If you feel that you have been harmed or caused to suffer as the result of medical treatment, you might be entitled to compensation through a medical malpractice claim. This article will help you to decide whether such a claim has potential merit and if so, how to prove malpractice.
As with any legal matter, this article is for informational purposes only. If you believe that you have a valid medical malpractice claim, please contact an attorney at Donaghue & Labrum to get our expert, legal advice.
When Treatment Goes Wrong
Most medical professionals set out to provide you with the best care possible. Nevertheless, mistakes can happen and bad decisions can be made, not only by your doctor, but by anyone else responsible for your direct care. This includes nurses, technicians, hospital workers or anyone else providing you with medical treatment.
Although it is unrealistic to expect your medical team to be able to completely cure any malady that affects you, there is an expectation that the medical team will meet a certain standard of care. If a medical provider acts in a negligent manner and fails to provide you with this standard of care – and some form of injury is the result – you might have grounds for a medical malpractice case.
Laws and regulations regarding medical malpractice vary from state to state, and it is important to work with an attorney who understands the laws in the state where the medical malpractice suit is to be filed.
Proving Negligence in Medical Malpractice
In order to prove negligence in the course of a medical malpractice case, there are certain criteria that must be considered.
First, and probably most fundamental, is that you were actually injured as a result of the care you received. Essentially, if there was no injury — physical, emotional, or otherwise — there is no case.
Next, the medical provider must have performed a specific duty to you in the course of your treatment. An example would be a doctor treating you as a patient, creating a doctor/patient relationship. A nurse providing care to you in the hospital is another example of a duty-based relationship that could potentially result in medical malpractice.
On the other hand, if you overheard a doctor making recommendations in casual conversation, or perhaps to a group of people, proving medical malpractice would be difficult. The same standard applies to a celebrity doctor providing some sort of advice that you view on television.
Your case would also have to demonstrate a deviation between the treatment that you received and the acceptable standard of care. Failure to meet this standard of care is a breach of the medical professional’s duty as your care provider and might be grounds for a medical malpractice lawsuit.
Finally, there must be a causal relationship between the medical provider’s actions and your injury. Just as there must be an injury in order to pursue a medical malpractice case, that injury must have been caused by the negligence of your caregiver.
Proving Negligence Can Be Difficult
Proving that a medical professional was negligent in meeting the acceptable standard of care is a daunting task, one that inevitably requires the efforts of a skilled and experienced attorney. First, an expert qualified in the field or area of treatment in which the negligence occurred must testify as to the acceptable standard of care that governs the actions of the medical practitioner.
The testimony must establish what level of care is customary in similar medical cases provided by competent professionals who are qualified to provide these types of services. The expert witness must also show that the medical professionals involved in your suit did in fact fail to meet this standard.
Types of Medical Malpractice Damages
If you have been injured by a medical professional in the course of treatment, there is a wide range of damages that you can attempt to recover. The attorneys at Donaghue & Labrum can advise you as to the best way to structure your case to prove legal malpractice, and will help you to identify the damages you may be entitled to.
One of the requirements of medical malpractice damages is that your lawyer must be able to establish, in addition to the fact that the malpractice caused the damages in some way, an approximate dollar value that can be placed on the damages. There are three categories of damages that can be claimed in a medical malpractice lawsuit.
- General Damages – General damages relate directly to the patient’s suffering caused by the medical malpractice activity. Although these damages do not have a clearly defined price, you and your attorney will provide evidence about the estimated cost of these damages. Common examples of general damages are loss of the enjoyment of life, physical and mental pain and suffering, and the loss of future earning capacity. It is important to understand that these general damages do not relate to the problem or injury that existed before the treatment; instead, they refer only to the failed results of such treatments.
- Special Damages – Special damages are more specific in that they cover actual expenses caused by the medical malpractice claim, or other, more quantifiable costs. Medical bills that result from the medical malpractice claim are considered special damages, as are lost wages for missed work. An expert medical malpractice lawyer will assist you in calculating these costs, based both on actual, incurred expenses as well as projecting the effect of missed wages into the future.
- Punitive Damages – Punitive damages are awarded when a medical practitioner takes actions that are knowingly harmful to the patient. The rules regarding punitive damages vary from state to state, but generally speaking refer to willful and harmful misconduct as opposed to an accidental action or mistake. For example, a surgeon who deliberately leaves a surgical tool inside a patient in order to necessitate additional surgery would merit punitive damages. The same thing would apply to a dentist who deliberately damages a tooth in order to provoke the need for additional dental work in the future.
Medical Malpractice – A Complex Area of Law
A medical malpractice case is a complex legal proceeding that requires expert, highly-experienced legal advice. Since most medical malpractice cases will also involve dealing with an insurance company, retaining legal counsel is an important step.
The lawyers at Donaghue & Labrum are well-versed in medical malpractice matters and will help you assess your situation and determine whether your case has merit, and if so, what you should do next. If you believe that you have been injured in the course of medical treatment, Donaghue & Labrum offers you the convenience of a free consultation to discuss your case and to formulate a legal action plan.