Medical Malpractice Advice from Attorneys

What is Malpractice?

Medical malpractice occurs when a hospital, doctor or other health care professional, through a negligent act or omission, causes an injury to a patient. The negligence might be the result of errors in diagnosis, treatment, aftercare or health management. A medical malpractice attorney can help you determine if you have a valid claim.

Basic Requirements for a Claim

To prove that medical malpractice occurred, you must be able to show all of these things: A doctor-patient relationship existed. You must show that you had a physician-patient relationship with the doctor you are suing -- this means you hired the doctor and the doctor agreed to be hired. For example, you can't sue a doctor you overheard giving advice at a cocktail party. If a doctor began seeing you and treating you, it is easy to prove a physician-patient relationship existed. Questions of whether or not the relationship exists most frequently arise where a consulting physician did not treat you directly. The doctor was negligent. Just because you are unhappy with your treatment or results does not mean the doctor is liable for medical malpractice. The doctor must have been negligent in connection with your diagnosis or treatment. To sue for malpractice, you must be able to show that the doctor caused you harm in a way that a competent doctor, under the same circumstances, would not have. The doctor's care is not required to be the best possible, but simply "reasonably skillful and careful." Whether the doctor was reasonably skillful and careful is often at the heart of a medical malpractice claim. Almost all states require that the patient present a medical expert to discuss the appropriate medical standard of care and show how the defendant deviated from that standard. The doctor's negligence caused the injury. Because many malpractice cases involve patients that were already sick or injured, there is often a question of whether what the doctor did, negligent or not, actually caused the harm. For example, if a patient dies after treatment for lung cancer, and the doctor did do something negligent, it could be hard to prove that the doctor's negligence caused the death rather than the cancer. The patient must show that it is "more likely than not" that the doctor's incompetence directly caused the injury. Usually, the patient must have a medical expert testify that the doctor's negligence caused the injury. The injury led to specific damages. Even if it is clear that the doctor performed below the expected standards in his or her field, the patient can't sue for malpractice if the patient didn't suffer any harm. Here are examples of the types of harm patients can sue for:
  • physical pain
  • mental anguish
  • additional medical bills, and
  • lost work and lost earning capacity.
  • To be considered medical malpractice under the law, the claim must have the following characteristics:

    A violation of the standard of care - The law acknowledges that there are certain medical standards that are recognized by the profession as being acceptable medical treatment by reasonably prudent health care professionals under like or similar circumstances. This is known as the standard of care. A patient has the right to expect that health care professionals will deliver care that is consistent with these standards. If it is determined that the standard of care has not been met, then negligence may be established. An injury was caused by the negligence - For a medical malpractice claim to be valid, it is not sufficient that a health care professional simply violated the standard of care. The patient must also prove he or she sustained an injury that would not have occurred in the absence of negligence. An unfavorable outcome by itself is not malpractice. The patient must prove that the negligence caused the injury. If there is an injury without negligence or negligence that did not cause an injury, there is no case. The injury resulted in significant damages - Medical malpractice lawsuits are extremely expensive to litigate, frequently requiring testimony of numerous medical experts and countless hours of deposition testimony. For a case to be viable, the patient must show that significant damages resulted from an injury received due to the medical negligence. If the damages are small, the cost of pursuing the case might be greater than the eventual recovery. To pursue a medical malpractice claim, the patient must show that the injury resulted in disability, loss of income, unusual pain, suffering and hardship, or significant past and future medical bills.

    Examples of Medical Malpractice

    Medical malpractice can take many forms. Here are some examples of medical negligence that might lead to a lawsuit: Failure to diagnose or misdiagnosis Misreading or ignoring laboratory results Unnecessary surgery Surgical errors or wrong site surgery Improper medication or dosage Poor follow-up or aftercare Premature discharge Disregarding or not taking appropriate patient history Failure to order proper testing Failure to recognize symptoms

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