When To Sue a Hospital for Malpractice

In 2020, Amy Geiler filed a malpractice lawsuit against her doctors, the MountainView Hospital, and the Mountain’s Edge Hospital. She alleged that the doctors improperly raised her sodium levels, causing her to suffer from locked-in syndrome. It is a condition where conscious patients experience full-body paralysis except for their eye muscles. 

Medical malpractice is a more pressing issue than most people realize. Studies confirm that it remains one of the foremost causes of death in the US.

Besides being a public health threat, medical negligence cases are also costly. The National Data Practitioner Bank’s data analysis tool reveals that medical malpractice payouts in 2021 exceeded $3.1 billion.

Medical malpractice can severely impact the health, safety, and financial stability of injured parties. They can sue a hospital, especially when they incur catastrophic injuries and losses.

Facing court battles against hospitals and medical professionals can be arduous. It is advisable to seek the insights of legal experts before going to court. Always prioritize consulting a trusted medical malpractice attorney.
Partnering with medical malpractice lawyers expands your options for establishing demandable rights and claiming rightful compensation. The Personal Injury Center can provide ample updated resources to deepen your understanding of the case.

Key Takeaways
  • Medical malpractice can severely impact patients’ health, safety, and financial stability.
  • In a medical malpractice lawsuit, claimants should establish the four legal elements. These include professional duty, breach of duty, injury caused by a breach of duty, and resulting damages.
  • Hospitals incur vicarious liability through the negligence of their employees, such as misdiagnosis, delayed diagnosis, and surgical errors.

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What is medical malpractice?

Medical negligence or medical malpractice is when a hospital or its staff render medical care erroneously, causing personal injury to patients. It also happens when medical professionals deliver a substandard quality of care.

You may not have a medical malpractice claim when you are merely dissatisfied with the services of your healthcare provider. Typical cases that warrant a lawsuit include misdiagnosis, unnecessary surgeries, surgical errors, improper medications, and poor aftercare.

Medical malpractice lawsuits heavily involve technicalities. Interested parties should familiarize themselves with medical malpractice facts and solicit legal counsel.

Different medical malpractice laws apply per state. However, the medical malpractice law under Section 2702 of the US Code contains blanket provisions protecting victims of medical negligence.

Legal Elements of Medical Malpractice

Many medical malpractice lawsuits fail because injured parties do not establish a strong enough claim against their offenders. Proving the existence of an injury is not enough to win the case.

Parties intending to sue a hospital should aim to establish the four legal elements of medical malpractice. All four should be present in the case. Otherwise, the lawsuit will fail, and the defendants will receive an acquittal.

The four legal elements include professional duty, breach of duty, injuries caused by the breach, and resulting damages. Some refer to these elements as the “4 Ds,” an abbreviation for duty, dereliction, damages, and direct causation.

Professional duty 

Professional duty refers to the responsibility to act with reasonable care and skill while treating patients. All medical professionals should observe this duty at all times.
The first element of professional duty arises when a doctor-patient relationship begins. Also known as the provider-patient relationship, it starts when the medical professional consents to providing medical care to patients.

States have differing interpretations of the doctor-patient relationship. Affirmative acts like examining, diagnosing, and agreeing to medical treatment may start a doctor-patient relationship.

Once the doctor-patient relationship exists, the medical professional must treat the patient. Improper termination of such a relationship will constitute abandonment of their professional duty. 

Breach of duty

Breach of duty or dereliction happens when medical professionals do not perform their responsibilities according to acceptable standards of care. Standard of care is the level of diligence a reasonable individual would exercise under similar circumstances.

For medical providers, the standard of care refers to customary practices rendered by other average medical providers with similar training. 

Proving a breach of duty in a medical negligence case would require the participation of an expert witness. Laymen lack the knowledge and experience to substantiate any medical condition, medical error, or wrongful injury that may have transpired.

Injured parties may no longer need to prove the required standard of care when the medical professional commits egregious acts. Common examples include sexual assault and physical abuse.

