How Can You Determine If You Have a Valid Medical Malpractice Claim?

Unfortunately, medical malpractice happens and there are countless ways across various healthcare scenarios in which it can occur. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that even if something goes wrong during a medical procedure or if a patient’s condition declines from bad to worse it doesn’t necessarily mean that the patient has a legitimate medical malpractice claim. 

So, what situations do qualify as examples in which medical malpractice was clearly at play? We put together this article to address everything you need to know about medical malpractice and help you determine if you or your loved one may have a valid medical malpractice case. 

What is Medical Malpractice?

According to the National Institutes of Health, medical malpractice is defined as “any act or omission by a physician during treatment of a patient that deviates from accepted norms of practice in the medical community and causes an injury or death to the patient.” 

While a healthcare professional is not liable for all harm a patient experiences, they can be legally responsible if the patient experiences harm or injury because the health provider failed to provide the expected or standard quality of care. 

Medical Malpractice Statistics

  • Medical errors are the third leading cause of death, behind cancer and cardiovascular disease (Yale
  • At least 250,000 patients die each year because of preventable mistakes. (John Hopkins)
  • The top 5 malpractice allegations are from: diagnosis (33%), surgery (23%), treatment (18%), obstetrics (10%), and medication/anesthesia (10%). (HCPLive
  • Up to 16% of all medical malpractice cases are against primary care doctors (PCPs). For PCPs, the top two causes for malpractice suits are missed diagnosis and drug errors. The top 3 missed diagnoses were meningitis, heart attack, and cancer. (Medical Liability Monitor)

Qualifications of Medical Malpractice 

The negligence involved in medical malpractice is usually the result of errors in diagnosis, treatment, aftercare, or health management. To be considered medical malpractice under the law, the claim must meet specific qualifications: 

Violation of the Standard of Care 

The law acknowledges that in order to be qualified as a form of medical malpractice, a healthcare professional failed to meet a certain “standard of care.” This refers to the reasonable degree of care a person should provide to another person, typically in a professional or medical setting. For example, the standard of care a healthcare profession may be expected to provide  a cancer patient may involve a recommendation of surgery or chemotherapy. 

Patients have the right to expect that their health care professionals will deliver care consistent with these standards. If the standard of care has not been met, then one may claim negligence on behalf of their provider.

The Negligence Caused Injury or Death 

A violation of the standard of care isn’t the only thing needed for a medical malpractice claim to be strong. The patient must also prove they sustained an injury that would not have occurred if the provider hadn’t been negligent. 

Remember, an unfavorable medical outcome or a patient’s decline in health does not necessarily qualify as malpractice. The patient must be able to show evidence that negligence on behalf of a healthcare professional was the direct cause of the injury. 

The injury Resulted in Significant and Specific Damages

Medical malpractice lawsuits often require the testimony of numerous medical experts as well as countless hours of deposition testimony. Therefore they can be costly. For a case to be viable, the patient must be able to show that significant damages resulted from an injury they received due to medical negligence. 

If the damages are minor, the cost of pursuing the case might be greater than the final outcome. To pursue a medical malpractice claim, the patient must show that the injury resulted in:

  • physical pain
  • disability 
  • mental anguish
  • additional medical bills (past and future)
  • lost work and lost earning capacity
  • death 

Doctor/Patient relationship

You must have had a physician-patient relationship with the doctor you are claiming negligence on. This means that as their patient, you hired them to provide treatment to you. Therefore, you couldn’t, for example, necessarily sue a doctor you happened to meet at the grocery store who gave you bad medical advice in the checkout line. If a consulting physician did not treat the patient directly, the existence of a patient/healthcare provider relationship will often be questioned to evaluate the relationship between the two parties.

Examples of Medical Malpractice

Medical malpractice can take many forms. Here are just a few examples of medical malpractice that can lead to a lawsuit:

  • Failure to diagnose/ misdiagnosis/delayed diagnoses 
  • Failure to recognize symptoms 
  • Misreading or overlooking lab results
  • Unnecessary surgery/surgical errors/wrong-site surgery
  • Incorrect medication or dosage
  • Lack of follow-up or post-op care 
  • Premature discharge
  • Ignoring or not collecting the appropriate patient history
  • Failure to order proper testing
  • Birth injuries

Get Legal Support for Your Medical Malpractice Case

The Clinical Orthopaedics and Research conducted a study involving 20 years worth of data. Researchers found that “physicians win 80% to 90% of jury trials with weak evidence of medical negligence, approximately 70% of borderline cases, and 50% of cases with strong evidence of medical negligence”. Therefore, it is that much more crucial that you are able to back up your medical malpractice claim with sufficient cause, as well as partner with an experienced attorney. 

State laws about medical malpractice vary and can come with challenging and complex regulations. Having a qualified medical malpractice lawyer who has the experience and knowledge to investigate the circumstances, gather evidence, consult experts, and take additional steps to build your case, is critical to getting the justice you deserve. 

Here at Whittel & Melton, we are experts in advocating and fighting for our clients who have suffered injuries or have lost family members due to medical malpractice. Contact us today for your consultation!

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