District Of Columbia Medical Malpractice Laws
Each state has their own set of medical malpractice laws in place, and it is important for patients to understand those laws and how they could affect their case. The following are the basics of the laws in District Of Columbia.
Medical Practice in DC
Every day, countless people trust health care professionals with their lives. They trust them to diagnose medical problems and provide the proper medication. They also trust them to safeguard their health during surgery. Unfortunately, there are cases when health care professionals become careless and even negligent. When this happens, people can suffer serious injuries, sometimes leading to death.
Victims of medical malpractice do not have to suffer in silence. They can file a malpractice claim in Washington, DC to recover damages. The damages can help them pay for medical treatment and improve their quality of life. While nothing can take the injury away, receiving compensation does make life much more manageable after suffering a severe injury at the hands of a medical provider.
Who Is Liable for Medical Malpractice Damages?
Health care providers and facilities can be held liable for medical malpractice in DC. These include, but are not limited to:
- Hospitals, nursing facilities, and hospice programs
- Home health agencies
- Health clinics and centers
- Treatment facilities
- Government entities
- Physicians and physicians’ assistants
- Nurse practitioners
- Registered dietitians
- Physical therapists
Malpractice attorneys file suit against all parties involved in the case. For instance, if someone receives the wrong medication at a nursing home, and that causes injury, the patient can bring suit against the practice and the health care provider. The person might also have a case against the pharmacy and pharmacist. The same is true if the person was injured in the emergency room or any other health care facility.
Examples of Medical Malpractice
When patients are injured due to medical negligence, they are victims of medical malpractice. Medical malpractice comes in many forms. However, most fall into one of these categories.
Medical professionals must provide proper care during pregnancy and birth. Failure to do so can lead to a birth injury. The mother, child, or both can become injured during pregnancy and birth. Birth injuries include cerebral palsy, fetal acidosis, and newborn clavicle fractures. A stillborn birth is another example of a birth injury.
Patients understand that surgery carries a degree of risk. Surgeons explain the risks to patients before the procedure. Negligent surgeons increase the risk by committing medical errors that injure patients. Surgical errors include poor sanitation that leads to infection, leaving surgical instruments inside the patient, and operating on the wrong body part. These injuries can cause long-term damage, along with immense pain and suffering.
Failure to Diagnose or Misdiagnosis
Early detection is critical for managing most diseases. For example, diagnosing cancer in the early stages can improve the outcome. Physicians have ample diagnostic tools at their disposal to aid in diagnosing patients. Unfortunately, some physicians fail to identify symptoms and use the available diagnostic tools. These lapses cause them to misdiagnose or fail to diagnose conditions. Patients then incur expensive medical bills and suffer from invasive treatments that could have been avoided. Misdiagnosis can also cause death.
Medication errors are one of the most common forms of medical malpractice. The correct type of medication and dosage can manage conditions and save lives. Medication errors can injure the patient and even lead to death. Common medication errors include administering the wrong dosage or medication, mislabeling the medicine, and prescribing medication that interacts with another medicine the patient is already taking. Physicians can also prescribe medications that a patient is allergic to or fail to disclose side effects to the patient.
Anesthesia errors are among the most dangerous for patients. Common anesthesia errors include providing too much or too little anesthesia and failing to monitor the patient. Anesthesiologists also might neglect to provide patients with the necessary instructions before receiving anesthesia. Anesthesia errors can lead to various issues, including heart attacks, strokes, nerve injuries, brain injuries, and death.
Factors Involved in a Medical Malpractice Claim in D.C.
Negligence is not always medical malpractice. Even if a medical provider makes a mistake, the patient might not be a victim of medical malpractice. Malpractice claims must meet four requirements to be considered.
1. Doctor-patient Relationship
First, the injured party must establish that there was a doctor-patient relationship in place. This means the patient booked an appointment and saw the provider in a professional setting, such as a hospital or clinic. However, if someone asks for medical advice outside of a normal medical setting, there is no such relationship. For example, if someone runs into a physician acquaintance at a baseball game and asks for medical advice, the doctor then provides it; that does not establish a doctor-patient relationship.