Injury caused by the breach of duty

Proving a breach of due care is insufficient to complete a medical malpractice claim. Parties should also present in court that they sustained personal injuries after receiving substandard care.

The relationship between the breach and the sustained injuries should be direct or proximate. In other words, the doctor or hospital’s substandard care is the logical cause of the damage.

Failing to prove the direct causation between the medical error and the subsequent injuries may weaken the lawsuit. It is a critical factor that makes the erring medical provider liable for the patients’ suffering. 

Resulting damages

Damages is the monetary award the injured party deems reasonable to compensate for their injuries. Most medical malpractice claims end with a provision discussing damages. 

Parties may claim two types of damages in medical malpractice cases: compensatory and punitive.

Compensatory damages cover indemnification for medical treatment and other necessary costs. In contrast, punitive damages punish offending parties who committed grave misconduct. For example, a doctor deliberately destroys medical records to conceal his malpractice.

Courts are keen on finding the direct causation between medical providers’ acts and the resulting damages. However, in some instances, judges apply the “relaxed causation rule” or loss of chance doctrine. Through a preponderance of the evidence, injured parties should prove the medical provider’s negligence substantially denied them a better outcome.

Vicarious Liability of Hospitals

A hospital and its medical staff are two independent entities. However, when a medical provider causes injury to a patient, the patient may also sue the hospital for medical practice. The lawsuit may prosper even if the erring medical professionals are non-employee doctors or independent contractors.

Suing a hospital for a wrongful injury or medical error may entail complexities. After establishing the four legal elements of medical malpractice, parties should also prove the hospital’s vicarious liability.

Bearing vicarious liability means supervisors and employers become responsible for their subordinates’ mistakes. Section 30510 of the US Code explains when a hospital incurs vicarious liability for its crew.

In July 2022, the Texas Supreme Court declared that Lubbock Heart Hospital incurred vicarious liability. It held the hospital responsible for its doctor’s inability to diagnose a patient’s need for a pacemaker.

Instances When You Can Sue a Hospital

Patients have no legal standing to sue a hospital because they are dissatisfied with the rendered care or service. Given the four legal elements of a medical malpractice claim, injured parties may only raise specific medical errors in court.

This section will enumerate and discuss scenarios when injured parties may sue a hospital for negligence. However, this list is not exhaustive.

Coordinate with a medical malpractice lawyer to determine whether you have a strong case against a hospital or medical center. They can help you choose the best legal options for your circumstances.

Misdiagnosis and delayed diagnosis

Misdiagnosis and delayed diagnosis are distinct from each other. However, both can lead to severe consequences for patients.

Misdiagnosis is when a medical provider diagnoses a patient for a medical condition they do not have. For example, a doctor pronounces a woman to have breast cancer when her condition is mastitis.

On the other hand, delayed diagnosis occurs when the medical professional does not realize a patient’s presentation of symptoms. The provider could have diagnosed the disease earlier if they had intensively studied the patient’s medical history or ordered more tests.

Patients should get the correct diagnosis the first time. 

Surgical errors

No surgical procedure is perfect, and surgical errors can happen anytime. However, not all surgical errors will qualify as medical malpractice claims.

Surgical errors pertain to mistakes medical professionals commit during surgery. The following are common mistakes that surgical teams commit:

  • Accidental incisions
  • Operating on the wrong body part
  • Damaging healthy body parts
  • Leaving surgical tools within the patient’s body
  • Anesthesia errors
  • Failing to prevent surgical complications
  • Delivering substandard postoperative care

A surgical error may become medical malpractice when the medical professional does not observe the appropriate duty of care. In addition, such a failure must be the actual and proximate cause of the injury.

Medication errors

Medication errors are inept acts of healthcare professionals that potentially lead to inappropriate medication use and injury of patients. These are preventable mistakes resulting from the failure of the attending medical providers to exercise the proper standard of care.

The most ways to commit medication errors are as follows: 

  • Incorrect dispensing of medications
  • Miscalculating dosages
  • Failing to identify drug contraindications
  • Dispensing expired medications

Giving the wrong medication may seem simple and inconsequential for many, but its consequences can be life-threatening. Besides death, taking the wrong medicines can complicate existing conditions and cause congenital disabilities if taken by pregnant patients.

