Your Guide to Bringing a Successful Medical Malpractice Claim?

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Studies show that almost a quarter of a million people in the U.S. die each year as the result of medical errors, making this the third main cause of death in the country after heart disease and cancer. 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 to the patient.

When a medical professional’s actions fall short of the standard reasonably expected of them, resulting in personal injury to their patient, the injured patient has the right to recover compensation, leaving them exposed to a medical malpractice claim.

What Is Medical Malpractice?

Medical malpractice can occur in a variety of situations and some of the consequences for patients include the development of a separate condition or the worsening of an original, as well as unnecessary surgery and loss of enjoyment of life. Some common forms of medical malpractice include:

  • Misdiagnosis or failure to diagnose
  • Birth injury
  • Failing to recognize symptoms
  • Surgical errors
  • Anesthesia errors
  • Prescribing the wrong medication or dosage
  • Ignoring or misinterpreting lab results or patient’s chart history
  • Poor follow-up or aftercare

If you have suffered harm as a result of a medical error you may be entitled to compensation. This article will outline some of the steps you should take when bringing a medical malpractice claim as well as the legal requirements that need to be fulfilled in order to be successful.

Check the Statute of Limitations

You must ensure you are within the time frame prescribed by law before bringing your medical malpractice claim. Each state has set deadlines for when you can file a claim, and this will determine your ability to be compensated for your injury. This is known as the statute of limitations and may differ from state to state. In most medical malpractice cases, a claim must be filed within two to six years from injury or discovery.

Seek Legal Advice

Seeking advice from a medical malpractice attorney is one of the best ways to know if you have grounds for a claim. Law firms that specialize in this area of law have extensive experience in dealing with a variety of medical malpractice cases and can assess the merits of your claim from a legal perspective, saving you the time and expense of pursuing a baseless claim.

Many law firms offer free case evaluations where you can explain your situation and receive free and impartial advice on whether to pursue a claim and in many cases you can also receive representation on a ‘no win, no fee’ basis. This means you will only have to pay legal expenses in the event that you win and are compensated.

Contact Your Healthcare Provider

Before bringing your claim it is advisable to contact your healthcare provider, notifying them of your intention to file a claim against them for medical malpractice. This will give them the opportunity to remedy the matter if possible, without the need for legal action and may also result in you both reaching a settlement without the need for filing a claim or pursuing litigation which is often stressful, expensive and time-consuming.

Having an attorney on your side is also advisable at this stage as they can take over all negotiations with the other side’s insurer acting as an intermediary on your behalf and ensuring your best interests are being met.

Medical Records and Expert Testimony

The crucial element which underpins many medical malpractice cases is the supporting medical documentation. This will also assist your lawyer to establish a solid case, as well as the required elements needed to prove negligence on the part of the healthcare provider.

Your medical records also provide the basis on which your lawyer can enlist the testimony of experts in the medical field to substantiate your claims regarding the nature and origin of your injuries. Such expert testimony is often what determines the success or failure of a medical malpractice claim since the injuries sustained by patients often require someone with medical training to understand and attribute liability correctly.

In addition to following the steps above, it is important to understand the legal basis on which medical malpractice claims center.

Legal Requirements

To successfully prove that a healthcare provider is liable for medical malpractice you must be able to prove that they acted negligently in performing their duties resulting in harm or injury to you. The following criteria must be established to prove negligence:

  • There was a doctor-patient relationship under which you were owed a duty of care by the healthcare provider. The duty of care is determined according to what a prudent person with the same knowledge would have done in that situation
  • The healthcare provider breached their duty of care by their act or omission to act according to the standards expected of them
  • Your injuries were sustained as a direct consequence of this breach of duty
  • Your injuries resulted in quantifiable damages

Proving negligence on the part of a medical professional will require that the elements above are satisfied and the testimony of medical experts within that field will often determine whether or not their conduct fell short of the medical standard of care expected of them.

The Res Ipsa Doctrine

Where negligence cannot be easily attributed to the medical provider and the patient is not aware of the exact cause of their injuries, perhaps due to sedation, they might be able to invoke res ipsa loquitur.

Latin for “the thing speaks for itself”, this legal principle allows negligence to be inferred in cases where it cannot be directly proven. The presumption that the healthcare provider was negligent shifts the burden of proof onto them requiring that they disprove negligence on their part, relieving the injured party of this requirement. In order to invoke the res ipsa doctrine, you must be able to show the following:

1.   Your injury would not have ordinarily occurred unless there was negligence

2.   Your injury occurred while you were under the  care and control of the   healthcare provider

3.   You were not responsible for your own injury.

Understanding the information in this article and being able to fulfill the requirements outlined will place you in a favorable position when it comes to successfully bringing your medical malpractice claim.

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