Medical Malpractice - Frequently Asked Questions

Medical malpractice is a complex area of personal injury law. When people believe that they were injured because of the negligence of medical providers, they often have numerous questions about malpractice and what it involves. Here are some answers to some of the most frequently asked questions the attorneys at Raynes & Lawn have received.

1. What Is Medical Malpractice?

Not every incident involving a mistake made by a health care provider will rise to the level of malpractice. Instead, medical malpractice occurs when a physician, hospital, or another health care provider negligently causes an injury by providing care that falls below the expected standard of care. Health care providers are expected to provide care that meets the type of care that would be provided by a prudent health care provider in the same area and field of practice would have provided in the same treatment circumstances. The inadequate treatment must also have caused the patient’s injury, and the patient must have suffered calculable damages as a result. If any of these elements are missing, the victim will not be able to recover compensation in a medical malpractice lawsuit. Read More

2. How Do I Know if Medical Malpractice Occurred?

Medical malpractice occurs when someone is injured because a health care provider’s treatment deviated from the accepted standard of care for medical professionals in his or her practice area. However, being injured while being treated by a doctor does not necessarily mean that you will have a claim for malpractice. You will have the burden of proof to show by a preponderance of the evidence that each of the elements of malpractice occurred. These elements include the following:

  • There was a provider-patient relationship.
  • The medical provider’s treatment fell below the expected standard of care.
  • The incompetent treatment caused your injuries.
  • You suffered calculable losses as a result.

Your medical malpractice lawyer can review your medical records and provide you with an honest assessment of whether you might have grounds to file a medical malpractice lawsuit. Read More

3. What Are Some Common Examples of Medical Malpractice?

There are many different types of situations in which medical malpractice can occur. Some common examples of medical negligence that might rise to the level of malpractice include the following:

  • Anesthesia errors
  • Birth trauma/child injuries
  • Delayed diagnoses
  • Failures to diagnose
  • Misdiagnoses
  • Prescription errors
  • Surgical errors

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4. Who Can I Sue in a Medical Malpractice Claim?

If you were injured because of the malpractice of one or more health care providers, you can file a lawsuit against all of the parties who were negligent in the provision of your care. Some of the types of defendants that might be liable in a medical malpractice claim include the following:

  • Doctors
  • Chiropractors
  • Dentists
  • Pharmacists
  • Anesthesiologists
  • Radiologists
  • Specialists
  • Surgeons
  • Nurses
  • Hospitals
  • Outpatient surgery clinics

Your attorney can help you to determine the parties to name as defendants in your medical malpractice case.

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5. Can More than One Doctor Be Liable in a Medical Malpractice Claim?

If more than one doctor was negligent in providing treatment, resulting in your injuries and losses, you can name everyone involved as defendants in your lawsuit and seek to hold them accountable. Cases involving multiple doctors can result in settlements of some of the claims while others might proceed to trial. When more than one doctor committed medical malpractice, you will have to prove the elements of malpractice against each of them separately.

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6. Can Lack of Patient Consent Mean Medical Malpractice?

Doctors are required to get their patients’ informed consent before performing a recommended procedure or providing a recommended treatment. Whether a lack of consent will rise to the level of malpractice will depend on several things, however. There is also an exception in an emergency situation in which treatment is necessary to save a life. Doctors must explain the known risks of a procedure before providing care and secure the patients’ consent before performing it. If a doctor negligently fails to warn a patient about known complications, the patient suffers those complications that the doctor failed to warn about, and the patient would not have consented to the treatment if he or she had been informed about the risks, the lack of consent could form the basis for a viable malpractice claim.

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7. What Is the Statute of Limitations in a Medical Malpractice Case?

The general statute of limitations for medical malpractice is two years from the date of the injury under 42 Pa.C.S. § 5524. However, there are a couple of exceptions to the general rule. For minors, the limitations period will be tolled until they reach age 18, meaning they will have until they reach age 20 to file a malpractice lawsuit. Pennsylvania also recognizes the discovery rule. This means that the statute of limitations will not start to run until the date when the patient discovered or reasonably should have discovered that the injury was caused by medical malpractice.

If the victim dies because of the medical provider’s malpractice, the family will have two years to file a claim from the date of the victim’s death. Finally, Pennsylvania has a statute of repose that states that the maximum amount of time after an injury in which a malpractice claim can be filed is no later than seven years. However, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently ruled that the statute of repose is unconstitutional, so it is currently unclear whether there is a deadline for people who only later discover that malpractice occurred and was the cause of their injuries.

8. How Much Is My Medical Malpractice Case Worth?

How much your medical malpractice case might be worth will depend on multiple factors, including the severity of your additional injuries, the likelihood that you will fully recover, the severity of the defendant’s conduct, and others. In 2020, the National Practitioner Data Bank reported that a total of $246,560,000 was paid in Pennsylvania medical malpractice claims, and the payments were made in 609 cases. This averages out to slightly more than $430,000 per claim. However, this is only an average, and what might be recoverable in your case will largely depend on your losses.

9. What Do I Have to Prove to Win a Medical Malpractice Case?

To win a medical malpractice case, you will be required to prove each of the following elements by a preponderance of the evidence:

  • You and the health care provider you are suing had established a provider-patient relationship.
  • The treatment you received fell below the expected standard of care.
  • The provider’s incompetent care caused your injuries.
  • The provider’s negligence and your injuries caused you to suffer calculable losses.

