MALPRACTICE: WHEN MEDICAL PROFESSIONALS MAKE MISTAKES
October 26th, 2017 | Michelle M. Quinn
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.
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.
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?
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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.