When to File a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit

When to File a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit

When to file a medical malpractice lawsuit

Medical malpractice cases arise when a healthcare provider fails to meet the standard of care, leading to harm or injury to the patient. Timing is crucial in such cases. Ideally, you should consider filing a lawsuit when they suspect medical negligence or an injury due to potential malpractice is first discovered.

We would be honored to review your medical malpractice claim at Ryan LLP. We can set you up with a medical malpractice lawyer who can look at your case and see if you deserve compensation. Learn more about medical malpractice claims below, and call us to schedule a consultation with our medical malpractice attorney.

Basic Requirements for a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit

Basic requirements for a medical malpractice lawsuit

Three primary elements form the foundation of a medical malpractice statute lawsuit following a healthcare provider's mistake:

  • Establishing that a provider-patient relationship existed.
  • Proving that the healthcare professional was negligent.
  • Demonstrating that this negligence caused actual harm to the patient.

A Provider-Patient Relationship Existed

One of the fundamental prerequisites for a medical malpractice case is to demonstrate that a provider-patient relationship exists between the parties involved. This relationship establishes the healthcare provider's duty of care towards the patient, forming the legal basis for any subsequent negligence claims. This relationship is usually implied when a healthcare provider examines or treats a patient.

Evidence, such as appointment records, hospital or clinic billing records, emails, and written correspondence between the patient and the provider, can be used to establish this relationship. However, merely consulting a healthcare professional socially or outside the confines of a professional setting does not constitute a provider-patient relationship.

The Health Care Professional Was Negligent

Once a provider-patient relationship is established, proving that the healthcare provider was negligent in the duty of care they owed the patient becomes necessary. Merely being dissatisfied with the treatment or results does not constitute negligence. There must be a breach of the 'standard of care,' which is the level at which the average, prudent provider in a given community would manage a patient's care under the same or similar circumstances.

To determine whether there was negligence, the court will evaluate whether the provider's conduct fell below the established standard of care, often through the testimony of medical experts. These experts typically have to be in the same field as the defendant and can testify about the accepted practices and whether the defendant diverged from these standards in their treatment of the patient.

The Doctor's Negligence Caused Actual Injury

Even when negligence is established, a medical malpractice lawsuit can only proceed if this negligence leads to actual injury or harm. This is often one of the most challenging aspects of a malpractice lawsuit, as it involves proving that the injury was directly caused by the healthcare provider's negligence and not by the underlying medical condition.

It is not uncommon for a patient to already suffer from a medical condition when seeking care. Therefore, the court will need to discern whether the harm was indeed caused by the provider's action (or inaction) and not just a consequence of the pre-existing condition. A clear 'chain of causation' needs to be established, often involving complex medical and scientific evidence.

Common Types of Medical Malpractice

Medical malpractice is not confined to a single type of error or a specific medical context. It can manifest in various forms, each carrying its own unique challenges and consequences.

Surgical Errors

Surgical errors

Surgical errors often come to mind when we think of medical malpractice due to their dramatic and potentially severe outcomes. These errors can range from wrong-site surgery—where the procedure is performed on an incorrect body part—to performing a wrong procedure altogether. These grave mistakes can result in unnecessary pain, injury, or even death.

In other instances, surgical instruments or sponges might be accidentally left inside the patient, leading to infection, injury, or additional surgery to remove the forgotten item. There can also be cases of unnecessary surgery, where a procedure is performed without a sound medical reason, leading to excessive risk for the patient.

Misdiagnosis or Delayed Diagnosis

A correct diagnosis is the cornerstone of effective medical treatment. Misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis can lead to inappropriate treatment or delay necessary interventions, adversely impacting the patient's prognosis. This could sometimes mean the difference between life and death, particularly in severe illnesses such as cancer or heart disease.

Patients might be subjected to unnecessary procedures or medications due to misdiagnosis, causing physical harm or emotional distress. On the other hand, delayed diagnosis can allow a treatable condition to progress to a stage where it becomes incurable or requires more aggressive treatment.

Medication Errors

Medication errors

Medication errors can occur at any stage of a treatment process—from the initial prescription to the drug administration. A healthcare provider might prescribe the wrong medication or dosage, potentially leading to an overdose or inadequate treatment. They may also fail to consider a patient's allergies, other medicines, or specific health conditions, leading to adverse drug interactions or reactions.

Birth Injuries

Childbirth is a delicate process, and medical negligence during this time can lead to significant birth injuries. These could result from inadequate prenatal care, such as failing to diagnose a maternal condition that could impact the baby or not identifying complications that require specific care during delivery.

