How Do I Know If I Have a Medical Malpractice Case?
Facing less than the service you expected from your care provider can leave you reeling. You may discover that your doctor incorrectly diagnosed a serious ailment, causing you not to receive the treatment you needed. You might find that your care provider did not provide the treatment you should have received for your illness or ailment, which left you with symptoms for much longer than you should have—or even caused your symptoms to worsen substantially.
Do you have grounds for a medical malpractice claim? How can you find out?
Taking a look at the circumstances under which that act of malpractice occurred, as well as how it impacted you, can help you determine whether you have grounds for a medical malpractice
1. Did you have a doctor/patient relationship with the provider in question?
In general, you can file a medical malpractice claim against several entities, depending on where the act of medical malpractice occurred.
- The doctor who committed a direct act of medical malpractice.
- A hospital where medical malpractice occurred.
- A medical equipment manufacturer that put out equipment that caused serious harm.
You may also, in some cases, have the right to file a claim against a staffing agency that contracted a specific care provider, or a pharmacist who miscalculates the dose on your medication.
Generally speaking, however, to file a claim for medical malpractice against any entity, you must show that you had a patient relationship with that entity.
Regular or Specialist Care
In the case of a regular or specialist care provider, you might need to show that you have a doctor/patient relationship with that specific care provider. While you may, in some cases, seek compensation through that provider's practice, you might not have the right to file a claim against another physician in the practice that you have not seen.
In the case of emergency care, the doctor with whom you have a doctor/patient relationship only includes doctors who participated directly in your treatment. Emergency rooms often include a busy rush of patients, including many doctors working near one another on different patients. If a doctor does not work directly on your care, generally indicated by the presence of a bill from that doctor later, you likely did not have a doctor/patient relationship with that provider.
Hospital malpractice may look different than a medical malpractice claim against a doctor. In some cases, you may file a claim against a hospital because of an error committed by a physician who works directly for that hospital.
In other cases, however, you might need to file a claim against the hospital because of the negligent actions of a non-doctor care provider, including a nurse who incorrectly administers medication or who fails to respond to the genuine medical needs of a patient. The hospital may bear liability for significant acts of medical malpractice caused by hospital practices or rules or a doctor's negligence.
To establish that the hospital bears liability for a medical malpractice event, you may need to show that you had entered the hospital as a patient and received treatment there for your condition.
2. Did the doctor commit a negligent act in your care?
Negligent acts, in the case of medical malpractice, generally mean that the doctor deviated in some way from the standard of care expected in specific medical situations.
In many cases, the medical board that takes the first look at medical malpractice claims will start by asking, “Would another physician, with the same information [including symptoms or diagnosis], have performed this act?” If your care provider deviated from that standard, you may file a medical malpractice claim.
Misdiagnosis/Failure to Diagnose
Misdiagnosis occurs when a doctor looks at a specific set of symptoms, generally one that should receive a specific diagnosis, and diagnoses another condition instead. Failure to diagnose, on the other hand, occurs when the doctor does not diagnose the condition at all, despite a clear list of symptoms that indicate a specific diagnosis.
Suppose, for example, that you break your arm
. A misdiagnosis might occur when the doctor says that you sprained your wrist, instead. He may insist that you need to wear a brace while recovering, but that you do not need a cast, surgery, or any other interventions. You continue to have pain, particularly when you attempt to use the injured limb.
A later look at the X-rays uncovers that you did, indeed, suffer a broken arm and that you should have received treatment well before that time. You may need surgical treatment to set your arm correctly. In some cases, a doctor may need to re-break the bone to set it correctly.
Due to the misdiagnosis, you received the wrong treatment for your injury, which led to serious consequences. Likewise, if the doctor looked at the x-ray, but failed to note the obvious break, you might have a case of failure to diagnose.
Failure to Treat
Women, on the whole, often experience disparity in their treatment
compared to what men might receive under similar circumstances. Doctors often overlook the concerns of women, particularly women claiming pain or women with reproductive issues. Sometimes, they get told to “just live with it,” even when medical science has developed effective treatments for those issues or complaints.
