What Are Your Rights as a Victim of Medical Malpractice?
Being able to trust the medical professionals people see is a critical part of establishing a good patient-provider relationship. People need to be able to trust the diagnoses they receive from doctors and their treatment recommendations. When they need to undergo surgery, patients need to trust that their doctors have the necessary skills and will perform the procedures correctly.
Whenever someone is injured or experiences a medical problem, they might seek medical attention by going to their doctor’s office, urgent care facility, or hospital. During their medical visits, they might encounter multiple medical professionals, including nurses, doctors, medical assistants, and others. Each one of these professionals is expected to provide treatment meeting a standard of care that a reasonably competent provider with the same skills, training, and education would provide in the area. If a medical provider deviates from the expected medical standard of care while delivering treatment to you, and you are seriously injured as a result, you might have grounds to pursue compensation.
While trust is a key component of the doctor-patient relationship, medical malpractice occurs more frequently than many people might think. Mistakes made by healthcare providers can cause additional injuries, aggravate the patient’s medical condition, and lead to other negative consequences. Here’s some information about medical malpractice and your rights as a victim from the medical malpractice lawyers at Raynes & Lawn.
- Understanding Medical Malpractice: Medical malpractice occurs when a healthcare provider’s actions deviate from the standard of care, leading to patient harm, including errors like wrong tests, missed diagnoses, surgical mistakes, and birth injuries.
- Legal Elements for a Lawsuit: To pursue a medical malpractice lawsuit in Pennsylvania, victims must prove the existence of a doctor-patient relationship, the relevant standard of care, breach of care, causation of injury, and calculable damages.
- Patient Rights and Damages: Victims have the right to claim economic and non-economic damages, with a cap on punitive damages in Pennsylvania. The state also employs a system of periodic payments for larger damages.
- Reducing Risks and Seeking Legal Help: Patients can lower their risk of malpractice by being proactive with their medical history and treatment. Seeking legal aid is vital to establish liability, protect rights, and potentially receive compensation for losses. Contacting a medical malpractice attorney, like those at Raynes & Lawn, can provide essential guidance and support.
Medical Malpractice Statistics
In 2016, Johns Hopkins researchers analyzed medical death rate data between 2000 and 2008. They found that medical errors accounted for 9.2% of all deaths or more than 250,000 per year. This meant that medical errors were the third leading cause of death behind heart disease and cancer. While medical errors are a prevalent issue, they are under-reported. Many people who suffer serious injuries or lose loved ones because of preventable medical errors choose not to file medical malpractice lawsuits. In 2021, for example, a total of 1,460 medical malpractice cases were filed in Pennsylvania, which is likely a small percentage of the total number of incidents of medical negligence that occurred.
What Is Medical Malpractice?
One reason why some people might not pursue malpractice claims against their treating providers is because they are unsure what medical malpractice is. All healthcare professionals must meet an expected standard of care. This standard varies by geographic area and the practitioner’s field, skill level, and education. A medical provider must provide care that at least meets the type of care a reasonably competent provider with the same education, skills, and experience would have provided under similar treatment conditions.
For example, a general practice doctor would be expected to deliver treatment meeting the standard of care a reasonably competent general practice doctor would have provided and would not be compared to the treatment a board-certified cardiologist would have provided. Healthcare providers are also compared to other providers in the same geographic region. For example, a general practice physician in Philadelphia would be compared to other general practice physicians in Philadelphia instead of to a general practice doctor in Los Angeles.
Medical negligence occurs when a doctor’s care deviates from the expected standard of care. Once you have determined the standard of care and whether the doctor’s treatment deviated from it, you’ll have to show that the breach of the standard of care caused your injuries. Finally, you must have suffered calculable losses because of the doctor’s negligence.
