How to File a Medical Malpractice Claim in Pennsylvania
If you believe the care you received from your doctor or another healthcare provider was substandard, you might be considering a medical malpractice claim. However, unhappiness with the outcomes you received is not enough by itself to support a viable claim. Instead, the care you received must have deviated from the type of care a reasonably competent provider would have provided in the same situation, and you must have suffered injuries and harm as a result.
Deciding to file a medical malpractice lawsuit is a big decision and requires special consideration. Beyond the technical procedures required for filing a lawsuit, you’ll need to make sure you have a valid case in the first place. The Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyers at Raynes & Lawn can evaluate the facts and evidence and help you understand the merits of your claim. Here’s what you need to know about filing a claim and when you might have grounds to do so.
What is Medical Malpractice?
Medical malpractice is a legal term that refers to when a doctor, hospital, medical facility, or another medical professional negligently causes a patient’s injuries. Medical negligence can take multiple forms, including diagnostic errors, failure to treat, failure to provide appropriate follow-up care, and others.
Examples of Medical Negligence
The following are a few examples of medical negligence that could result in a malpractice lawsuit:
- Delayed diagnosis
- Missed diagnosis
- Failing to order important lab tests
- Misreading lab results
- Surgical mistakes
- Performing unnecessary surgery
- Wrong-site or wrong-patient surgery
- Anesthesia errors
- Prescription drug errors
- Failing to refer a patient to a specialist
- Inadequate follow-up care
- Failing to treat a patient
- Discharging a patient from the hospital too early
This isn’t an exhaustive list. If you think your doctor might have caused your injuries because of medical negligence, you should consult a medical malpractice lawyer in Pennsylvania at the law firm of Raynes & Lawn.
The person who files a medical malpractice claim is called the plaintiff. As the plaintiff, you will carry the burden of proof at trial and must prove the legal elements of malpractice by a preponderance of the evidence. If you don’t meet your burden of proof as to any one element, you won’t win your case. Meeting your burden of proof requires you to gather strong evidence to support each of the legal elements so that you can meet or exceed the required legal burden.
How Do You Determine if You Have a Valid Medical Malpractice Claim?
To have a viable claim for medical malpractice, the following legal elements must be present and provable:
Formation of a Provider-Patient Relationship
Before you can file a lawsuit for medical malpractice, you must be able to show that you and the provider you are suing formed a provider-patient relationship. In other words, this means that you requested treatment and the provider agreed to provide it. The agreement will normally be by mutual consent.
Appropriate Standard of Care
Doctors and other medical providers have differing medical standards of care they are expected to meet based on their education, training, skill level, any specialties, and the community in which they practice. A medical provider is expected to provide the same type of care that a reasonably competent provider with the same education, training, and skill in the same field would deliver under the same treatment conditions.
Providers are also compared to reasonably competent medical providers in the same community instead of somewhere else. For example, a cardiologist in Philadelphia’s care would not be compared to the care a reasonable cardiologist in Kansas City, Missouri would provide. Similarly, the care a general practitioner in Philadelphia provided would not be compared to the care a Philadelphia oncologist would provide with a tumor.
Deviation from the Appropriate Standard of Care
Once you have established what the appropriate standard of care is, you’ll next need to show that the care you were provided deviated from it. This occurs when a doctor’s care falls below the expected standard of care. For example, a general practitioner who tells a middle-aged patient at the doctor’s office nothing is wrong when the patient is experiencing severe chest pains would likely be determined to have deviated from the expected standard of care. A doctor’s deviation from the standard of care in the treatment or in the failure to treat a patient is considered negligent.
Injury Caused by the Provider’s Negligence
It’s not enough to show that a doctor negligently made a medical error to have a medical malpractice claim. Instead, you’ll need to show that you were injured and that the doctor’s medical negligence was the proximate or direct cause of your injuries. This means establishing that you would not have suffered the injury without the doctor’s action or inaction.
Simply experiencing an unfavorable treatment outcome does not mean that the doctor was negligent. If you were injured in the absence of negligence, or your doctor’s negligence didn’t cause you to suffer an injury, no claim exists.
The final element of a malpractice claim is damages. These are the economic and non-economic losses you suffered because of your malpractice-related injuries and include things like your past and future medical expenses, income losses, physical pain, suffering, emotional trauma, and others. Since malpractice lawsuits are expensive to pursue and require the testimony of experts, depositions, and more, your damages should be substantial to support a claim. If you suffered minimal losses, the cost of pursuing your case might be higher than what you might recover.
The Steps to Filing Your Medical Malpractice Case
You should take specific steps before you file your case as detailed below.