Failure to treat, however, can occur for anyone. When a doctor knows that a patient has a specific condition, but fails to offer the standard medical treatment for that condition, the doctor may bear liability.
Failure to Inform
As a patient, you have the right to give informed consent about any medical procedure. Doctors may step in to act in your best interests when you cannot give consent, such as when you have suffered a serious injury in an accident and need emergency medical treatment. Under most circumstances, however, a doctor cannot just decide on a treatment for you and implement it without your input. You have the right to receive information about the potential side effects of a specific type of treatment as well as information about what might happen if you wait.
Suppose, for example, that your doctor recommends surgery to treat back pain. That surgery has approximately a 50 percent success rate, and for some patients, it may cause more pain than it alleviates. If your doctor does not inform you about that possibility, especially if knowing about that possibility would have caused you to forego that treatment, you may have the right to file a claim against your doctor.
Childbirth places both infant and mother in an extremely vulnerable position. During childbirth, care providers must carefully monitor the mother and child to reduce the risk of birth injuries.
Unfortunately, sometimes, doctors may fail to properly monitor their patients or intervene in time.
Never events occur when a doctor commits a serious, often life-altering error that should never happen in a medical care setting. Never events often occur during surgery, including leaving surgical items in the body or operating on the wrong body part.
Never events can also occur due to serious medication errors, from giving a patient a medication to which he has a known allergy to calculating the wrong dose of a medication. Checks and balances within the system, including the need for a trained pharmacist to verify any prescription with inaccurate dosing or other problems, help reduce the risk of those types of errors, but when they do occur, they can lead to substantial challenges, including serious injury or death.
In most medical malpractice cases, the common thread remains the care provider's deviation, in any way, from the normal standard of care expected of a provider under those circumstances.
3. Did you suffer injury, damages, or losses as a direct result of the doctor's negligent actions?
Finally, to file a medical malpractice claim, you will need to work with your lawyer to establish what damages you suffered because of the provider's negligence. For example:
Did the care provider's actions cause you to suffer a physical injury or disability?
Sometimes, the negligent actions of a care provider can lead to substantial physical disability or suffering. Suppose, for example, that your doctor misdiagnosed a broken bone. In some cases, failure to treat that broken bone in time could lead to permanent disability and limitations, even if you later receive treatment for those injuries.
If you receive treatment for an illness or ailment you do not have, it can cause substantial side effects and ongoing suffering. Suppose, for example, that a care provider diagnosed cancer although you have another type of ailment. You might go through chemotherapy, with the associated side effects and weakening of your immune system, before realizing that you did not need that type of treatment.
The physical injury resulting from medical malpractice can prove immensely damaging, not only in terms of your physical pain but the emotional anguish that may result.
Did you have financial losses directly related to the medical malpractice event?
Financial losses can, in many cases, prove just as significant as more physical losses. You may have had to pay out of pocket for some types of treatment, especially for treatments not otherwise covered by medical insurance. You might have spent time seeing specialists, including the associated travel time.
Financial loss can also mean a loss of income due to a medical malpractice event. For example, you might have to miss work because of the limitations associated with your injuries, or to undergo treatment for the damages caused by the medical malpractice. As a result, you may find yourself struggling with immense loss of income, especially if your employer cannot work with you to keep you at work while undergoing treatment.
Contact a Lawyer if You Have Questions About Your Rights
If you have questions about your rights to file a medical malpractice claim, you do not have to handle it on your own. Instead, get in touch with an experienced medical malpractice lawyer who can help answer those vital questions and give you more information about your next steps.
What does a medical malpractice lawyer do?
- Investigate the circumstances that led to the medical malpractice.
- Work with an expert to establish the standard of care related to your specific case, including what treatment you should have received for your symptoms.
- Determine whether you suffered medical malpractice.
A lawyer can also help you learn more about your next steps, including whether you will go through a medical malpractice board to establish your right to file a claim. A lawyer can also help collect the evidence you may need to determine the validity of your claim.