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Decoding Medical Malpractice Law in the United States

by | Jul 29, 2023 | Medical Malpractice

Overview

There are no arguments that healthcare professionals are the soldiers on the frontline. Even the global pandemic repeats the story of their sacrifice and dedication. Advancements in medical technologies have always contributed extensively by providing sustainable healthcare to the world. However, it has always been yoked with the increasing incidents of medical malpractice around the globe, especially in the United States.

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Medical malpractice law makes it possible to seek compensation for any harm, a patient suffers as a result of substandard medical treatment. You would not have forgotten the tragic death of Michael Jackson, the King of Pop. Dr.Conrad Murray- his personal in-home physician was sued when it was proved that routine overdosage of Propofol administration caused the death. Dr. Murray was arrested for involuntary manslaughter and was punished with four years in prison. His medical licenses in Texas and California were canceled, and he had to pay a compensation of $100 million to Jackson’s family.

Let it be a prescription or an amputation, it’s all about the health and life of the patient. The consequence of medical negligence may turn out to be catastrophic to the patient. Studies indicate that the third greatest cause of death in the U.S. is medical negligence. Approximately 17,000 medical malpractice lawsuits are filed every year.

Medical malpractice law regulates doctors’ and other healthcare providers’ responsibilities when they negligently fulfill their obligations and cause injury to a patient. In simple terms, a doctor will be held accountable if his or her actions cause damage to the patient. Each state has its own rules and procedures for dealing with med mal claims.

Having discussed enough the types of medical practice and the lawsuits in our previous blogs, let’s get to know about the process of medical record reviewing that decides the fate of majority of the medical malpractice claims in the U.S.

Medical record review is the process of analysing the medical records of the claimants, thereby cherrypicking the medical evidence required to substantiate the claim. Expert medical record reviews can shoulder the claim and bag deserving compensation for the victim.

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How Does Medical Malpractice Law Work?

Medical Malpractice is a well-known field of law, falling within the umbrella of accidents and injuries. Each professional involved in medical care has a general obligation to practice medicine in a certain way. Failure or breach of that duty, causing harm to the patient, is medical malpractice. The patient would be entitled to file a malpractice lawsuit in such cases.

Medical malpractice law was framed back in the 19th Century under the English common law. The law came under ’tort law’ that dealt with injuries to people or their property. Medical malpractice was categorized under the tort of ‘negligence’. Medical malpractice law has witnessed tremendous restructurings in the last 30 years of the 20th century. Numerous issues were addressed, and ‘tort reforms’ were introduced.

The claimant in a medical malpractice claim would be the patient or his/her dependents under certain circumstances.  The defendant could be any professional who has breached the duty of care in the treatment cycle of the patient. The common defendants in medical malpractice litigation are physicians, nurses, radiologists, ER professionals, or healthcare providers. This depends on the circumstances of the litigation.

Medical malpractice law demands the following criteria to be fulfilled to consider a claim as med mal.

1. A violation of the standard of care

The medical malpractice law has identified a few medical standards known as the ‘standard of care. A healthcare professional should always provide these standards.

2. Negligence results in an injury

The negligence should have ended up in injury and harm to the claimant. It is the burden of the claimant to substantiate that the damage would not have occurred in the absence of the negligence factor.

3. The injury causes significant damages

The injury or harm should have caused vital damages to the claimant. In fact, the extent of damages determines the validity of a medical malpractice lawsuit. More the severity of the damages, more the compensation.

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Common Medical Malpractice Lawsuits

The following are the most commonly reported medical malpractice in the United States that give rise to medical malpractice lawsuits.

Prescription Errors

Prescription of a medicine to a patient with a known allergy, prescribing the wrong drug, or prescribing the improper dose of the drug are the most prevalent drug-related errors.

The improper dose may include overdosage, underdosage, and additional dosage. When an unsuitable or different medication dose is provided than what is authorized, it will affect the patient’s health.

Misdiagnosis

The consequences of a misdiagnosis or inability to diagnose a disease can be severe. Any illness requires early detection and prompt treatment for the best chances of recovery. Any issues in the diagnostic procedure can have a significant negative impact on the patient’s survival.

