What Patients Need to Know about Medical Malpractice

As much as patients wish to believe, and rightly often so presume, individuals generally approach US medical care as safe and patient actions as reasonable in adhering to the advice of a medical professional.

Moreover, most patients feel confident submitting to the care of a given medical professional with the confidence in the physician’s ability to perform their medical specialty competently. However, the reality is that nearly one (1%) of all patients in US hospitals endure some form of medical malpractice in their lifetime. Moreover, medical negligence claims have greatly changed the landscape of the medical profession over the past three decades, with patients frequently taking tot eh courts to endure their proper compensation for substandard or negligent medical treatment, including treatment for psychological, psychiatric, dental, or ophthalmological issues among others.

Medical Malpractice Is Much More Common Than Patients Often Realize

In fact, medical malpractice or accidents related to medical care causing death account for the third largest cause of death in the United States, with medical negligence being squarely cited as the cause in most, if not all of these medical mistake or accident related wrongful deaths. Moreover, non-fatal claims cases filed annually in the US amount to billions of dollars in claims settlements or trial verdicts each year in malpractice cases with causes of action involving medical negligence arguments supported by evidenced damage claims buoyed by a medical expert’s testimony.

Patients Can Take Steps to Protect Themselves from Medical Malpractice

Fortunately, patients can take some preventative measures to control their risks, while also taking additional steps to vitiate any outstanding risks currently jeopardizing the well-being of a patient.

Awareness of some of the most troubling trends in medicine and knowing how to reduce your risk is one of the most important things you can do as a patient. Medical malpractice occurs when healthcare professionals deviate from the recognized standard of care.

Every mistake made in healthcare is not automatically malpractice, but when a doctor makes a choice different than what is reasonably prudent or would not be a choice made by most doctors, and it results in an injury or illness, medical malpractice becomes an issue.

The question is whether or not a doctor or another healthcare provider is negligent in hindsight during their treatment of a given patient, and in turn, whether these specifically identified acts of negligence were the proximate or direct cause of harms, losses, or other damages sustained by a patient.

The following attributes of advisable to any patient wishing to mitigate his or her risk for damages caused by medical malpractice, including:

  • Patients are strongly encouraged to remain as informed as possible about any prospered treatment beforehand, while also obtaining a second opinion in those instances of proposed medical care that would warrant doing so
  • Conducting independent external research on a given condition, the possible treatment options, and the relative reviews of a proposed provider online are some of the mechanisms by which astute patients seek to decrease their risks of becoming a victim of medical negligence
  • Documenting treatment, including all information provided by medical professionals beforehand, is helpful should later complications in treatment arise
  • Proposing concerns, misunderstandings, or serious reservations to a medical professional is a completely reasonable and encouraged practice among patients wishing to cut down their risks of medical malpractice damages

Though it might seem as if medical malpractice is on the rise, the total number of claims has decreased in recent years. In response to a previous increase in medical malpractice lawsuits, many states imposed limits on damage awards. This is unfortunate for those who face catastrophic injuries that create a need for lifetime care.

However, exemptions and caveats under each state’s unique medical malpractice laws exist, and in turn, consulting with legal counsel when confronted with negligently performing medical professionals is strongly advised.

What Happens if Medical Malpractice Does Happen?

Moreover, there are ample remedies available, in most viable claims cases involving medical negligence and damages, to recover financially from parties found responsible for negligent medical care, including physicians themselves, but also, nursing professionals, hospital facilities, and the insurance policy writers for these medical entities.

However, building a viable medical malpractice claims case often requires pre-filing work and coordination with legal counsel, which may be required to submit an affidavit of medical expert testimony to the existence of negligence in order to merely enter the suit into the civil courts.

How Can a Patient Determine If Medical Negligence Occurred during the Course of Treatment?

More than likely, though not guaranteed, should a medical professional cause additional damage or injury to the patient during the course of treatment, or otherwise cause harms unrelated to the original reason for seeking treatment, it is reasonable to suspect the existence of medical negligence. At this juncture, patients should consult directly with legal counsel, who almost universally will handle a medical malpractice claims case on a no upfront costs, contingency basis.

Noteworthy here, however, is the fact that adverse outcomes are not automatically proof of negligence. And if a healthcare provider warned patients amply of the risks of an unorthodox treatment or those associated with routine procedures, though relatively uncommon, and a patient provided prior informed consent, claims cases may be affected adversely, if existing at all.

Will Statutes of Limitations Apply in Medical Malpractice Lawsuit Filings?

In virtually all medical negligence related tort claims, a statute of limitations will exist in virtually all jurisdictions.

In short, these statutes dictate the length of time that a patient has to file a lawsuit against a negligently performing medical professional. These timelines are highly state and case-specific, with each state incurring differing periods permissible before the statute of limitation tolls, and in turn, a patient may potentially be barred from recovery under applicable state laws.

For this reason, with some states incurring statutes of limitations as short as less than one (1) year, patients that suspect medical negligence in damages sustained while under medical care should consult with legal counsel as soon as possible following any discovery of harm or damages in the aftermath of a medical procedure.