How to Tell If You Have a Medical Malpractice Case

December 13, 2023 @ 7:06 pm

Guessing whether you have a medical malpractice case can be tricky. For example, you may know for a fact that your medical provider did something wrong, but if you’re okay—you healed well despite the error—you may not have a case. However, if you complied with all of your physician’s directives and failed to heal or your condition worsened, a closer look may reveal that you do have a valid case. 

Medical malpractice law is complex. Every detail matters, but understanding a few basics can give you the confirmation and reassurance that yes, you really do have a case that warrants investigation. Let’s explore the different types of cases to see where your situation may fall.

Understanding Medical Negligence Versus Malpractice

The first thing to understand is that medical negligence is different from medical malpractice. Malpractice begins as some form of medical negligence—someone makes an error. However, whether the situation qualifies as malpractice depends on a number of factors.

  • Intent: In negligence, the error is based on an honest mistake. In malpractice, the error is based on a disregard of rules or standards of care.
  • Actor: In negligence, the person responsible for the error can be anyone. In malpractice, the person responsible for the error is a medical professional.
  • Outcome: In both negligence and malpractice, the error may have injured the patient and resulted in a negative outcome. However, if the outcome was favorable, the case typically does not go beyond medical negligence.

Four Elements to Prove Medical Malpractice

In medical malpractice cases, the court places the burden of proof on the plaintiff. The plaintiff is usually the patient suing for damages they have suffered. However, if a patient dies of their injuries or is in a condition that prevents them from pursuing a claim on their own, a patient’s family can sue for damages as the plaintiff. Whoever the plaintiff is, they must be able to prove the four elements of a medical malpractice lawsuit:

  1. The Relationship: The plaintiff must be able to establish that the medical professional had a legal duty to provide care or treatment to the patient and that a doctor-patient relationship was in effect.
  2. The Error: The plaintiff must be able to show that the medical professional failed in some way to provide the proper standard of care. This failure is often referred to as a “breach of duty.”
  3. The Injury Because of the Error: The plaintiff must be able to show a direct causal relationship between the medical professional’s breach of duty and the patient’s resulting injury or condition.
  4. The Damages: The plaintiff must be able to demonstrate that the injury has caused problems with calculable monetary value that a court can remedy. Common damages often include past and future medical expenses, lost income and employee benefits, disability, loss of consortium, scarring or disfigurement, mental health complications, pain and suffering, and funeral expenses, for example.

The plaintiff must be able to prove all four elements. If evidence is lacking for any one element, that lack places the validity of the potential malpractice case at risk. Inversely, some errors are so terrible and obvious that they are termed “res ipsa loquitur”—“the thing speaks for itself.”

Common Examples of Medical Malpractice

The language of the law is very specific yet designed to cover any number of situations. What that can look like for any particular patient can vary widely. However, a 2020 study published in the professional medical journal “Medicina” highlighted some common causes of medical malpractice complaints:

  1. Complications: Complications happen when additional injuries or problems are added to the patient’s original issues. A patient may sustain additional or compounded injuries during intake, transport or surgery, for example. A surgical site may become infected due to improper care, or a foreign object may be retained.
  2. Treatment Errors: A surgeon may perform a more extensive surgery than what was intended—a total hysterectomy rather than a myomectomy, for example. Or, a surgeon may fail to perform an adequate resection, leaving cancerous tissue margins to regenerate and grow. The wrong dental maneuver may dislocate a prosthesis, or an incorrect injection may be administered. A physician may prescribe the wrong drug for a condition, or an anesthesiologist may make mistakes in their calculations or administration of a drug.
  3. Misdiagnoses: A doctor may diagnose a condition with incomplete or inaccurate test results, miss or overlook significant findings, or fail to refer a patient for further specialized diagnostics and treatment. A medical professional may mistake one condition for another.
  4. Delays: Delays can happen at any milestone in patient care—admissions, examinations, diagnoses, testing or treatment. Delays in child delivery can result in intellectual and developmental delays, physical problems or even death. Delays are often closely associated with patient deaths and cases where a family files a malpractice complaint.
  5. Doctor Incompetency: Some doctors may lack the medical knowledge necessary for what they’re attempting to do, or they may simply be incompetent. Surgeons may be operating outside of their board certifications or without sufficient training.
  6. Doctor-Patient Miscommunications: Some physicians may be lacking in professionalism and demonstrate a poor “bedside manner.” They may fail to offer explanations for tests, diagnoses or treatments. They may fail to discuss the risks of procedures or conditions with their patients or properly explain and secure the necessary permissions and consents for medical treatment.

Unfortunately, the list could continue. While most examples of malpractice fall into generalized categories, the actual details of each case are often as unique as the circumstances of the patients who have suffered through them.

Determining If You Have a Case

According to a study by Johns Hopkins patient safety experts published in “BMJ,” “10 percent of all U.S. deaths are now due to medical error,” with the actual number of deaths estimated at “more than 250,000.” The study went on to rank medical error as the “third highest cause of death in the U.S.” Meanwhile in Louisiana, the statute of limitations gives patients and their families just one year from the incident of the malpractice or from the discovery of malpractice to file a complaint. 

If you think you or a member of your family has been the victim of medical malpractice, don’t wait. Schedule your free consultation today with our medical negligence lawyers by visiting our website or by calling 800-655-4783. We’ll give clarity to your case, and help you get the compensation you deserve if your medical team was at fault.

References: medical*malpractice elements malpractice examples data surgeons errors_now_third_leading_cause_of_death_in_the_us Johns Hopkins stats malpractice stats/sources

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