Inadequate sanitation and safety protocols

All hospitals and medical institutions should uphold high-standard protocols for sanitation and safety. Unsanitized spaces could expose patients to infections that may cause health complications.

The following are red flags that indicate a hospital does not have adequate sanitation and safety protocols:

  • Non-isolation of high-risk patients
  • Improper disposal of medical wastes
  • Presence of debris in rooms and hallways
  • Low-quality and poorly maintained medical equipment
  • Slow emergency services
  • Understaffed healthcare workers

Consult a medical malpractice lawyer to confirm if a hospital is non-compliant with minimum sanitation and safety standards.

Failure to obtain informed consent

Attending medical providers are duty-bound to inform patients of the risks of the medical treatment they will undergo. Medical professionals can only commence the procedure after patients give their informed consent.

States have distinct ways of determining the requirement of informed consent. Most courts follow one of these standards:

  • Reasonable patient standard – Patients should know the risks that would influence a reasonable person in consenting to a medical procedure.
  • Reasonable physician standard – Patients should receive the amount of information typical physicians relay before asking patients to undergo or reject a medical procedure.

Failure to monitor patient

A hospital can be liable for medical malpractice when its staff does not monitor patients closely. Patient monitoring is an integral part of hospital care. 

Lack of careful and responsive monitoring may cause injury to patients. Some patients may have conditions that require intensive support and follow-up.

Miscommunication of test results, diagnoses, or treatment plans

A recent study shows that communication failures significantly contribute to the proliferation of malpractice claims. In addition, malpractice rooted in communication issues are least likely to be dropped or dismissed.

Patients often need a multidisciplinary medical team for their treatment. Since their medical records pass from one hand to another, the risk of miscommunication increases. 

The more miscommunication occurs, the more likely patients will suffer personal injuries. This tendency may also increase the risk of erroneous entries for medical expenses.

Damages Associated With Medical Malpractice

The damages that injured parties receive in a successful medical malpractice claim may vary on a case-to-case basis. Additionally, some states may impose caps on some damages.

For example, a Philadelphia jury awarded $43.5 million to an athlete in a medical negligence suit that compromised his football career. In Ada county, the jury awarded the plaintiff $13.5 million in non-economic damages, exceeding the state’s $400,000 cap. The lawsuit was against an emergency medicine provider group for mismanaging the care of a stroke patient.

There are various damages that parties can claim when they decide to sue a hospital. Here is a list of common claims in medical malpractice cases:

  • Actual damages
  • Compensation for income loss
  • Loss of employment
  • Past and future hospital costs
  • Punitive damages

Not all medical errors are considered personal injury. Consult with a medical malpractice attorney for a complete assessment of your case.

Did you know?

Your right to sue a hospital has a time limit. A statute of limitation prescribes a period when parties may initiate legal actions. Most medical malpractice cases have a limit of one to three years.

Protect Yourself Against Medical Malpractice

The impact of medical malpractice on patients can be severe and require immediate legal action. You do not have to suffer the consequences of other people’s negligence. 

However, if you intend to sue a hospital, establish the four legal elements first. Consider getting legal advice from a medical malpractice lawyer to learn more.

The Personal Injury Center can connect you to a trustworthy law firm and legal experts without hassle. Book a free consultation to get things started.

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Don’t suffer injuries caused by the negligence of a medical or health professional in silence. Find out your rights and get legal representation from The Personal Injury Center.

FAQs on Suing a Hospital for Malpractice

It depends. The total amount you can claim will depend on the injuries you suffered. Note that some states impose a claim cap. Consult a medical malpractice lawyer to do a proper valuation of your case.

It is possible. You might have a solid medical malpractice case if the physician did not disclose the nature and risks of the drug beforehand.

Going to court is one of the ways to settle a medical malpractice claim. However, some lawyers will advise settling all claims between parties out-of-court.