No one wants to think about the possibility of medical negligence or mistakes occurring when they receive medical care. The reality is, however, that medical negligence is the third leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association, so it’s something we should all be wary of when we or someone we love seek medical care.
The best way to avoid becoming another number in this unfortunate statistic is by educating yourself on the subject of medical malpractice--and to become your best healthcare advocate. Start by learning the answers to the following questions:
1. What is the legal definition of medical malpractice?
Medical malpractice is defined as any act or omission by a physician or healthcare provider during treatment of a patient that deviates from accepted norms of practice in the medical community, or “standard of care,” and causes an injury to the patient. The “standard of care” is defined as what a reasonably prudent medical provider would or would not have done under the same, or similar circumstances.
2. How can you determine if you have been the victim of medical malpractice?
Simply experiencing a bad outcome after a medical procedure isn’t considered hard proof of medical negligence. Physicians may inform you that you received negligent medical care from a previous provider, or they may even admit to fault themselves. Healthcare providers can be motivated to be honest about negligence and mistakes in order to prevent future claims or to settle without litigation. If you do decide to pursue your case with a medical malpractice attorney, however, keep in mind they will most likely need proof of injuries and damages documented in your health records.
3. Is there a statute of limitations?
Time period limitations and deadlines by which a lawsuit must be filed or permanently barred differ from state to state. Each state also has its own procedural requirements that must be met before a medical malpractice suit is filed. Numerous exceptions, including ones based on when an injury may have been discovered or when a patient was last treated by a physician, also vary and can affect the deadlines. To determine the exact time limitation for your case, it is best to seek guidance from an experienced attorney licensed in the state where your alleged malpractice occurred.
4. What should you do if you suspect negligent care?
Your first step when dealing with suspected medical malpractice is to contact an experienced malpractice attorney. You won’t know for sure if you have a legitimate case until medical records have been obtained and reviewed, and the proper experts have been consulted. All of these steps, including interviews with the suspected victim and their family members, should be conducted by the attorney to determine whether or not the case is actionable.
5. How can you avoid the likelihood of experiencing medical malpractice?
As mentioned above, you have the best chance of avoiding medical malpractice by becoming your own healthcare advocate, and by being proactive about your healthcare. Learn about your medical conditions and research how they are best treated. Document your symptoms, ask your doctor any questions you feel may be important, and document all conversations and answers you may receive. While not always practical, having a close friend or family member accompany you to doctor’s visits and medical procedures can be helpful when documenting what occurred and what was said.
Even the most proactive patients can become victims of medical malpractice, however. Errors during surgery, as well as diagnostic and medication errors can sometimes be unavoidable. It’s still best to be as informed and proactive as possible to combat malpractice if and when it does occur.
6. Have there been any shifts in the handling of or perception of medical malpractice?
Despite a declining number of malpractice claims, a perception of “lawsuits gone wild” still exists, and many states have imposed substantial limits on damage awards in an effort to curb the number of malpractice claims filed. These limits have been found to have the greatest impact on those patients who were gravely injured, and face the greatest future medical needs. These patients are then often left to rely on public programs like Medicare or Medicaid to pay their medical bills, shifting the cost of medical malpractice to the public rather than the responsible parties.
7. Why are some legitimate cases of medical malpractice unexplored?
Typically, legitimate malpractice cases go unexplored because the patient does not pursue the case. This can happen for a number of reasons:
- Patients do not know who to turn to for help
- They are unaware of the strict limitation periods to pursue claims
- They fear doctors and healthcare systems will learn of their cases and refuse to treat them in the future
- Patients fear, incorrectly, that pursuing a case will result in an increase in the cost of their medical care
- They believe they cannot afford the perceived personal and financial costs associated with litigation
8. Are certain medical procedures consistently at the root of medical malpractice suits?
Medical malpractice can occur in almost any way possible, but the most common cases involve diagnostic or medication errors. Diagnostic errors occur when conditions or illnesses are misdiagnosed or not diagnosed on time. Medication errors could be the wrong medication was prescribed, the wrong dose of a medication was given, the medication was delivered in the wrong form (such as via an IV vs. a pill), or the medication interacted negatively with another medication that was given.
“Tunnel vision” or a healthcare provider’s failure to look at the larger picture, can also lead to medical mistakes.
9. How long can a medical malpractice case and/or trial last?
Depending on the complexity of the case, medical malpractice cases can take months to years to settle. Malpractice attorneys will be involved on daily basis, but the patients are only specifically required to be directly involved on a few occasions. Even though they won’t be part of the day-to-day activity, patients should receive periodic notifications of the progress of the case.
Medical malpractice trial lengths are also dependent upon the complexity of the case, and can last anywhere from a few days to several weeks.
10. How often do medical malpractice trials settle without a trial?
Less than 5% of medical malpractice cases go to trial, and between 20-25% of cases settle without a trial. The remaining cases are resolved, usually through a dismissal, without any payments made.
If you or a loved one suspect you were the victim of medical malpractice or neglect in Southwest Florida, the experienced attorneys at Lusk, Drasites & Tolisano are ready to help. Contact us today.