Medical Malpractice Explained

Unfortunately, medical malpractice is not an uncommon occurrence in this country.  In 2013, the Journal of Patient Safety reported that about four hundred thousand patients die, and another four to eight million others are seriously injured, from preventable medical errors each year.  Furthermore, a study published by the New England Journal of Medicine in January 2023 reported that nearly one in four patients hospitalized in the United States experience an adverse event.  

So, what is medical malpractice?  

Medical malpractice – also known as medical negligence – occurs when a healthcare provider fails to meet “the standard of care” and that failure causes harm to the patient.  Generally speaking, “the standard of care” is what another healthcare provider in the same specialty would do under the same or similar circumstances.  Put simply, medical malpractice is when a healthcare provider makes a medical error, and that error harms the patient.  

Medical malpractice can occur in a variety of different forms.  Here is some information about the most common types of medical malpractice: 

  • Birth injury:  If a labor and delivery is not handled correctly, the baby can be harmed.  Oftentimes, that means the baby is deprived of adequate oxygen during the labor or delivery, which, in turn, causes the baby to suffer a brain injury (often, hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy or HIE).  In addition, babies can suffer injuries to nerves connected to their spinal cord if the doctor pulls too hard during the delivery.  This is called a brachial plexus injury, also known as Erb’s palsy.  
  • Failure to treat:  There are many forms of “failure to treat” medical malpractice cases.  Generally speaking, this may occur when a healthcare provider fails to perform an accepted treatment in response to the patient’s condition.  For example, a patient with a known infection needs antibiotics and potentially intervention to remove the infection.  If the healthcare provider fails to timely treat the infection, that may be medical malpractice.
  • Missed diagnosis:  Healthcare providers are trained and educated to recognize certain signs that give clues to diagnosing a patient’s condition.  If a healthcare provider fails to make a reasonable diagnosis based on the patient’s signs and symptoms, that may be medical malpractice.  The most common example of missed diagnosis medical malpractice is where a patient goes into an emergency room with chest pain.  Rather than ordering tests to see if the patient is having a treatable heart attack, the healthcare provider diagnoses the patient with acid reflux, sends them home, and the patient suffers harm.
  • Delayed diagnosis:  Delayed diagnosis occurs where the healthcare provider has all the information necessary to make a diagnosis but fails to do so in a timely manner.  For example, a healthcare provider gets test results back that confirm a patient has prostate cancer, but the healthcare provider fails to review the test results for months, which allows the cancer to spread, causing the patient harm.  
  • Surgical error:  In most surgical procedures, there are accepted methods and techniques that doctors use to perform the surgery with the least amount of risk.  If a doctor fails to use these accepted methods and techniques, and that harms the patient, they may have committed medical malpractice.
  • Informed consent:  Doctors have an obligation to fully inform their patients regarding the risks, benefits, and alternatives to any treatment.  This obligation extends beyond merely having a patient sign a form.  Without being fully informed, a patient cannot make an informed decision regarding their healthcare.  So, a failure to explain the risks, benefits, and alternatives, which causes harm to the patient, is medical malpractice.  

In order to pursue a medical malpractice claim, the following must be proven:

  • Healthcare provider-patient relationship:  As a starting place, the healthcare provider and patient must have formed a healthcare provider-patient relationship.  Once this relationship has been formed, the healthcare provider owes the patient a duty to act within the standard of care.  
  • Standard of care The standard care is what another healthcare provider in the same or similar specialty would do in the same or similar circumstances.  Put another way, in each situation, a healthcare provider must use their training, skill, and knowledge to provide the same care as another reasonable healthcare provider would.  
  • Causation It is not enough that a healthcare provider failed to meet the standard of care.  To pursue a medical malpractice claim, it must be proven that the medical malpractice caused or contributed to cause harm to the patient.  Essentially, there must be a connection between the medical malpractice and the harm suffered.
  • Damages The last element that must be proven is damages.  That is a catch-all word to describe all the ways the patient was harmed by the healthcare provider’s negligent actions.  This can take the form of past and future medical bills, lost wages, funeral bills, and other out-of-pocket costs.  And this also includes harm that does not have a price tag, such as physical pain and suffering, emotional anguish, lost mental capacity, disability, disfigurement, and scarring.

Medical malpractice lawsuits are very complex.  Therefore, a person who has been the victim of malpractice should be represented by a law firm with the necessary experience and resources to adequately pursue their claim.  The lawyers at Bartimus Frickleton Robertson Rader have been representing victims of medical malpractice for almost fifty years.  

Think you may have been a victim of medical malpractice?  Contact the lawyers at Bartimus Frickleton Robertson Rader to have a free, no obligation consultation.  

The above is not intended to be legal advice.  Each individual case is different and must be analyzed on its own set of facts and circumstances.  If you believe you may have a case, it is critically important that you timely contact a lawyer to ensure your rights are protected.