Iowa 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 Iowa.
Medical Malpractice in Iowa
When someone faces an injury that changes their life or dies as the result of medical negligence, this is when medical malpractice cases begin. Understanding the laws regarding medical malpractice in Iowa is very important should someone suffer from an injury or pass away at the hands of a medical professional. People should be able to trust that when they go in and see a professional for any type of health care, they will be treated with care and compassion. Unfortunately, in some cases, this is not what people find. For anyone who is trying to figure out if a malpractice case is warranted, understanding the law is the first step in reaching that answer.
Defining Iowa Medical Malpractice
When it comes to the basic definition of medical malpractice in the state of Iowa, there needs to be an injury or death that was the direct result of improper care or negligence. Medical malpractice is a type of personal injury that should be judged in front of a judge and, in most instances, a jury, as well. Malpractice is considered as patient care that is lower than the accepted standard of care, which is basically how any other doctor or personnel in the same situation would have acted given the same test results and symptoms. Iowa allows for both monetary damages — punitive damages that can cover medical bills and wages that are lost due to the injury — and subjective damages, also known as non-economic damages. This is money to cover pain and suffering.
Certain caps are placed on the type of compensation someone filing a malpractice case can receive. While the caps do not cover the monetary portion of the awards, they do apply to what types of damages can be recovered as well as the subjective damages someone may receive. One example of this type of limitation, or cap, is recovering money for anything that an injured person’s employer may have already paid on their behalf. This is not something allowed under Iowa law.
Currently, Iowa law has a limit of $250,000 for any subjective damages, like pain and suffering awards. However, these caps do not apply under all circumstances. If the damage done from the injury was enough to permanently alter the plaintiff’s life or even cause the person’s death, the damages could go well beyond this $250,000 cap. It all depends on the extent of the injuries and the circumstances surrounding how the person was initially injured.
Times Where the Malpractice Cap Would Not Apply
With the 2017 law putting a $250,000 cap on most non-economic damages, it is more important than ever to know what the exceptions are to this cap. The first exception is in the case of a negligent wrongful death malpractice suit. If the patient died as a direct result of his or her healthcare provider’s negligence, the damages could extend beyond the cap, depending on what the jury finds appropriate. Not all wrongful death suits automatically qualify for bypassing this cap. Only specific ones qualify, which the judge will best be able to determine. However, most attorneys are also able to give injured parties a clear idea if it qualifies or not.
The next exception is when the injured party loses major function of his or her body. This loss must be substantial or permanent. It must alter his or her life to the point of needing assistance or tools to get around or function as close to how he or she once did. This function, once lost, may return to some degree, or it may never return. The permanence of the function loss is the most vital part in determining what types of damages should be awarded to the injured party.
Finally, the cap would also not apply in the case of permanent and significant disfigurement. Since the disfigurement is going to last the rest of the injured party’s life, he or she can go after more in terms of pain and suffering. The injury has the potential to disqualify the plaintiff from future jobs, future relationships, and more, allowing the jury to find more room for compensation for these cases.
Examples of Medical Malpractice That Could Result in a Lawsuit
There are several types of malpractice in Iowa that could result in a medical professional of some sort getting sued. Plus, it is not just the specific person who caused the injury that could face the lawsuit. Here are some of the most common problems that the courts see regularly:
- Prescribing a patient the wrong medication or a dangerous dosage of the medication for the problem at hand
- Providing an unreasonable treatment for a reasonable ailment
- An injury or misdiagnosis during the pregnancy or birth of a child
- Misdiagnosing an obvious illness where the given diagnosis did not fit the symptoms
- Failing to diagnose the patient based on the symptoms presented
- Errors during surgery, such as operating on the wrong side of the body
- Leaving surgical tools or materials behind when surgery is complete
- A patient getting the wrong type of anesthesia or a medication that was a known allergy
- Ignoring some or all of the results of ordered tests that would have helped with a diagnosis
- Neglecting to order obvious tests that could have made diagnosis easier
- Performing surgery that was not necessary in the first place
- Offering little to no care after the procedure to follow up with the injured person
- Discharging a patient prematurely from the hospital or medical center
- Neglecting to take a proper history of the patient or ignoring obvious markers in that history that could have prevented the issue
- Delaying a diagnosis that was apparent, leading to a problem getting worse or a worsening long-term medical outlook
- Reading the X-rays or charts of the patient improperly
- Not noticing or responding promptly to a major change in vital signs
- Combining the wrong medications, which leads to a poor reaction in the injured party
- Neglecting to intubate a person who was struggling to breathe
- Missing the symptoms of a post-op infection
- Using any of the medical equipment in a fashion other than what it was designed to be used for
- Continuing to use equipment that was known to be faulty
- Turning off the alarms on some of the medical equipment that could have audibly signaled an issue
- Not taking the time to communicate the dangers of medications, procedures, or treatments to the patient prior to administering them
What Happens When a Device Malfunctions That Leads to Malpractice?