Winning a medical malpractice claim in Pennsylvania will necessitate working with a medical expert. Pennsylvania requires medical malpractice plaintiffs to file certificates of merit with their civil complaints certifying that the evidence has been reviewed by a medical expert who can testify that the treatment that was provided fell below the expected standard of care and caused the plaintiffs’ injuries. Working with a medical malpractice attorney can also increase the likelihood that you will prevail in your case.

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10. What Is the Standard of Care in Medical Malpractice Cases?

The standard of care referred to in medical malpractice cases is the type of treatment that a competent and reasonably skilled provider with the same level of education and practicing in the same geographic area would have provided under the same circumstances. The expected standard of care will vary based on the provider’s medical knowledge, background, geographic area, and specialty. Determining the expected standard of care in your case will require the help of a medical expert.

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11. How Do I Start a Medical Malpractice Claim?

Before you can file a medical malpractice lawsuit, you will first need to gather your medical records and other relevant evidence. Your attorney can help you to gather the necessary documents. A malpractice lawyer will want to review your medical records and other evidence and will work with a medical expert to determine whether malpractice likely occurred. If your lawyer and the expert agree that you were injured by the medical negligence of a doctor or other medical provider, the next step will be to file a civil complaint in the court with the proper jurisdiction. A certificate of merit is also required in a medical malpractice case, and you will then need to serve the pleadings on each of the defendants.

12. Do All Medical Malpractice Claims Go to Trial?

The vast majority of medical malpractice lawsuits are settled without going to trial. However, it is critical to prepare your case as if it will be tried. Doing so allows you to be prepared for litigation if one or more of the defendants refuses to settle. Preparing a strong case of liability also might help you to convince the defendants that it is in their interests to settle your case rather than risk a loss at trial.

13. Do Inpatient Falls Constitute Medical Malpractice?

Inpatient falls might or might not constitute medical malpractice. In some cases, a fall in a medical facility will amount to ordinary negligence but not malpractice. Whether your fall rises to the level of malpractice will depend on whether a medical provider’s treatment deviated from the standard of care in your treatment. A malpractice attorney can review what happened and help you to understand your rights.

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14. How Long Does a Lawsuit Take?

Medical malpractice lawsuits can take months or even a couple of years to resolve. The length of time it might take will depend on multiple factors, including the following:

  • The complexity of the case
  • How voluminous the medical records are
  • The length of the investigation
  • The court’s docket and scheduling
  • Whether the case can be settled or will have to go to trial

Your attorney can help you understand what you might expect in your case.

15. What Are Damages Caps, and Why Do They Exist?

In medical malpractice cases, damages caps are limits on the total amount of damages that plaintiffs can collect. Some states place caps on the noneconomic damages that plaintiffs can recover. Noneconomic damages are types of monetary compensation that are available for your non-economic losses, including pain and suffering, disability, loss of consortium, and others. In states that have damages caps in malpractice cases, the purpose is to try to deter people from filing medical malpractice claims.

However, Pennsylvania does not have a cap on damages for economic or non-economic losses. However, it does place a cap on punitive damages in medical malpractice cases to no more than two times the actual damages that are awarded in a case. Punitive damages are rarely awarded in medical malpractice cases, so it is unlikely that you will be subject to any caps on damages.

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16. Can I Sue if My Doctor Did not Tell Me About the Risks of a Procedure?

Doctors are required to secure their patients’ informed consent before performing a medical procedure. Informed consent involves more than simply having you read and sign a form. Instead, your doctor must explain the known risks of the procedure so that you can make an informed decision about whether to agree to it.

Whether your doctor’s failure to inform you about the risks of your procedure will rise to the level of a viable medical malpractice claim will depend on several factors. If you were not injured and did not suffer the complications that your doctor failed to inform you about, you will not have grounds to file a lawsuit. Doctors are also not required to inform their patients about every possible risk, but they must inform patients about known risks of procedures. If you suffered complications of the type that your doctor failed to warn you about and would not have undergone the procedure if you had been informed, you could have a viable medical malpractice claim.

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17. What Kind of Mistakes Can Result in Medical Malpractice?

Many different types of mistakes might rise to the level of malpractice. However, not every mistake will mean that your doctor was medically negligent. Instead, a mistake will only amount to malpractice if it fell below the expected standard of care, caused your injuries, and resulted in losses. Some examples of mistakes that might lead to a malpractice claim include the following:

  • Wrong medication doses
  • Wrong patient or wrong-site surgeries
  • Missed diagnoses
  • Delayed diagnoses
  • Inappropriately discharging a patient
  • Making mistakes in the patient’s medical record
  • Failing to check for possible adverse interactions or allergies when prescribing medications
  • Leaving surgical instruments inside of a patient

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18. Can a Medical Malpractice Case Be Reopened After It Has Settled?

Once a case has been settled, it cannot be reopened. A settlement completely resolves a medical malpractice case. If you agree to a settlement offer, you will not be able to come back later to ask for additional compensation even if you discover that the amount of your settlement did not fully compensate you for your losses. This makes it important to have any settlement offer you receive reviewed by your medical malpractice lawyer at Raynes & Lawn before you agree to it.

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