Recognizing When Medical Malpractice Has or Has not Occurred
Medical malpractice can result in serious injuries or death and can occur in many different ways. However, it is important to recognize that not every case involving a patient’s worsened condition will also involve an act of medical negligence. Being unhappy with the outcome of treatment does not mean that the doctor or other medical staff engaged in malpractice. Instead, medical malpractice occurs when a doctor or other health care professional’s care falls below an expected standard of care and results in a patient’s injuries and harm. Understanding when something might be medical malpractice and when it is unlikely to support a malpractice claim is important when people are considering pursuing a medical malpractice lawsuit. Below are a few scenarios from the attorneys at Raynes & Lawn to explain what will likely be considered to be medical malpractice and what will not.
What Is Medical Malpractice?
In every medical malpractice case, a health care provider’s actions or failures to act fall below the accepted standard of care expected of providers in the same practice area under the same treatment circumstances. In most cases, this means that the health care provider’s actions or inactions were negligent. However, some cases involve doctors engaging in reckless conduct, which can also form the basis of a medical malpractice claim.
Understanding Medical Negligence
All doctors and health care professionals are expected to provide care that meets the expected standard of care for other health care professionals in their fields who practice in the same area and have the same levels of education and skill. Medical negligence happens when a doctor or health care professional provides care that falls below the expected standard of care.
Medical negligence that can result in malpractice claims can occur in many different situations, including failing to diagnose someone with a serious condition, failing to advise a patient about the risks before providing certain types of treatment, or making serious mistakes during surgery or while performing another procedure.
Doctors are not expected to be perfect. In most cases, medical malpractice claims will involve determining the appropriate standard of care in the specific treatment situation and whether the doctor deviated from the expected standard of care. Both the patient and the doctor typically rely on medical experts to try to prove their cases. Medical experts can review the medical records and give expert opinions about whether the care provided by the doctor fell below the standard of care and was medically negligent.
Elements of a Medical Malpractice Claim
It is important to point out that you will not have a claim for medical malpractice if you did not suffer any harm because of the doctor’s actions or inactions. Instead, you must be able to present evidence to prove each of the elements of a medical malpractice cause of action. To have a viable medical malpractice claim, you must be able to prove the following elements in Pennsylvania:
- You had a doctor-patient relationship.
- The doctor’s treatment violated the expected standard of care for a reasonably prudent doctor in the same area and field under the same treatment conditions.
- The doctor’s violation of the standard of care caused your injuries.
- The violation of the standard of care and your injuries resulted in financial harm.
Proving that a doctor’s treatment fell below the expected standard of care is not enough if you did not suffer any injuries or financial losses as a result. In Pennsylvania, you must also obtain a Certificate of Merit from a medical expert to pursue a claim for medical malpractice.
While fortunately rare, there are some cases in which a doctor’s actions or failure to act are reckless. For example, if a doctor performs a surgical procedure while he or she is under the influence of alcohol or drugs and injures the patient, the doctor’s actions would likely be considered to be reckless. Other situations involving the recklessness of a doctor might include administering potentially fatal doses of a drug in violation of accepted standards. In one case involving a dentist, the dentist was found to have engaged in reckless conduct when he extracted a tooth from a patient who was under anesthesia while the dentist balanced on a hoverboard.
When a scenario will likely not amount to a viable medical malpractice claim
On their own, the following scenarios likely will not support a viable claim of medical malpractice.
Just because your condition worsened while you were receiving treatment does not mean that the doctor engaged in medical malpractice. Some illnesses and diseases will not be curable. Even when a patient’s medical condition is considered to be treatable, that does not mean that every patient with the condition will respond to the treatment provided to them. The doctor only needs to act with the same degree of reasonable care and skill expected of similar doctors in the local area in the same field of practice under the same situation. Being unhappy with the outcome of treatment is not enough to support a malpractice claim.
Some diseases are not treatable, unfortunately. As long as a doctor correctly diagnoses an untreatable condition and makes medically supported decisions about how to proceed with the patient’s treatment, the doctor will be unlikely to be found liable for medical malpractice simply because the patient’s condition is terminal or untreatable. Some health outcomes are unavoidable, and doctors will not be liable for medical malpractice simply based on the fact that their patients suffered terminal conditions and died. Medical malpractice laws are instead designed to protect patients when the treatment they receive falls below the accepted standard of medical care.
Talk to an Experienced Medical Malpractice Attorney
There are many situations in which people might be unsure of whether their doctors have engaged in medical malpractice. If you believe that your injuries were caused by a doctor’s medical negligence, you should speak with an experienced medical malpractice lawyer at Raynes & Lawn. Call us today to schedule a free consultation at 1-800-535-1797.
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