Medical malpractice law enables patients to get compensated for any injuries they sustain as a result of sub-standard treatment. According to a report by the Medical Malpractice Center, between 15,000 and 19,000 medical negligence lawsuits are filed in the U.S. every year. While the regulations and standards for medical malpractice differ between states and countries, some underlying concepts are the same. Here is a brief coverage of the basic concepts of medical malpractice.
What is Medical Malpractice?
Medical malpractice is used interchangeably with medical negligence. A healthcare professional, doctor, or hospital is required to provide a particular standard of care. When a patient is harmed or injured because a health provider or institution deviated from the standard of care required in similar situations, this is a typical case of medical malpractice.
For medical malpractice to be considered, the following factors need to be satisfied:
- Failure to provide the appropriate standard of care: Health care professionals are required to abide by certain standards or face liability for negligence.
- An injury is caused by negligence: If a patient is not injured by a health care provider’s negligence, they have no room to make a claim. However, if the patient can prove that a health care provider’s negligence caused harm or injury and that if the practitioner was not negligent there would have been no harm or injury, the practitioner may be held liable for negligence.
- The injury has damaging consequences: The patient needs to show that the harm or injury caused by a medical practitioner’s negligence resulted in significant damage. Some typical examples of significant damage include disability, constant pain, enduring hardship, suffering, and loss of income.
Examples of Medical Malpractice
Some examples of cases where negligence or an error can lead to a malpractice lawsuit include:
- Incorrect or unnecessary surgery
- Failure to diagnose or misdiagnosis
- Failure to order the right tests or to act on the results of a treatment
- Wrong prescription
- Discharging a patient prematurely
- Leaving things in the patient’s body after surgery
- A patient acquiring fatal infections while in hospital
The Procedures of a Medical Malpractice Case
A medical malpractice lawsuit involves two parties: the one making a claim (plaintiff), and the accused (defendant). The plaintiff is the patient unless they succumb to their injuries and die. The defendant is the doctor, nurse, surgeon, or health institution.
The first step in a medical malpractice case is filing a lawsuit. The plaintiff (patient) through a law firm in Oklahoma will file a lawsuit in court. The lawsuit will address issues such as the plaintiff’s complaint, and who the plaintiff holds responsible.
Before the trial begins, the court will allow the plaintiff and defendant some time to share information related to the case. This helps both sides prepare their cases without unexpected surprises during the trial. As a rule of thumb, if either side fails to share information at the discovery stage, such information cannot be used in the trial. The discovery stage involves depositions, interrogatories, and requests for documents.
After the discovery stage, the parties can agree on a settlement to avoid going to court. If a settlement does not work out, the case will go to trial.
During the trial, both sides will call upon experts to explain the standard of care that was required for the patient’s treatment. The judge or jury will listen to the arguments of both sides, and consider the evidence presented in court before arriving at a final judgment.
If the court rules in favor of the plaintiff, the judge will order for a set amount of damages to be paid to them. In some cases, if the plaintiff is unsatisfied by the settlement, they may make a claim for additur. This means asking the court to conduct an assessment of damages and award a higher amount. If the defendant is dissatisfied with the increment, they may make a claim for remittitur. This means asking the court to decrease the number of damages.
What Damages Are Awarded in Medical Malpractice Claims?
There are three types of damages that are recoverable in a medical negligence claim: general damages, special damages, and punitive damages.
These damages are related to the patient’s cost of suffering. Although general damages are real, they don’t have a fixed price tag, hence the name non-economical damages. Typical examples of general damages are:
- Pain and suffering (both physical and mental)
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Loss of future earning capacity
These damages cover quantifiable expenses that arise from the act of medical malpractice. Special damages include past missed work and medical bills.
These damages are rare but may also be given to punish the doctor for intentional behavior. To qualify for punitive damages, the plaintiff must show that the doctor knew that they were behaving in a risky manner but proceeded anyway.
Caps on Damages
Many states place a limit on the maximum amount of damages that patients can recover for a medical malpractice claim. In some states, the cap is on the total damages. For example, a patient may not be able to recover damages worth more than $500,000. In other states, the cap is a specific type of damages. For example, some states may place a cap on general damages. In California, you cannot recover non-economic damages of more than $250,000 in a medical malpractice claim.
Some states go further and reduce the number of damages a doctor is required to pay the amount that an injured patient will receive from sources such as their insurance providers. In many states, there are statutes that also limit the amount of money an attorney can charge their patient for a medical malpractice case.
Damages Involving a Dead Patient
There are laws that determine the damages that can be recovered when a patient dies from medical malpractice. These laws are known as survival and wrongful death laws.
These laws allow the heirs or estate of a deceased patient to recover damages arising from the time a medical malpractice action was performed to the death of the patient. The compensation derived from survival statutes includes all the damages that the deceased would have received had they survived. In addition to these damages, the beneficiaries of the deceased are also entitled to damages associated with the future, like future earning capacity. Some survival laws also allow recovery for funeral expenses.
Wrongful Death Statutes
These statutes are meant to compensate the family of a deceased patient for their future financial loss. However, depending on the state, some family members cannot recover any future monetary damages. For example, the patient’s children and spouse may recover damages but not the patient’s parents.
If you or a loved one is a victim of medical malpractice, you need to find a law firm in Oklahoma that will represent your claims against the doctor, nurse, or health institution responsible for your injuries. Medical malpractice claims allow patients to recover damages for their harm and may also provide relief to a patient’s family if they are to die from their injuries. While proving and arguing a case of medical malpractice may not be easy, with the assistance of a well seasoned and experienced lawyer, you can beat the odds and get justice.