1. Request Your Medical Records
The first thing to do if you think you might have been the victim of medical malpractice is to request copies of your medical records. You have the right to ask for copies of your records. You can either submit requests for your records with the medical facility or doctor’s office where the allegedly negligent treatment occurred and from each doctor, specialist, or facility that has treated your resulting injuries.
Medical records are critical evidence in medical malpractice cases. If you can’t get copies yourself, you can sign a release form to allow an attorney to request copies for you. You should get copies of your medical records immediately after you think that you were injured because of medical negligence.
The following documents are some of the relevant medical records to obtain:
- Doctor’s notes
- Lab test results
- Nurse’s notes
- Medication administration records
- Prescription records
- Discharge papers
- Any documents you signed
If you request them in person, you should expect to pay copying fees. Since medical records can be voluminous, it might take a week or two for the various facilities to prepare them for you. Once you receive them, bring your medical records with you to your consultation with one of our Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyers.
An attorney can then review your records and consult a medical expert about what happened. Based on this review and analysis, the attorney will provide an honest assessment of whether you have enough evidence to support a malpractice claim. If the attorney agrees to accept representation, you can then move on to the next step. However, if the lawyer tells you your claim does not have legal merits, this can save you time and money.
2. Speak With the Medical Provider
Contact the medical provider you believe negligently caused your injuries. The provider might give you more insight into what occurred. In some cases, medical providers will try to correct the issue by providing additional services to avoid a lawsuit. If they aren’t willing to do anything, you should then move on to the next step.
3. File a Complaint with the Licensing Board
If you can’t reach a resolution by talking to the medical provider, you can file a complaint with the Pennsylvania State Board of Medicine. The board will investigate what happened and discipline the involved provider if the treatment they provided violated licensing requirements. The board can also give you information about resources to help you.
4. Be Cognizant of the Statute of Limitations
The Pennsylvania statute of limitations for all injury cases, including medical malpractice cases, is codified at 42 Pa.C.S. § 5524. Under this law, the deadline for filing a malpractice lawsuit is two years from the date of your injury. However, Pennsylvania has a discovery rule, which means the clock won’t start to run until the date you discovered your injury was likely caused by medical negligence or the date you reasonably should have discovered that fact.
While many injuries are immediately noticeable, there are some instances in which an injury won’t be apparent for several years. For example, if a doctor left behind an object following surgery, you might not realize that until much later when you develop a septic infection or other complications. In that situation, the deadline would start to run on the date you discovered the left-behind object instead of the date of your surgery.
In cases involving late-discovered malpractice injuries, Pennsylvania has a statute of repose that used to provide a total deadline of seven years from the date of the incident. This law meant that if you didn’t discover your injury until seven or more years after your doctor’s negligent act, you wouldn’t be able to pursue compensation for your losses. However, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court found the statute of repose was unconstitutional in Yanakos v. UPMC, 218 A. 3d 1214 (219).
In the Yanakos case, a young man agreed to donate a portion of his liver to his mother in 2003 following extensive testing. The mother had a genetic condition that caused the damage to her liver. The man told the doctor that multiple members of his family had the same genetic disorder and asked if he did. While the doctor performed additional lab tests that showed the young man did have the condition, he didn’t communicate the results to the young man. The fact that he had the condition meant he was unsuitable to donate a portion of his liver.
After discovering he had the same condition years later, the young man filed a lawsuit against the medical center. The Superior Court granted the hospital’s motion to dismiss because the case was filed beyond the statute of repose. However, the Supreme Court found that the statute of repose was unconstitutional, which allowed the plaintiff’s case to proceed.
The Yanakos decision now means there is no longer an ultimate deadline for medical malpractice cases arising from injuries that are not discoverable until years later. However, this doesn’t apply to other types of medical malpractice cases that don’t involve late-discovered injuries. For those cases, the two-year general statute of limitations applies.
The key consideration about the statute of limitations is that you should talk to a lawyer as soon as you can after you believe you were injured by medical negligence. Medical malpractice cases take time to investigate and build. Waiting until the last minute might mean a lawyer won’t have enough time to investigate the merits of your case and file a lawsuit before the deadline expires.
If you miss the deadline, the defendant will file a motion to dismiss your case. The court will grant the motion, which means you will be left without legal remedies for the harm you suffered.
5. Retain a Competent Philadelphia Medical Malpractice Lawyer
Medical malpractice cases require an in-depth knowledge of complex medical terminology and the legal intricacies involved in these types of lawsuits. Because of this, it’s not a good idea to try to handle a medical malpractice case on your own. You should consult a lawyer early in the process and choose one who has substantial experience litigating medical malpractice claims. Having a reputable malpractice lawyer can make a difference in the outcome of your case. When you work with a lawyer from the beginning, you can also avoid making serious errors that might otherwise sink your case.