Premature Discharge

When a hospital discharges the patient too early before they get well is called premature discharge. Overcrowding of the patients and shortage of healthcare staff are the common reasons for premature discharge.

Leaving Foreign Bodies Inside the Patient’s Body

It is estimated that 1 out of every 5,500 surgeries involves mistakenly leaving objects within the patient’s body. Around 51.4 million procedures are performed in the United States each year, this translates to approximately 9,345 surgeries every year, where a sponge or device is left inside the patient’s body.

Surgical Errors

Around 4000 surgical errors occur per year in the United States. This may be due to errors in diagnosis, diagnostic reports, carelessness of the surgical team, or miscommunication between the physician and the healthcare team.

Anesthesia errors

Anesthesia is required to keep patients pain-free throughout medical procedures. When an anesthesiologist gives an improper dosage of anesthesia, it will cause serious complications during and after the surgery. Anesthesia errors may cause significant organ damage.

Emergency Room Errors

When the medical professionals working in the emergency department make rushed decisions, it may cause damage to the patients.

How to Know If You Have a Medical Malpractice Claim?

Medical malpractice law in the United States is controlled by civil law rather than criminal statutes. It is governed by the states rather than the federal government. Malpractice isn’t the cause of every bad medical outcome. To have a claim, you must be able to prove the negligence of the doctor. And you need to prove that you were hurt or became ill as a result of that breach.

You may be entitled to pursue a medical malpractice claim if you were injured while receiving care at a medical facility. However, there are a few things you need to prove and establish first. Medical malpractice claims are tough to prove, so you need an experienced medical malpractice lawyer who can look into the situation, gather evidence, consult specialists, and take other efforts to strengthen your case.

Some of the requirements of medical malpractice claims are,

  • You can’t sue a doctor without proof. Under medical malpractice law, the claimant should establish the physician-patient relationship. He/she should have been under the care of the physician/ healthcare professional who is being sued.
  • A malpractice claim must be filed within a legally defined time limit, known as the statute of limitations. In every state, different statutes of limitations are followed. In some states, the statute of limitation starts when the person is injured. In a few states, it does not start until the victim reasonably knows about the damage.
  • Typically, the patient must have a medical expert testify that the harm was caused by the doctor’s negligence. As per the earlier medical malpractice law, only witnesses of the same medical community can give testification. This caused reluctance in the witnesses to point out the negligence of the fellow physicians. Considering that gap, the law was modified. Current law allows professional witnesses who give expert opinions in med mal lawsuits.
  • If you don’t have satisfaction with the treatment, it doesn’t mean the doctor is liable for medical malpractice errors. For that, you have to prove that the doctor was negligent during treatment or misdiagnosed the disease. It is medical malpractice when a doctor fails to inform the patient about the possible risks, side effects, and dangers. This is particularly applicable to surgical procedures.
  • Informed consent forms may protect the physician and prove that the possible risks of the procedure were explained to the patient. However, it would cover only the possible and expected dangers of the procedure and not the medical malpractice by any of the healthcare professionals. We will weigh up the pros and cons of informed consent in the upcoming blog. Stay updated.

Damages Covered In a Medical Malpractice Claim

There are two types of legal damages covered for medical malpractice cases.

1. Compensative damages

It covers financial losses. It includes lost wages, future medical bills, medical care, pain, and suffering, and lost earning potential.

2. Punitive damages

Punitive damages are awarded to penalize the defendant and provide further recompense. When a doctor made an injury purposely to the plaintiff, it comes under punitive damages.