One area of medical malpractice that is more difficult to narrow down is medical device failure. This is when a device that was put in by a surgeon fails suddenly. Is this the fault of the team who placed the device or the device itself? In many cases, it is left for the courts to decide.
Most of the time, the manufacturer is to be added to the claim, allowing it to try to prove its innocence at the same time as the doctor or medical staff. What happens is that the court is to hear what transpired which caused the device failure. If the device was working properly, but the team who put it in did not have the right type of training on how to use it, then the team typically have to assume responsibility for the problem. However, if the device itself failed, and that led to the injury or even death of the plaintiff, the manufacturer can also be held liable.
Who Can Face a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit?
Nearly anyone that provides any type of medical care can face a lawsuit for malpractice in Iowa. This is because the state is set up in a way that is friendly toward those with an injury. These are some of the people and places that can face these types of lawsuits:
- The medical professional who caused the injury in the first place, such as the dentist, doctor, surgeon, or chiropractor
- Any medical facility that takes care of patients in any form, including hospice facilities, surgical centers, retirement homes, medical clinics, hospitals, dental offices, and more
- The staff surrounding the medical personnel who caused the injury, including surgical staff, nurses, orderlies, midwives, doulas, and social workers
- Technicians who took or performed blood or visual tests on the injured person who could realistically have known there was something wrong with the procedure, diagnosis, or treatment
- Any person who went out of his or her way to try to cover up the injury in any way can also be included in a malpractice lawsuit
Are There Different Types of Medical Malpractice?
There are several types of medical malpractice that everyone should be aware of. The typical malpractice suit revolves around a general doctor making a poor medical decision, which then leads to a lawsuit. However, he or she is not the only doctor who could see a malpractice suit. Some of the other types of malpractice include:
- Chiropractic Malpractice
- Surgical Error Malpractice
- Cosmetic Surgery Malpractice
- Psychiatric Malpractice
- OBGYN Malpractice
- Dental Malpractice
- Medication Error Malpractice
- Orthopedic Malpractice
The type of malpractice depends on the type of doctor who performed the procedure that led to the injury. It also depends on the type of injury that the person sustained. There are also times where these forms of malpractice could overlap. For example, there could be an issue with a mother delivering her child, which may involve her OBGYN and a surgeon. Each type of malpractice can build upon the others, creating an even more complex case for the court to sort out.
What Needs to Be Proven for a Medical Malpractice Suit?
There are three things that an injured person would need to prove should he or she want to file a malpractice suit. Each of these items must be able to have tangible proof to move forward in the courts.
- Standard of Care – The injured plaintiff needs to be able to demonstrate that the care he or she received was below what would be considered the normal level of care. This can be done through the testimony of experts or by providing proof to the court that someone was not taking their responsibilities as seriously as he or she should.
- Breach – The plaintiff must be able to show that the care he or she received breached what would be normal care under any other circumstances or by any other professional given the same basic set of circumstances.
- Causation – The plaintiff must be able to connect the substandard care to the specific injury he or she sustained. If this cannot be established, there can be no malpractice case, as it will be dismissed in court and not able to be filed again in the future.
The burden of proof lies with the plaintiff to get the case started. He or she needs to work with an experienced attorney who can fully investigate what happened. The more that can be uncovered about the injury, the more likely the court will be to hear the case and award damages.
Can the Injured Patient Be Partially at Fault?