During labor and delivery, negligence can manifest as a failure to monitor fetal distress, improper use of birth-assisting tools, or delay in performing a necessary cesarean section. These errors can lead to various birth injuries, such as cerebral palsy, Erb's palsy, or hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy, which can have lifelong consequences for the child and family.

Anesthesia Mistakes

Anesthesia mistakes

While less common, anesthesia mistakes can have severe or fatal outcomes. Errors can include administering too much anesthesia, leading to an overdose, or too little, resulting in anesthesia awareness, where a patient wakes up during surgery.

An anesthesiologist might also fail to monitor the patient's vital signs adequately or inform the patient about necessary preoperative procedures, like fasting, which can lead to serious complications like aspiration pneumonia. Other potential errors include poor management of the patient's airway or failure to identify and respond to allergic reactions to the anesthesia.

Failure To Obtain Informed Consent

Every patient has a right to understand their medical care fully. This includes information about their diagnosis, the proposed treatment, alternative options, and potential risks and benefits of each choice. This principle, known as informed consent, allows patients to make educated decisions about their healthcare.

If a healthcare provider performs a procedure without obtaining informed consent or the information provided is incomplete or misleading, it can constitute medical malpractice. There are exceptions, such as in emergencies where consent cannot be obtained, but these are rare and specific circumstances.

Factors Affecting Medical Malpractice Lawsuits

Factors affecting medical malpractice lawsuits

When proceeding with a medical malpractice lawsuit, it's crucial to understand the multiple factors that can significantly influence the outcome, such as:

  • Comparative Negligence and Contributory Negligence: These are legal doctrines often employed in malpractice cases. Comparative negligence considers the degree to which the patient might have contributed to their injury and adjusts the compensation accordingly. Contributory negligence, on the other hand, might bar the patient from any compensation if they're found to have contributed to their injury in any way. 
  • Medical Malpractice Insurance and Its Implications: This factor is critical in litigation. The specifics of the physician's malpractice insurance, including policy limits and the insurer's willingness to settle a case, can affect the timeline, settlement negotiations, and ultimate resolution of the lawsuit.
  • Tort Reform and Its Impact on Medical Malpractice Cases: Many states have implemented tort reforms, often including caps on damages in malpractice cases. These limits can influence the potential settlement amounts and dictate the litigation strategy, including whether to settle or proceed to trial.
  • Public Perception and the Influence on Jury Decisions: The court of public opinion can significantly affect a medical malpractice case. Preconceived notions about malpractice lawsuits, biases against "lawsuit culture," or sympathy towards healthcare professionals can sway jury decisions. 

Proving Your Case in a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit

Building a robust and persuasive argument in a medical malpractice lawsuit is a complex process that hinges significantly on accumulating and presenting substantial evidence. Expert testimonies often form the backbone of such cases, as they provide the critical analysis and professional opinion necessary to determine if the healthcare provider acted negligently or outside the standard of care. 

Furthermore, a thorough review and presentation of relevant medical records is critical because these documents can provide a detailed and factual basis for the claim of negligence. Finally, tangible proof of injury, whether through medical examinations, diagnostic tests, or photographic evidence, is also typically required to demonstrate the direct result of the alleged negligence. 

Statute of Limitations and Filing Deadlines

Every jurisdiction has a specific statute of limitations for filing a medical malpractice lawsuit. This period usually starts from when the malpractice occurred or was discovered. It is important to make sure that you file your lawsuit before the statute of limitations expires. If you fail to do so, your case could be dismissed without ever being heard. 

State-Specific Deadlines for Filing a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit

State specific deadlines for filing a medical malpractice lawsuit

Different states have various deadlines and requirements. For instance, California has a one-year statute from the date of discovery, while Florida has a two-year limit. If you would like to file a medical malpractice lawsuit in Ohio, you must do so before the one-year statute of limitations has expired. 

Exceptions and Extensions to the Statute of Limitations

There are certain circumstances where the statute of limitations may be extended. This may include cases involving minors, mental incompetence, or when the injury was not immediately apparent. Exceptions to these rules are rare, so you must consult with an attorney as quickly as possible. 

Consequences of Missing the Filing Deadline

If the filing deadline is missed, the court will likely dismiss your case, and you will lose the right to seek compensation for your injuries. Do not let this opportunity pass you by. Reach out to us today to schedule a consultation. 

Get Legal Help With Your Medical Malpractice Case | Call Ryan LLP Today!

Get legal help with your medical malpractice cases

Medical malpractice cases are complex and require an experienced, compassionate, and dedicated legal team. Ryan LLP is here to help. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation, and let us help you get the justice you deserve.

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