Medical Malpractice Lawsuits – A Quick Primer

Mar 22, 2010

Medical malpractice is defined as a negligent act committed by medical personnel resulting in personal injury and/or significant time away from work and loss of income. Medical malpractice lawsuits are among the most highly scrutinized of all personal injury cases. This due largely in part to the wide variety of personnel who can potentially commit medical malpractice; as well as the range of actions, omissions and errors that can be considered medical malpractice. It is important to understand not only how malpractice is determined, but also the process that malpractice lawsuits follow to be able to render a verdict and award damages, if any are due the plaintiff in the case.

Almost any medical professional and even entire organizations (i.e. hospitals, nursing homes, etc.) can commit medical malpractice. The most common personnel or entities involved in these cases are doctors (any type of physician), surgeons, nurses, pharmacists, hospitals, nursing homes, med-check facilities and institutions. Additionally, almost any action, or lack of, regardless of how minute, may be considered medical malpractice. The most common claims cited are mistreatment or negligence, failure to diagnose or misdiagnosing a terminal illness, failure to prevent infection, anesthesia errors, birth injuries, prescription errors and leaving medical devices inside the patient post surgery.

It is important to have a very strong case and know the facts surrounding one’s medical malpractice claim very well. All medical malpractice claims are subjected to an intensive review, in an effort to determine whether medical malpractice was indeed committed and who if anyone is responsible. Medical personnel typically protect themselves with malpractice insurance policies and have lawyers on retainer should the need arise. The review process alone can take months and even years prior to settling a claim. Thus, an attorney specializing in medical malpractice is a must and will be crucial to build the strength of his client’s case.

Post-review, if the medical personnel or entity is found to be negligent, the client is awarded a cash settlement to compensate for the injury that he or she has suffered. There are two main types of damages that may be awarded a victim of medical malpractice:

• Compensatory damages are the easiest of the two types to calculate and will cover the actual cost of the injury and loss of quality of life. This can include expenses related to medical and hospital care, rehabilitation, ambulatory transport (if applicable), prescriptions, lost wages both current and future income, living expenses, visiting nurses or nursing home care, and domestic assistance (i.e. housekeeping). Pain and suffering also falls under the compensatory category and can vary in amount based upon the severity of the injury, length and probability of recovery and even the state where the medical malpractice claim originates. Some state have placed caps on the amount of pain and suffering damages that a victim may be awarded.

• Punitive damages are awarded to the victim and given as a form of monetary punishment for the medical personnel who committed the act of malpractice. Damages like these are rarely awarded and can be very difficult to get as the client must prove that the medical personnel acted willfully, knowing that the action performed was wrong and resulted in the injury or permanent disability.

• Wrongful death is an unfortunate category in which damages are sometimes awarded to a victim’s family. These damages cover the cost of all medical and funeral bills, loss of a loved one, loss of income and emotional suffering.

Again, it is highly recommended that a lawyer specializing in medical malpractice is elected to fight for the victim. Only this type of attorney can ensure that while the victim is recovering, someone is working on behalf of the family within the medical law system to protect the rights of the victim and obtain a successful outcome. Before one enters into a medical malpractice lawsuit, it is also advisable to consult with a lawsuit funding company in the event that the victim has a strong case, but not the financial backing to endure a lengthy court battle.