Iowa medical malpractice laws allow for the injured party to also have some of the faults in the case, under some circumstances. In these instances, the injured must understand that his or her medical award can go down based on the percentage that he or she is found to be at fault. If the person who was injured ends up being partially at fault, but responsible for less than 50 percent of the problem, he or she gets fewer awards in the end. However, if the patient ends up being more than 50 percent of the reason he or she was injured, he or she will not receive any compensation for the injuries sustained. It is up to the judge to look at the evidence in the case and see who followed the expectations of care and who neglected to meet those expectations. One example of this could be the doctor not telling the patient what to do during recovery, the patient not listening to those instructions, or some combination.
Understanding the Medical Malpractice Statute of Limitations for Iowa Residents
The statute of limitations for malpractice is very specific in the state of Iowa. There are two levels to the statutes. The first level of the time limit is two years: they have two years from the date of the injury or from the date of the realization of the injury to file their claim. This basically means that there are only two years to file once someone realizes that a medical professional caused an injury.
The second level of limit is the harder one to get around. This limit is six years. This means that no matter when an injury occurred, the plaintiff has a maximum of six years to file a claim to get anything back. This is a steadfast limitation and is unwavering no matter when a person finds out about the injury. While this may appear harsh because it does not allow any options for those who could not have known their injury was the fault of someone else, the law has not been changed or updated to alter this timetable.
In cases of misdiagnosis, the time starts from when the misdiagnosis becomes apparent. For example, if a patient sees a doctor who gives them a clean bill of health, only to realize a year later that the original doctor missed a cancer diagnosis that should have been obvious, the timer begins from the date of the true cancer diagnosis. However, if someone goes on and discovers seven years later that he or she had slow-growing cancer for nearly a decade, it is too late to go after the doctor who missed the diagnosis seven years prior.
Exceptions to the Statute of Limitations
Currently, Iowa only has two commonly used malpractice exceptions for the six-year statute of limitations. The first is when there is a foreign object left behind after a medical procedure. This object must have led to some type of injury or death to the plaintiff to qualify for this exception. Additionally, the person who was injured or the estate of a loved one who died has two years to file their claim from the date that the object was found.
The second exception is for children. Children who are younger than 8 years old when the injury took place have until the day that they turn 10 years old to go through and file a medical malpractice lawsuit. This allows medical professionals to see what type of long-term effects the injury would have on the child’s life.
In some cases, there can also be another exception for those deemed mentally ill. The laws in Iowa also give a bit of extra time for those struggling with a mental illness that could prevent them from realizing the medical issue at hand. Iowa’s laws say that the mentally ill get one more year from the moment they are considered past the disability to file their claim. This gives them time to figure out the medical problem, find out what treatment needs to happen to correct it, and still file a claim.
Filing a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit in Iowa Requires Specific Steps
In 2017, the governor of Iowa signed changes to the laws as they relate to medical malpractice claims. On top of altering the caps for pain and suffering damages, he also changed the steps that go into filing a claim for medical malpractice. The law now says that the plaintiff must serve the accused with what is known as a Certificate of Merit prior to going through discovery. This lets the healthcare professional know what is going on and shows that those familiar with the common standard of care believe the actions were not up to that standard.
This certificate says that the plaintiff has enough evidence to show that the healthcare provider acted in a negligent manner. If this does not happen prior to discovery, the entire case winds up dismissed. However, the case’s dismissal comes with a tag of “with prejudice,” which means the same case cannot be tried again for the same injury in the future. Even if the medical professional would have been found guilty, he or she now walks without charges or any guilty verdict.
Another addition to the law is that the types of experts on behalf of the plaintiff are limited. Each of the expert witnesses now must meet specific criteria before he or she can provide expert testimony. For someone to be considered an expert witness, he or she must meet the specific criteria the law sets forth. This includes, but is not limited to:
- Working actively in the same general field as the accused for a minimum of five years consecutively
- Participate in academia in the same field as the accused, or one substantially the same as the accused, for at least five years prior to being called as an expert witness
Witnesses are limited to what they can testify about, as well. They can testify to the injury that specifically took place, as it relates to the court case, and they can talk about the care that the personnel gave to the injured. They can compare what should have happened to what did happen, but they cannot talk about outside cases unless they relate directly to the case that is currently before the judge.
