What is Medical Malpractice?
Medical malpractice refers to a situation where a healthcare provider, such as a hospital or doctor, does not maintain the expected standard of care, leading to patient harm or injury. Though healthcare professionals aren’t held accountable for every harm a patient may experience, they are legally answerable when the harm or injury is a direct result of their deviation from the accepted standard of care.
For an event to be termed as medical malpractice in the U.S., several conditions must be satisfied:
Breach of Standard of Care: All healthcare practitioners must abide by certain professional standards. Any deviation from these can be seen as negligence.
Proof of Injury Due to Negligence: A mere feeling of negligence isn’t sufficient for a claim. The patient needs to demonstrate that the negligence directly resulted in an injury and that such an injury wouldn’t have occurred otherwise.
Significant Damaging Consequences: The harm caused by the negligence should have led to substantial damages. This could be emotional distress, persistent pain, substantial loss of earnings, or disability.
Acts of omission or failing to do something necessary can also be seen as negligence. Simply being unhappy with treatment outcomes does not mean there was malpractice. It’s malpractice only if negligence is involved and directly results in injury.
What negligence situations can lead to malpractice?
- Incorrect or unnecessary surgeries.
- Misdiagnosis or a missed diagnosis.
- Inappropriate early discharges from care.
- Failing to order or act upon test results.
- Ignoring follow-ups.
- Wrong medication or dosage prescriptions.
- Post-operative continuous pain.
- ospital-acquired severe infections.
- Surgical items left inside a patient.
- Hospital fires or in-care patient suicides.
- Specific medications, like blood thinners, are particularly prone to errors. Medications, while preventing blood clots, can increase bleeding risks at higher dosages. However, the exact death toll from malpractice remains uncertain. Implementing best practice guidelines and strict hand hygiene protocols have reportedly reduced hospital errors.
What is the Legal Process for Malpractice Cases?
Plaintiff: The individual (or representative) making the complaint or filing the lawsuit.
Defendant: The accused party, typically the healthcare provider.
Fact-finder: This can be a judge or a jury deciding on the case.
For a successful malpractice claim, the plaintiff must establish:
- The healthcare provider owed a duty.
- This duty was breached.
- The breach directly caused an injury.
- Significant damages resulted from the injury.
Once a lawsuit is filed, both parties engage in a discovery phase, sharing pertinent information. Settlements can occur outside the court, but if no agreement is reached, the case proceeds to trial. During trials, expert witnesses usually testify about the standard of care. The fact-finder then makes a verdict, either for the plaintiff or the defendant. Depending on the verdict, compensatory and possibly punitive damages might be awarded to the plaintiff. These damages could be economic, such as lost wages or medical expenses, or non-economic, like pain or emotional distress. In certain cases where extreme misconduct is proven, punitive damages may also be awarded as a form of punishment.