Evidence Required in a Medical Malpractice Case
To win a medical malpractice lawsuit, you must have strong evidence proving each of the following legal elements:
- Doctor-patient relationship
- Relevant medical standard of care
- Breach of the standard of care
- Causation of the injury by the breach
- Calculable damages
Under Pennsylvania’s medical malpractice laws, victims have the right to file lawsuits when they have suffered harm and injuries because of a medical provider’s negligence. However, plaintiffs have the burden to prove their cases. If they can’t prove each of the legal elements by a preponderance of the evidence, they won’t be able to recover compensation.
Examples of Medical Negligence
Being dissatisfied with the outcome of your treatment does not necessarily mean that your doctor committed medical malpractice. Doctors can’t guarantee medical outcomes, but they are expected to meet the relevant medical standard of care by being competent.
Since doctors are human, they sometimes make mistakes. While not every medical error a doctor might make will amount to malpractice, the following are some common errors that could rise to that level.
Ordering the Wrong Tests or Failing to Order Tests
When a patient goes to the hospital complaining about symptoms they are experiencing, an emergency room doctor should talk to the patient, note the symptoms, and identify the potential conditions the patient might have. These conditions should be included in a differential diagnosis, and the doctor should then order tests to check for these conditions and make an appropriate diagnosis.
If a doctor fails to listen to the patient and doesn’t include the patient’s condition in the differential diagnosis, the doctor might not order the right tests. In some cases, a doctor might disregard a patient’s symptoms and fail to order any tests. Either of these actions can be a medical error that could amount to medical malpractice if the patient suffers injuries as a result.
A missed diagnosis occurs when a doctor fails to diagnose a patient and instead gives them a clean bill of health. The patient’s condition might then worsen significantly before they finally receive an accurate diagnosis. By that time, the patient’s condition might have progressed to the extent that it is no longer treatable or requires aggressive treatments with significant side effects. In some cases, a patient whose diagnosis was missed might die before they receive treatment. Missed diagnoses can occur because of communication failures, a doctor having too many patients to treat at the same time, overcrowded hospital facilities, understaffing, and more.
A misdiagnosis occurs when a physician diagnoses a patient with the wrong condition. The patient might then undergo unnecessary treatment while their actual medical condition remains untreated. This can occur when a medical condition has overlapping symptoms with a different condition. For example, a doctor might believe a patient has a cold when they instead have a more serious respiratory illness such as pneumonia. If the doctor misdiagnoses the patient with the common cold, they might fail to test for pneumonia, leaving it untreated. The patient’s pneumonia can then worsen, creating an undue risk of harm and potential long-term damage or death.
Errors during surgery are among the most serious types of medical negligence because the patients are in an extremely vulnerable state. There are numerous types of surgical errors, including:
- Wrong-site surgery
- Wrong-patient surgery
- Leaving an object behind inside the patient
- Failing to properly sterilize all tools
- Accidentally cutting or puncturing organs or tissue unrelated to the surgery
- Other errors
Doctors, hospitals, and other medical professionals assisting in the birth and delivery process must follow established protocols and carefully monitor the mother and baby during labor, delivery, and shortly after the baby’s birth. Doctors must also monitor mothers during pregnancy to identify infections or diagnose conditions that could increase the risks of injury for both the baby and the mother.
Birth injuries are injuries that occur during or after birth and can be prevented in many situations. When a doctor, nurse, anesthesiologist, hospital, or another medical staff negligently fails to provide competent care, they can be liable for medical malpractice if the mother or baby suffers serious birth injuries.
Some examples of birth injuries that might be caused by medical negligence include the following:
- Skull fractures caused by excessive force during an assisted delivery
- Unchecked maternal hemorrhaging
- Hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy
- Cerebral palsy
- Prolonged interruption of the blood and oxygen flow to the baby’s brain
- Other injuries
Birth injuries can result in lifelong disabilities, including cerebral palsy, intellectual disabilities, seizure disorders, maternal death, or fetal death.
What Are Your Rights as a Victim of Medical Malpractice?
As a victim of medical malpractice, you are afforded certain rights, including the right to claim damages. The damages include economic, noneconomic, and punitive damages. You are more likely to receive economic (monetary losses you may have incurred) and noneconomic (non-quantifiable damages, like pain and suffering) than punitive damages in a medical malpractice lawsuit.