Cases that follow these rules will be seen. However, it is strongly advised that the process is done with the help of legal advice. Going forward without the advice of a skilled medical malpractice attorney could leave the case up in the air or worse, being dismissed entirely. Having an attorney call the shots and make sure everything is filed appropriately is the best way to ensure that a case with merit gets the attention it deserves by the justice system. Between specific wording that some papers need to have, the dates they need to be filed and responding to the courts’ requests, this is a very busy job. It should always be left up to someone that has the experience to do it right.
The Process of Filing a Malpractice Claim
There are a few things that go into the process of filing the actual medical claim. First, there is a gathering of evidence. This includes the medical records that relate to the case. Ideally, this should include records from prior to the injury, as well as records since. That way, the lawyers, witnesses, and court officials have the opportunity to see the differences in the injured person’s life before and after the injury.
The plaintiff or his or her attorney also need to gather all medical bills from the time of the accident and beyond. It includes the costs associated with prescriptions, therapy, and procedures that have all taken place as a result of the injury or in an attempt to treat the injury. The policy that relates to the injured person’s insurance also needs to be located and submitted, so accurate financial records can be used when determining a settlement if that becomes an option.
Next, there will be a full investigation as to how the injury took place. This involves interviews, any type of footage that could be available of the injury, records filed with the police, and any other evidence that is available to help build up the case for the injured person. The more that an investigation can uncover, the better the case’s merit and the more likely it is to go to court.
Finally, the last portion of the process is deciding between settlement and trial. If a settlement is an option, most attorneys take care of this for their client. They discuss what settlement offerings the accused is prepared to offer and bring the offer directly to the injured party or the estate of this person. If that settlement is not enough to cover current and future issues, then the other option is to take the case to trial. This process allows the injured to collaborate with the attorney to figure out the best route to take.
What Needs to Happen to Prove a Malpractice Claim?
Many steps need to happen to be able to prove the fault and prove that the injuries deserve compensation in a malpractice case. Here are the things the plaintiff should expect while getting ready for trial.
- The plaintiff needs to prove that he or she had some type of relationship with the doctor at the time of the injury. It can be difficult to prove if the injured went to a random ER during a trip, but in most cases, the negligent professional was someone the injured knew and had worked with before.
- The professional who took care of the plaintiff should have performed his or her duties up to the normal care level that is standard for anyone in the United States. Patients expect, and should receive, fair and complete treatment. The plaintiff needs to prove that the medical professional acted in some way beneath this expectation.
- The plaintiff needs to be able to prove that this specific medical professional acted negligently in comparison to how he or she should have. The plaintiff also needs to prove that in the exact same basic circumstance, another professional would have done a better job.
- The plaintiff needs to be able to connect his or her injuries to the behavior of that specific medical professional. This can often be proven through the testimony of those who were there when the injury took place or one of the witnesses the prosecution can call.
- The plaintiff also needs to be able to prove there is a reason to award them damages. This means that the person struggled with pain and suffering, undue medical bills, both current wages lost and those of their future ability to earn a living, and even prescriptions that are now necessary as a result of the injury.
Which Types of Damages Can Come from a Malpractice Case?
Here are more specifics about the types of damages a plaintiff can sue for. These are possibilities, but it does not mean each case qualifies for such damages. These are available to a plaintiff who is still alive:
- Covering current and sometimes future medical expenses. This should cover medical equipment, prescriptions, traveling to and from doctor’s visits, any devices that become necessary to try and recover from the injury, any additional procedures that are required for the plaintiff to try and heal, and all hospital stays.
- The pay the injured is currently unable to earn because he or she is unable to work from the injury. If the plaintiff is still able to work, this may not be included in the damage request that is part of the malpractice claim.
- The lost pay the plaintiff may lose in the future as a result of this injury. For example, if someone lost a leg as the result of medical malpractice, then his or her future job as a construction worker would no longer be an option. This type of damage can cover the lower wages that the plaintiff will likely have to take to start a new career.
These are the non-economic damages that can come for those who went through suffering or pain as a result of their injuries.
- Compensation for emotional distress, such as stress, depression, anxiety, worry, frustration, fear, and any other type of mental or emotional suffering that came as the result of the injury.