6. Hire a Medical Expert
Under Pennsylvania law, you must have your medical records reviewed by a medical expert before you file a medical malpractice lawsuit. The expert must determine the appropriate standard of care, whether your doctor’s treatment deviated from it, and if the doctor’s negligence caused your injuries before a lawsuit will be allowed.
To verify you have met this pre-filing requirement, Pennsylvania courts require you to file a certificate of merit within 60 days of when you file your lawsuit. This is a certification that a medical expert reviewed your case and can testify that the treatment you received failed to meet the appropriate standard of care and caused your injuries. The court will dismiss your case if you fail to file a certificate of merit.
The attorneys at the law firm of Raynes & Lawn have an extensive network of medical experts. Your lawyer will help you find a good expert who practices in the same field as your medical provider and can provide an expert opinion about your case.
7. Negotiate With the Defendant
Most malpractice lawsuits are settled without ever going to trial. In many cases, it is in the best interests of both parties to settle their claims instead of going to trial. These types of claims can take years to resolve and involve substantial expenses, and the outcome of the trial can never be guaranteed.
Unfortunately, jurors tend to be biased in favor of doctors who are facing medical malpractice lawsuits. People tend to trust medical professionals, and this perception means that it can be harder to win a medical malpractice jury trial than another type of injury case. However, it sometimes makes sense to litigate your case through trial. If your evidence is strong, and the insurance company won’t offer a fair settlement, your lawyer might recommend pursuing your claim through trial.
8. File Your Complaint and Certificate of Merit
If out-of-court negotiations haven’t worked, you will need to file a civil complaint and the certificate of merit with the appropriate court. The complaint is the legal document that must be filed to initiate the legal action and includes the causes of action and a statement of facts.
Once you have filed the complaint and certificate of merit, the court will issue a summons. You’ll need to properly serve the complaint and summons to the defendant and file a return of service with the court. The defendant will then have a deadline for filing the answer to your complaint, and once both documents are filed, your lawsuit will begin.
Importance of Quality Legal Representation for Your Medical Malpractice Case in PA
Without an experienced, highly competent medical malpractice lawyer, it might be difficult to win your case. However, finding a trusted attorney with the necessary experience and successful track record for your claim might seem difficult. Some of the reasons why finding a quality medical malpractice lawyer is important are discussed below.
1. Understanding Complex Medical and Legal Terminology and Concepts
To successfully litigate medical malpractice lawsuits, attorneys must have in-depth knowledge of complex medical terms so that they can understand what is described in the medical records of their clients. Medical malpractice lawsuits also involve complicated legal concepts and rules that attorneys must know and follow. A qualified lawyer should be able to break down medical terms into understandable language and explain the applicable legal standards.
2. Finding a Medical Expert
It can be difficult to find a medical expert who is willing to participate in a malpractice case and give their opinion about the actions or omissions of a colleague in the community. Experienced malpractice law firms like Raynes & Lawn have extensive networks of medical experts and should help you find an expert to help with your case.
3. Reviewing Massive Amounts of Documents
Medical records can include thousands of pages of documents. When they are combined with insurance company communications, legal filings, pleadings, motions, and more, it can quickly become unwieldy for most people to manage. Medical malpractice lawyers typically have systems in place to effectively manage documents and make the review process easier.
4. Knowledge of the Law, Court Rules, and Procedures
An experienced medical malpractice attorney should have current knowledge of Pennsylvania medical malpractice law, including recent court decisions and statutes. This is important to ensure you know exactly what laws apply to your case and avoid potential errors. Similarly, a practiced attorney should know the local court rules and the civil procedures that apply to medical malpractice cases. This knowledge can help you to avoid making mistakes and ensure your case proceeds relatively smoothly.
5. Negotiating With the Defense
Most malpractice cases settle before trial. To obtain the best result, you’ll want to have an experienced negotiator on your side. A good lawyer with a track record of successful results is likelier to secure more compensation for you than an attorney with relatively little malpractice experience. Ask prospective firms about their experience with medical malpractice cases and if they can provide information about past results.
Contact a Medical Malpractice Lawyer in Pennsylvania
If you are thinking about filing a medical malpractice claim against your doctor or another medical professional, you should consult an attorney at the Philadelphia law firm of Raynes & Lawn. With more than 50 years of experience and $10 billion-plus in recoveries for our clients, we are prepared to assess the merits of your claim. Call us for a free case evaluation today at 1-800-535-1797.
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