Do note that Pennsylvania has a system where periodic payments are instituted. These payments for damages take into account things like inflation and are provided over time rather than in one lump sum. However, this only occurs if the damages awarded are over $100,000.
You also have a right to have your medical malpractice claim handled in a timely manner. In Pennsylvania, the statute of limitations states that you must make your claim within two years from the date of the injury. This is also true in instances where the negligence caused an untimely death.
Is There a Cap on Damages One Can Receive?
Yes, there is indeed a cap on punitive damages. Pennsylvanian law provides those seeking legal redress to recover any amount of economic and noneconomic damages that the judge or jury decides upon. The only time the damages may be limited is when punitive damages are to be provided. The Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error Act states that the plaintiff may only be award up to twice the amount of economic damages award as punitive damages.
On top of that amount, 25 percent of said punitive damages are sent to the Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error Fund—no directly to the plaintiff. These funds are then used should the defendant’s malpractice insurance be unable to fully cover the economic and noneconomic damages in the case.
What Patients Can Do To Reduce the Risk of Medical Malpractice
When you are scheduled to see a doctor or need to go to the hospital, there are several things you can do that might lessen your risk of being the victim of medical malpractice. Do the following things:
- Bring a complete list of your medications, including doses and times that you take them with you to every appointment.
- Include all over-the-counter medications, herbal supplements, and vitamins that you take on your list.
- Make sure the nurse and doctor receive your list and review it.
- Be open about your medical history and your family’s medical history.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
- If you are unsure why a test was ordered (or not ordered), ask about it.
- Ask questions about any diagnosis you receive.
- If you are uncomfortable with your diagnosis or lack of a diagnosis, seek a second opinion.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for additional tests.
- Ask about other medical conditions that share similar symptoms.
- When you are given a prescription, go over the medication ordered and dosage. Make sure to double-check your prescription bottle at the pharmacy against your prescription before you leave.
While it’s not possible to prevent all incidents of medical malpractice, being prepared and asking questions can help reduce the chance that you might be a victim.
Liability in Medical and Hospital Malpractice Cases
Medical and hospital malpractice cases can be complex since multiple people might have been involved in your treatment. Determining liability can be difficult and will likely require the help of medical experts and medical malpractice lawyers.
Some of the potentially liable parties might include the following:
- Physician assistants
- Nurse practitioners
- Medical doctors
- Lab technicians
- Surgical assistants
- Medical assistants
- Urgent care facilities
- Doctors’ offices
Your attorney will review all of the related medical records with the help of a medical expert to determine the relevant medical standard of care, which parties might have contributed to your injuries, and whether the treatment you received deviated from the expected standard of care and caused your injuries.
Identifying all of the potentially liable parties is important for ensuring you recover maximum compensation for your losses and determining whether your claim has legal merits. The determination of liability is the first step in helping you protect your rights as a potential victim of medical malpractice.
Seeking Legal Remedies
Many people hesitate to seek legal remedies when they have been victims of medical negligence by filing lawsuits. You might be more concerned about your health or the health of your loved one and think that you don’t have time to think about a legal case. You might also feel bad about the idea of suing your doctor or other healthcare providers. Finally, you might be concerned that seeking legal help might be too expensive when you are already dealing with significant financial losses.
However, if you are the victim of medical malpractice, pursuing a claim allows you to assert and protect your legal rights as a victim. By pursuing a claim, you might hold the parties who injured you accountable and help prevent others from suffering similar injuries in the future. You could also potentially recover compensation to pay for all of the economic and non-economic losses you have incurred because of your provider’s negligence.
Contact Raynes & Lawn Today
The medical malpractice attorneys at Raynes & Lawn also accept cases on a contingency fee basis, which means you won’t have to pay for your legal representation until and unless your lawyers successfully resolve your claim through a settlement or trial verdict. We also offer free consultations, so you can find out about your legal options without worrying about paying anything. To learn more about your case and the remedies that might be available, call us today at 1-800-535-1797.
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