- Loss of quality of life is another form of distress that can be recovered in the form of damages. This can be a decrease in the ability to enjoy the life that has now changed as the result of the injury.
- Loss of support is something that can also sometimes be sought in a malpractice case. This can come as a result of losing the support of family, friends, spouses, or parents as a result of the injury.
- Should a professional have acted maliciously, this constitutes gross negligence. In that case, there is also the option of going for punitive damages, which attempts explicitly to punish the accused while also trying to deter others from making the same mistakes in the future.
For someone who lost a close family member, there is also the option for loss of consortium. This is a special rule for people like spouses who survived the loss of the other due to injury. In this case, the surviving spouse can sue for loss of companionship, loss of love, and loss of assistance. If parents were to lose a child, they could sue for loss of love, loss of companionship for themselves and any surviving siblings, and even loss of affection.
The Importance of Finding a Great Medical Malpractice Attorney
Medical malpractice claims are incredibly complex, so having legal advice on the intricacies of the Iowa code is vital to the success of the case. That is why making sure to have a medical malpractice law firm or attorney help with the case helps to improve the odds of winning as much as it does. Many consider an attorney a way to level the field for the injured person. The insurance company representing the at-fault parties will want to pay out as little as possible. If plaintiffs are going to try to represent themselves, they are going to go up against highly-paid professionals who sometimes get incentives to pay little or nothing to injured parties. Going to court alone is never recommended.
An attorney can help with all aspects of the case. They can help gather the necessary evidence to make the case easier to try in court. Plus, they can get as much evidence as possible to prove the medical error was the fault of the personnel or facility in question. They can also arrange the proper expert testimony to prove the injury was the fault of the accused. This allows experts to testify as to what should have happened, so the court can see the difference between what did happen and what should.
Other reasons why anyone going to court should have an experienced attorney by his or her side includes:
- Attorneys have a better understanding of what the requirements are for care than a layperson would have. They know how to prove that the care was substandard in most cases, as well.
- Many firms have doctors on staff that allow them to be able to understand what was supposed to happen during the specifics of the case and compare it to what happened. This can help the attorney break down the case into plain language so that if they go in front of a jury, they can speak in a way that the jury will be able to understand.
- Attorneys know how to speak with insurance companies better than laypeople do. They know when an insurance company is playing “hardball” and when the insurance company feels as though it is backed into a corner and will offer more if the right pressure is put on.
- They have people they know they can rely on to help with these types of cases. The network of an experienced attorney is often quite vast, allowing for him or her to have more help putting together the case if necessary.
- An attorney is going to know whom he or she can trust to get reliable information that can be presented in court. If the wrong person gathers evidence through illegal or dishonest means, it could become inadmissible, which could damage the malpractice case and get it thrown out.
- Experienced attorneys are often able to navigate the settlement and court procedures far better than an inexperienced attorney could. This could give them a legal edge if they are able to anticipate the moves of the opposing side.
- An inexperienced attorney is only going to be able to guess at what types of damages a case could return. However, when an experienced attorney is given the same evidence, he or she is often much more succinct in making estimates because he or she has tried cases similar to the evidence in the past and saw what the results were firsthand.
Questions to Ask Before Deciding on a Medical Malpractice Lawyer
With the fact that an attorney is such a vital part of possibly winning a malpractice case, each injured person needs to make sure he or she is covered by the best possible attorney. To find the best attorney, one should ask certain questions. It allows the injured person to feel secure in his or her choice of representation. These are some of the most important questions to ask:
- While looking over the early evidence, does there appear to be a case? If not, what seems to be missing?
- How long has the attorney been practicing law and how long with a malpractice specialty? What is the attorney’s winning percentage for cases with similar issues?
- What type of medical knowledge and understanding does the attorney have?
- What level of experience does the attorney have with malpractice cases specifically?
- Who will be working on the majority of the case and correspondence, is it the lawyer or his or her paralegal and assistants?
- Is the case the injured wants to file still within the time limits set forth by the state?
- Are there any upcoming time limits to be aware of?
- Is the attorney familiar with this failed medical procedure?
- Which factors of the evidence could help the case in court, and which could be deterrents?
- How often should the injured party expect communication with updates about the case?
