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Medical Malpractice: Why Things Go Wrong

Medical malpractice is a broad term that can encompass a lot of different things going wrong under the care of a doctor or nurse. If you have suffered an injury or other harm as a result of medical malpractice, you have the opportunity to bring your case to court and potentially receive substantial compensation.

What Qualifies as Medical Malpractice?

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Any situation that involves a patient being injured by a health professional due to their carer’s negligence or failure to do something that they should have known to do is medical malpractice. This can range from a relatively minor infection that develops as a result of a poorly thought out a prescription to catastrophic injury or death from a botched surgery.

Common examples of medical malpractice include:

  • An incorrect diagnosis – when a serious matter, giving a wrong diagnosis can have serious consequences, from the side effects of unnecessary medication to the implications of letting a grave disease run its course untreated;
  • Surgical error – as you could guess, this may be the gravest form of malpractice, as a lot can go wrong under the knife. Unsteady hands have no business in the operating room, and mistakes can come from carelessness, working under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or other preventable factors.
  • Anesthesia miscalculations – many types of operations require the patient to be under general anesthesia. This can be the case from something as simple as a hernia repair to triple bypass heart surgery. Anesthesiologists are specially trained to know exactly what dosage of anesthesia to administer based on such factors as the patient’s mass, gender, medical history, medications, and the type of operation involved. Calculation errors can easily put a patient to sleep permanently, which is why it takes more than eight years to become a licensed anesthesiologist in the US!
  • Medication errors – This can take multiple forms, from an error in prescribing the medication on the part of a doctor, or an error in administering medication, such as giving improper dosages, by an attending nurse.
  • Delivery problems – Sometimes, complications during pregnancy will lead a doctor to opt to perform an emergency c section. In fact, there are certain conditions that require a doctor to do this, and failure to do so can constitute malpractice. Cerebral palsy is one such debilitating condition that is a direct result of problems during delivery

Here you can learn more about common medical malpractice instances.

Remembering the Four D’s of Medical Malpractice

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When it comes to addressing any of these examples of malpractice in a court of law, there are four D’s that your case needs to meet the threshold of in order to move forward in court.

Duty – This refers to the doctor, nurse, or other health professional’s responsibility to you, the patient. Attorneys demonstrate this first D from the individual’s title and their job description.

Deviation from duty – A more nuanced assessment, deviation from duty involves demonstrating that the health professional messed up. This is not always so easy to demonstrate, as one must prove that they should have known better because of their training and that other doctors or nurses in the same position would have acted differently.

Damages – In this case, damages are the injuries you received as a result of the medical malpractice, but also the complications that may have arisen from those injuries. This can include monetary loss, such as lost wages or lost opportunity. It can also include harder-to-monetize items such as pain and suffering.

Direct cause – This is the hardest of the four D’s to nail down. Your attorney really has to show that the doctor’s negligent actions or omission were the direct and immediate cause of the injury you received or the long term damages sustained.

What you Need for Your Case

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Expert witnesses are often needed to provide testimony in medical malpractice cases, either in court or through a sworn deposition. Expert witnesses in medical malpractice cases are often specialists in the field who sometimes have the same job as the doctor who you are suing.

Some cases, however, need not require an expert witness, which can be helpful as expert witnesses will often charge several thousand dollars for case preparation and testimony. Such cases generally involve so-called “never events”, which are situations in which the health professional does something that they should never do under any circumstance.

For example, if a doctor performing a kidney transplant is drunk and takes out the wrong kidney, it’s quite possible that a judge or jury is going to order enormous damages in your favor without needing to hear from an expert witness. After all, it doesn’t take an expert to know that performing organ transplants under the influence is a pretty bad idea.

Any type of personal injury lawsuit relies on evidence, so your attorney is going to need all documentation pertaining to your medical treatment. They may need to interview all of the health professionals who attended the operation that went wrong, or who were in any way involved in your treatment.

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Final Tips

Always speak to an attorney before pursuing any type of legal case. A qualified attorney can first review your case and medical documentation to let you know right away if you have a good chance of success or not.

Medical malpractice is actually a leading cause of death in the US, following close behind cancer and heart disease. While this represents a tragic trend of flaws in the medical industry, the silver lining is that medical malpractice suits often yield enormous payouts.

For serious injuries or death, no amount of money might ever truly compensate for the serious losses involved, not to mention the pain and suffering experienced as a result, or the complications resulting from its long recovery and aftermath.

But as a victim of medical malpractice, you are owed the opportunity to see your case brought before a court of law. And with the right representation, strong evidence, and a good argument, you have a good chance of gaining a windfall in monetary damages.


Ricardo is a freelance writer specialized in politics. He is with foreignpolicyi.org from the beginning and helps it grow. Email: richardorland4[at]gmai.com