Medical Malpractice Statutes of limitation

States

Statutes

Time limitation

Alabama Code of Alabama section 6-5-482 2 years
Alaska Alaska Statutes section 09.10.070 2 years
Arizona Arizona Revised Statutes section 12-542 2 years
Arkansas Arkansas Code section 16-114-203 2 years
California California Code of Civil Procedure section 340.5 1 yr/3 yrs
Colorado Colorado Revised Statutes section 13-80-102.5 2 years
Connecticut Gen. Stat. of Connecticut section 52-584 2 years
Delaware Title 18 Delaware Code section 6856 2 years
District of Columbia D.C. Code section 12-301 3 years
Florida Florida Statutes section 95.11(4)(b) 2 years
Georgia Code of Georgia section 9-3-71 2 years
Hawaii Hawaii Revised Statutes section 657-7.3 2 years
Idaho Idaho Statutes section 5-219 2 years
Illinois Illinois Comp. Statutes section 5/13-212(a) 2 years
Indiana Indiana Code section 34-18-7-1 2 years
Iowa Iowa Code section 614.1 2 years
Kansas Kansas Statutes section 60-513 2 years
Kentucky Kentucky Revised Statutes section 413.140 1 year
Louisiana Louisiana Revised Statutes section 9:5628 1 year
Maine Maine Revised Statutes Title 24 section 2902 3 years
Maryland Maryland Cts & Jud. Proc. Code section 5-109 3 yrs / 5 yrs
Massachusetts Massachusetts General Laws Ch. 260 section 4 3 years
Michigan Michigan Comp. Laws section 600.5805 2 years
Minnesota Minnesota Statutes section 541.076 4 years
Mississippi Mississippi Code section 15-1-36(1) 2 years
Missouri Missouri Revised Statutes section 516.105 2 years
Montana Montana Code section 27-2-205 3 years
Nebraska Nebraska Revised Statutes section 44-2828 2 years
Nevada Nevada Revised Statutes section 41A.097 3 years
New Hampshire New Hampshire Revised Statutes section 507:C-4 2 years
New Jersey New Jersey Statutes section 2A:14-2 2 years
New Mexico New Mexico Statutes section 41-5-13 3 years
New York N.Y. Civil Practice Law and Rules section 214-a. 2.5 years
North Carolina North Carolina General Statutes section 1-15 3 years
North Dakota North Dakota Century Code section 28-01-18 2 years
Ohio Ohio Revised Code section 2305.113 1 year
Oklahoma Oklahoma Statutes section 76-18 2 years
Oregon Oregon Revised Statutes section 12.110 2 years
Pennsylvania Penn. Cons. Statutes Title 42 section 5524 2 years
Rhode Island Rhode Island Statutes section 9-1-14.1 3 years
South Carolina South Carolina Code section 15-3-545 3 years
South Dakota South Dakota Codified Laws section 15-2-14.1 2 years
Tennessee Tennessee Code section 29-26-116 1 yr / 3 yrs
Texas Texas Civil Practice and Rem. Code section 74.251 2 years
Utah Utah Code section 78B-3-404 2 years
Vermont 12 Vermont Statutes section 521 3 years
Virginia Code of Virginia section 8.01-243 2 years
Washington Rev. Code of Washington section 4.16.350 3 years
West Virginia West Virginia Code section 55-7B-4 2 years
Wisconsin Wisconsin Statutes section 893.55 3 years
Wyoming Wyoming Statutes section 1-3-107 2 years

Why Do We Need Medical Malpractice Attorneys?

Expert medical malpractice lawyers gather all pertinent hospital and medical records and review them extensively. He would investigate the claim to find the cause and the liable party.

When the medical malpractice claim is against a huge healthcare corporative, the claimant should be shouldered with strong evidence. As always, the defendant would try to minimize the compensation with a settlement. A skilled and knowledgeable medical malpractice attorney would help the claimant in handling the conversations with insurers and other hospital representatives.

The medical records act as vital evidence in substantiating the claim. Attorneys have the medical charts of the claimant reviewed by certified medical record review companies. A professional medical record review and analysis could easily reflect the medical malpractice element in the claim. This would support the plaintiff to get the deserved restitution mirroring all the damages he had sustained due to the negligence of the defendant.

Need Precise Medical Record Review?

How did the medical records change the fate of your med mal claim? Let us know.

Conclusion

As medical encounters are unavoidable in our life, it is important to know how the legal system works for medical negligence. Medical malpractice litigation requires the testimony of multiple medical experts to analyze the standard of care and the negligence factor. This often adds up to the expense of the entire litigation process.

Medical malpractice law neglects the claim if the claimant has suffered complications from his disease and not with the standard of medical care. Always keep in mind that all injuries need to be medical malpractice. Before jumping into the claim, it is important to get the guidance of an experienced medical malpractice attorney. A detailed case evaluation with the support of your medical records would make the job easy.

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