Medical malpractice occurs when a medical practitioner acts in a negligent manner when treating a medical condition. This negligence causes harm to the patient. Medical malpractice law governs the liability of medical practitioners including doctors, nurses, and medical service providers, which can be a company or cooperate entity. A medical practitioner is held accountable if his or her conduct fails to meet the “standard care” stipulated under the law. Malpractice can occur by the action of the medical provider or by the provider’s failure to take certain action. Cases of medical malpractice include:
- A doctor or nurse’ failure to provide appropriate treatment for a medical condition
- Prescribing the wrong medicine
- Failure to diagnose or misdiagnosis of a certain condition
- Misreading x-rays
- Illogical delay in the treatment or wrong diagnosis of a certain condition
- Failing to let the patient know of the possible risks or side effects of a procedure
- Mistakes arising from surgery or childbirth
- Giving risky services without the patient’s informed consent
When medical service providers, including doctors and nurses, act negligently, the result can be catastrophic for the patient. Damages that can be awarded include compensation for physical pain and suffering, lost wages, medical expenses, decreases in earning potential, disfigurement, compensation for partial or complete impairment, and even death.
Witnesses play a very important role in medical malpractice lawsuits, as most issues debated on the case can be too complex for judges and juries to understand on their own. This often results in other doctors being called to study the case, explain their findings, and render an opinion. For the affected patient, the cost of hiring an expert significantly increases the total cost of pursuing a claim. These costs are often paid by the plaintiff’s medical malpractice attorney and are deducted from the plaintiff’s verdict later.
What Victims Need to Prove
The patient needs to prove that medical malpractice occurred by showing all of the following things:
- There was a doctor-patient relationship. The patient is required to show that he/she had a doctor-patient relationship with the doctor he/she is suing.
- The doctor was negligent. The patient needs to prove that the doctor was negligent not reasonably skillful and not careful in the diagnosis or treatment.
- The doctor caused harm to the patient in a way that a competent doctor, under the same circumstance, wouldn’t have.
- The injury led to specific damages. The doctor may have performed below the expected standards. Note, the patient can only pursue damages if he or she suffered injuries.
Common Medical Malpractice Claims
Common medical malpractice claims can be categorized into the following:
- Errors in prescription or administering medication
- Pregnancy and childbirth negligence
- Surgical errors
Errors in prescription or administering medication
Errors in medical prescription are very common. Medical prescription errors can result from administering the wrong medication or from administering too much or too little medication. They can also result from the physician prescribing the wrong medication or the wrong amount or the pharmacist giving out the wrong medication.
Misdiagnosis is the leading type of physician error. The most commonly misdiagnosed diseases include tumors or masses inside the body, infections, blood clot in the lung, and heart disease. The consequences of misdiagnosis can be life-threatening since the physician has been wasting valuable time treating the wrong condition.
Pregnancy and childbirth negligence
During pregnancy and delivery, so much can go wrong if the responsible party is not careful enough. The following medical problems can arise as a result of medical malpractice during pregnancy and childbirth:
- Complications arising from the placenta including placental abruption or placenta previa
- Excessive labor period that causes injury to the mother and the baby
- Excessive vaginal bleeding
- Negligence while administering anesthesia during labor or caesarian section
- Nerve injury of the baby during labor
- Surgical negligence during caesarian section.
- Premature babies
Common surgical errors include nerve damage, leaving a foreign body like a sponge inside the patient, and failing to control bleeding. Sometimes a surgeon may perform an operation wrongly, sometimes on the unintended part of the body or on the wrong patient entirely. Areas prone to surgical error include the gastrointestinal tract and the spine.
Giving too much anesthesia before surgery, the wrong type or too little contribute to anesthesia negligence. In medical malpractice cases involving non-economic damages like pain and suffering, the relational fault of each defendant is determined, and each defendant is responsible for only the damage amount that he or she is proportionately responsible for causing.
Do Doctors Pay Damages?
Under California laws of joint and liability, if more than one defendant is found liable for the injury suffered by a plaintiff, each defendant is personally liable for the entire amount of the judgment passed. Therefore, doctors are liable to pay damages. Although they are liable, the doctors themselves almost never pay a settlement or verdict amount. This is because almost every doctor has insurance to ensure that he or she is covered in case that he or she is responsible for. There are some great doctors that have been sued because they made a single mistake. Just because they are great doctors, does not mean that the patient that suffered injuries as a result of that doctor’s error should not be compensated.
Is There A Cap On Damages?
California malpractice law places limits on some medical malpractice damages. California law places no cap on compensatory damages, also referred to as economic damages. These damages reimburse the victim for losses such as medical expenses and lost wages arising from missed days at work. But caps are placed on non-economic damages that compensate the victim for things like suffering, pain, physical impairment, and disfigurement. Such damages are limited to $250,000. This is the maximum amount that a court can award the patient in a medical malpractice case for pain and suffering.