Medical Malpractice Basics

When they go to the hospital, people expect to have their injuries and illnesses treated in a professional manner. No one ever expects to have their condition worsened because of a doctor's mistakes. Yet medical negligence is prevalent in hospitals and clinics across the country. Medical malpractice claims involve a wide range of procedures, from failing to diagnose a dangerous condition to operating on the wrong side of the body.

Medical malpractice occurs when a physician breaches (or falls below) the duty of care owed to a patient by deviating from accepted standards of practice, and such a breach results in harm to the patient. This is different than a procedure or treatment simply being unsuccessful, or a patient being unsatisfied with their results. Since malpractice is based on a theory of negligence, there must be proof that the medical professional or facility did not use reasonable care in treating a patient. This is usually proven by showing that the healthcare professional acted in a manner that was not consistent with industry standards.

Many patients believe that their doctors have been negligent and seek damages in a lawsuit, but courts only focus on actual damages stemming from a breach in the duty of care. As such, the emotional trauma or embarrassment from a botched procedure may not be enough to support a claim. To determine if you may have a case, consider these factors:

  • Did you recover? - If a surgical error caused you to have complications or additional injuries, these could be considered significant damages and may support a lawsuit. But they must be significant. If an error caused you to have an extra few days of recovery, that may be within the threshold of acceptable risks. However, if an error leads to considerable recovery time or permanent damage, that may support a lawsuit.
  • What was the standard of care? - Rudeness or disrespect is not helpful where communication is key. It does not inspire confidence with the patient, and does not help in stressful situations. In and of itself, such conduct is not actionable. However, ignoring safety protocols to save time (or see more patients) could be evidence of negligence.
  • Were conditions communicated? - If revisions to a patient's medical chart were not communicated, or a doctor was not properly updated regarding a patient's condition, those in charge could be held liable.
  • Should your situation ever happen? - If your experience was unique and outrageous, leaving someone to say "that should never happen", this may give rise to a medical malpractice suit. For example, a person who undergoes a low-risk procedure and ends up with permanent damage because of a negligent act could have a strong claim.

If you or a loved one has been harmed in the midst of a medical procedure, an experienced attorney can advise you of your rights and options.