2. Failure to Meet the Standard of Care
Next, the patient must prove that the provider failed to meet the standard of care. This refers to the level of care the average physician with that degree of knowledge and experience would provide. For example, the standard for an anesthesiologist includes monitoring the patient throughout surgery. Failing to do so is a breach of the standard.
Injured patients also must prove that the breach in providing care caused an injury. This is causation. The doctor’s actions must have directly caused the injury.
The patient must have also suffered damages to file a claim. If the medical professional acted negligently but did not harm the patient, the patient does not have a claim. However, if the negligence caused an injury or wrongful death, the person can file a claim. The damages do not have to be physical. The negligence might cause financial damages such as health care costs and lost wages, as well as non-economic damages, including mental anguish.
Statute of Limitations for Malpractice Claims in DC
The District of Columbia has a statute of limitations in place for filing a medical malpractice lawsuit. Injured parties must file a claim before the time limit has passed, or the court will not hear the case.
The time limit for filing a wrongful death claim is two years from the date of the incident. A loved one can file a claim on behalf of the deceased.
The statute for other claims is set at three years. This is typically set at three years from the time of the incident. However, DC also has a discovery rule. This rule is in place because sometimes, people do not discover injuries immediately. The clock starts ticking when people discover or reasonably should have discovered the injury.
The statue is also extended for minors, people in prison or those deemed mentally incompetent. The statute begins once the disability is removed, according to the courts. This means the statute begins once the person is of age, out of prison, or deemed competent.
These are just some of the exceptions to the statute. Those who have been injured and believe the time limit for filing a claim has passed should still consult with a malpractice attorney. It is possible that a claim can still be filed.
Damages in Medical Malpractice Claims
Unlike most states, including nearby Maryland, the District of Columbia does not have a recovery cap in place for medical malpractice claims. Personal injury lawyers help plaintiffs determine how much they are owned in economic and non-economic damages. Some plaintiffs also might be owed punitive damages. Not having a cap in place allows people to recover more in DC than they could somewhere else, such as in Baltimore.
Most victims of medical malpractice suffer economic damages. Medical expenses and lost wages are economic damages. Injured parties can also recover future lost wages when they suffer injuries due to a medical mistake.
Non-economic damages are not tangible. These damages include loss of consortium and pain and suffering. While the damages are not tangible, a skilled malpractice attorney can help people recover money.
Economic and non-economic damages are awarded for making the plaintiff whole after suffering an injury. Punitive damages are meant to punish the defendant. Punitive damages are awarded when the defendant acted with extreme negligence and disregard for the health and safety of the patient. Along with punishing the defendant, the damages are used as a deterrent to prevent other physicians from acting in the same way.
Contributory Negligence in Washington, DC
Sometimes, patients are partially responsible for their injuries. For example, someone might be prescribed a medication that interacts with another one. The physician should not have prescribed the medication. Still, it is the patient’s responsibility to follow the medication’s directions. Assume the medication states the person should not drink alcohol when taking the medication, but the patient consumes it nevertheless. This makes the effects of the medication even worse. In this instance, both the prescribing physician and the patient are at fault for the injury.
Most states have pure or modified comparative negligence laws on the books. If a state follows the law of pure contributory negligence, the court assigns a percentage of fault to the plaintiff and the defendant. The court reduces the damages based on the plaintiff’s degree of fault. If the defendant is deemed to be 20 percent at fault, awarded damages will be reduced by 20 percent.
Modified comparative negligence is a bit different. Both parties are assigned fault, but there is a threshold in place. For example, the state might have a 50 percent threshold. That means that the plaintiff cannot be more than 49 percent at fault to recover damages.
DC does not use comparative negligence. Instead, it follows the law of contributory negligence. People could not bring suit against a health care provider unless they did not contribute to their injuries. If they are 1 percent at fault or more, the court will not hear the case.
Many people are not sure if they have contributed to their injuries. A proper investigation is required to determine fault. Those who are unsure should consult with a personal injury attorney. The Washington, DC, medical malpractice attorney will investigate the claim on their behalf.