- Which seems more realistic, a settlement or a trial, based on early evidence?
- What type of expert testimony would this type of case require?
- Is the attorney working on a contingency fee, or are there fees the injured needs to pay to retain the attorney?
- What type of expenses are required prior to filing the case?
- What types of fees does the firm cover, even if the case is on a contingency basis?
- How many different cases is the firm currently working on and with how many attorneys?
- How did the attorney’s most recent malpractice case come out?
- What types of awards have the attorney gotten for other clients who have filed similar cases?
- Does the attorney have his or her own network of investigators and witnesses for these types of cases?
- How many cases has the attorney brought to trial?
- Where does the attorney practice? For instance, does the attorney only work with people in the Des Moines area, or does he or she travel around to cover nearby towns or counties?
- Does the attorney come to the injured person, or is that person required to come to the attorney’s office?
Dangers of Going Through the Stress of a Malpractice Suit Without Representation
Whenever anyone attempts to go through a court battle on their own, he or she risks being overwhelmed. When the person is injured and attempting to heal, the risks grow exponentially. Healing can slow down and even revert to a worse level. Plus, new ailments can show up as a result. The dangers associated with being overwhelmed and stressed out are no joke. Here are some of the most widely known effects of stress on the human body:
- The body feels threatened and is constantly in “fight or flight” mode. This means that the body is ramped up and keeping the adrenaline pumping, which can exacerbate pain and slow healing.
- The immune system gets compromised. This makes it harder for the body to fight off any type of illness or germ that it encounters. This could result in the person getting very sick and not being able to get better quickly or, in some cases, at all.
- Feeling constantly frustrated or moody comes with being too stressed out. This can lead to more lashing out than what naturally happens when a body is in pain.
- Insomnia or trouble sleeping often accompanies a stressed-out person. This can slow healing and even make it to where the body becomes too exhausted to heal at all.
- Many people who get too stressed out start struggling with depression. This can lead to feeling worthless, giving up, not healing, and sometimes even leading the injured person to contemplate suicide.
- The heart rate of stressed-out people is often much higher than those who are not stressed-out. This can lead to cardiac issues and even cause a heart attack, abnormal heart rhythm, or a stroke.
- Many people who struggle with stress end up turning to drugs or alcohol as a way of coping. This can quickly cause an injury to become far worse, and it can also have legal ramifications if the injured person is trying to go through a court case.
How to Avoid Lawyer Negligence in a Medical Malpractice Case
When it comes time to pick a medical malpractice lawyer, the injured parties always need to make sure that the attorney is going to work hard on the case and always do what is in the injured person’s best interest. If the attorney is unable to focus on the case, deadlines may get missed, and the case could get dismissed from court. Here are some forms of lawyer negligence to be aware of:
- Having a conflict of interest by representing both patients and doctors alike.
- Omitting specific facts that could help the injured win their case or get a higher settlement.
- Missing deadlines that should have been reachable because the attorney neglected to pay attention to the case.
- Writing up legal documents poorly, so it was difficult for the courts to decipher what the case was about or what the merits of the case were.
- Having any type of an inappropriate attorney-client relationship before or during the case.
- Submitting documents outside of the jurisdiction of the attorney.
- Misrepresenting the experience the lawyer or law firm has in different practice areas, such as medical malpractice or personal injury.
- High costs to the injured party that could have been avoided
- Influencing the injured person to take a poor deal when a better deal is very likely, just to get the case over with.
- Putting false evidence into discovery.
- Being dishonest with the plaintiff or the court.
Medical malpractice in Iowa is a very technical and complex process. It requires a lot of specific steps taken at the right time to make sure that the case has a chance to get in front of a judge. Also, it has very short deadlines that must be met if the court is ever going to see the case. Trying to take a case on without a lawyer is inadvisable. It could be dangerous and could put the person who is already struggling to heal in an even more stressful situation. The potential health risks that come with stress are easily enough to make most people give in and walk away from a court case if they are trying to do it on their own.
Always seek the advice of an experienced attorney when medical malpractice is involved. Learn how to find the right attorney and what signs of trouble to be aware of, so if a case is filed, it has the best chance to have a positive outcome. The more steps that can be taken prior to filing the case, the lesser the stress during the rest of the process.