, the plaintiff may receive punitive damages. However, punitive awards in medical malpractice cases are extremely rare. Pennsylvania has no caps on economic and non-economic damages. Punitive damages, however, may not exceed 200% of the compensatory damages.

Suffered a medical injury?

Call HKQ Law at (800) 760-1529 to schedule your no obligation consultation

Our esteemed personal injury team, is complemented by our highly skilled paralegals, nurses, support staff and technical experts. Our legal services are enhanced by cutting-edge technology and some of the nation’s premier expert witnesses. No one will work harder than HKQ Law to build a comprehensive medical malpractice case, to help you get the justice you deserve.

About HKQ Law

Hourigan, Kluger & Quinn is considered one of the top civil litigation and commercial law firms that has had the privilege of representing more families in the courtroom than any other NEPA firm. The attorneys at HKQ Law have been honored as Super Lawyers, Best Lawyers, Best Law Firms by US News and World Report, and have received the AV Preeminent Rating by Martindale-Hubbel. HKQ Law was recently recognized for one of the top 20 Verdicts in Pennsylvania.

The firm’s Personal Injury Team, led by Attorney Joe Quinn, Jr., has won some of the largest verdicts and settlements in the region's history. The Personal Injury Team focuses on a wide array of personal injury claims and civil litigation, including medical malpractice, auto and truck accidents, aviation accidents, unsafe vehicles, dangerous or defective products, workplace injuries (worker's compensation), construction site accidents, claim denials by insurance companies, dangerous drugs, defective children's products, nursing home abuse and neglect, and falls due to unsafe conditions (slip and fall).

Attorney Joseph A Quinn, Jr. is one of only 100 attorneys in the United States (and one of only three in Pennsylvania) honored with membership in the Inner Circle of Trial Advocates, and one of only 500 attorneys worldwide chosen to be a Fellow of the International Academy of Trial Lawyers. He has been a Pennsylvania Super Lawyer every year since the program began and has been listed in The Best Lawyers in America every year since the publication was established in 1987. Best Lawyers also named him top personal injury attorney for Northeastern Pennsylvania and the Lehigh Valley. In addition, Best Lawyers, in conjunction with U.S. News & World Report, has designated HKQ a Tier 1 Best Law Firm across multiple categories in Northeastern Pennsylvania and the Lehigh Valley.

Since the inception of the firm, the Commercial / Corporate Team led by Attorney Allan Kluger has provided comprehensive, integrated legal services to many of Northeastern and Eastern Pennsylvania's largest corporations, businesses, banks, non-profits and institutions, handling matters involving labor and employment, wills, trusts and estate planning, estate administration, elder law, commercial transactions, residential and commercial real estate, zoning, land use and development, telecommunications, mediations and arbitrations, commercial litigation, title insurance, business planning and business succession, corporate/business structuring, employment discrimination law for employers, banking, creditor’s rights, finance, lender liability defense, covenants not to compete, construction law, mergers and acquisitions and other business matters.

Additional information can be found at or by calling (800) 760-1529.



As Hourigan, Kluger and Quinn addresses the concerns raised by COVID-19, the health and safety of our clients, employees and friends of the firm remain our top priority.

These are very difficult and scary times and we hope that you and your loved ones are safe and symptom free. We recognize that so many of you are understandably anxious about your health, the economic impact of this pandemic and all of the consequences of social isolation.

We also recognize that many of you are anxious about how the coronavirus is impacting the Court systems, our firm and your cases. Although all of our offices are closed, our firm has remained fully operational and we have initiated procedures that allow all of our attorneys and staff to work remotely from their homes. Each of us and our staff will respond to any emails and calls about your cases as quickly as possible.

Our Federal and State Courts have instituted significant changes in their calendars as a result of the coronavirus. Although most courthouses are closed to the public, and Hearings and Trials will be delayed for some time, there are matters that can proceed telephonically and by video. Despite these changes in the Court calendars, we are working diligently on your cases and are determined to do whatever we possibly can to assure an early and just recovery for you and your loved ones. Even under these difficult circumstances, we believe that "Nobody will work harder for you than we will."

With regard to new potential clients, we are not in a position to have an in-person new client meeting, but we will be conducting these initial meetings via phone. New potential clients should call us for a free telephone consultation at (570) 287-3000.


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