Expert Witnesses and Malpractice Claims
Medical experts play a critical role in malpractice suits in Washington, DC. To be an expert, the witness must have the skill, knowledge, training, education, or experience to provide an expert opinion on the evidence. The witness is used to prove that the defendant did not meet the standard of care and harmed the patient.
The Superior Court requires that plaintiffs and defendants disclose the expert witnesses they will present during the trial to the other side. They must also provide a report that covers the expert’s opinions and qualifications. These include the practice areas the witness specializes in, along with the years of experience the witness has in that field.
Pre-suit Requirements in Washington, DC
Those who wish to file a claim must first provide the defendant with pre-suit notice. The notice must be provided within 90 days of filing the suit. If the notice is filed at the end of the statute of limitations, the time limit is extended by 90 days.
The notice must include the legal basis for making a claim and the damages sustained. The notice should be delivered to the defendant’s last known address. If the plaintiff makes a good faith effort to deliver the notice but cannot find the plaintiff, the court can intervene. The court can choose to allow the case to move forward, even if the notice was not delivered.
Pre-suit Requirements for the Federal Government
Pre-suit requirements are different for the federal government. The claimant must file an administrative claim within two years of the incident. The claim should be sent to the federal agency that caused the damages. The agency has six months to respond to the claim. Failure to respond is a denial of the claim. Once a claim has been denied, the injured party has six months to file a lawsuit.
Filing a Medical Malpractice Claim
After the plaintiff has met the pre-suit requirements, he or she must file a complaint with the court. The paperwork must be filed with the right court to begin the proceedings. Federal claims are typically filed in federal court, while claims against someone in private practice are generally filed in the District of Columbia Superior Court.
The Superior Court commonly orders mediation after the complaint is filed. A neutral third party will oversee the mediation proceedings. The plaintiff and defendant attend the proceedings with their legal representatives. Mediation usually begins with everyone meeting in the same room. Then the opposing parties are separated into different rooms, and the mediator goes between the two, attempting to reach an agreement.
Mediation takes place before the discovery process. The proceedings are confidential, and the information submitted is typically not admissible in court.
If a settlement is not reached, the medical malpractice attorney and opposing counsel will prepare for trial.
The Discovery Process
Attorneys need information before they go to trial. They gather this information during the discovery process. Discovery usually consists of:
- Requests for production of documents
- Requests for admissions
After completing discovery, the attorneys are ready for pre-trial litigation.
During this time, attorneys from both sides can make motions, including a motion to dismiss and motion to provide information. An attorney also might file a motion related to evidence that should or should not be used in the trial. Motions are tried before a judge. The judge then rules on the motions.
Pre-trial Settlement Conference
Both parties have another opportunity to settle the case before trial. This is called the pre-trial settlement conference. The trial judge usually conducts this conference. Both sides try to settle once again. The defendant’s insurance company will likely be more willing to settle at this point after seeing the evidence. If they do not reach a settlement, the judge sets a trial date.
At this point, the case goes to trial. This is a civil proceeding and follows a standard format that includes:
- Jury selection
- Opening statements by both sides
- The plaintiff’s case
- The defendant’s case
- Closing arguments
Medical malpractice cases are often appealed to a higher court. The losing attorney submits an appeal, and if a higher court finds that the law was not correctly followed, the appeal will be granted. A panel of judges reviews the evidence to determine if the law was followed.
The Patient’s Role in the Case
Many people are afraid to file a medical malpractice suit due to the time commitment. They are already dealing with injuries, so they do not want to spend weeks or months preparing for litigation. Fortunately, the law firm handles most aspects of the case. Injured parties must meet with the attorney to provide the evidence needed for the case evaluation, and they will also need to make a few court appearances. However, they won’t have to make much of a time commitment.
Choosing a DC Medical Malpractice Lawyer
Attorneys work on behalf of clients to help them receive the award they deserve after suffering at the hands of a medical provider. Those who have a claim should schedule a free consultation with an attorney. The attorney will evaluate the evidence to determine if the claim is valid. If it is, the medical malpractice lawyer will speak with expert witnesses in the DC area, review records, and file the case. Then the attorney will fight on behalf of the plaintiff to receive the desired award.