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Medical Malpractice: Defined

Medical Malpractice - In Detail

You trusted your doctor to take good care of your health and had reasonable expectations of what your recovery would look like, based on your doctor’s projected timeline and the information you received about your care. Then something unexpected happened.

Maybe your doctor made a mistake in your treatment. Perhaps your doctor failed to offer a comprehensive description of what that treatment would really mean for you, including potential impacts if things did not go according to plan. Whatever the case, you ended up suffering damages because of your doctor’s negligence.

Do you have grounds for a medical malpractice claim after careless, negligent, or reckless behavior from your physician? Read on to learn more about what makes a valid medical malpractice claim, and what you can do to protect your rights after a medical malpractice incident.

What Is Medical Malpractice?

Medical malpractice includes any negligent act that departs from the standard treatment that other competent medical care professionals adhere to, which leads to damages for the patient. Doctors are held to high standards when it comes to treating patients as practitioners who have committed to do no harm in taking care of their patients. When a medical care provider deviates from those high standards, they may face medical malpractice charges.

Patients who have experienced negligent care may also have a right to pursue compensation from the providers of durable medical equipment such as hip replacements or pacemakers, from pharmaceutical companies that put out harmful medications, or from hospitals or care facilities where a nurse or other employee of the facility provides negligent care.

To file a medical malpractice claim, several things must hold true.

1. You must have a doctor/patient relationship with the doctor who provided your care.

Medical malpractice occurs when a doctor or other medical care provider actively participating in your care commits an act of negligence that leads to your injuries. Suppose, for example, that you have suffered injuries that put you in the emergency room. If the doctor responsible for your care misreads the x-rays or scans, resulting in a failure to diagnose your injuries and leading to further complications down the road, you may have grounds for a medical malpractice claim against that specific care provider.

Suppose that while the doctor who provided your care misread your x-rays, another doctor came into the room. That second doctor had a chance to observe your x-rays and may even have commented on them, but did not have a doctor/patient relationship with you, had no context for the images, and would not, therefore, bear liability in a medical malpractice case.

Likewise, if you see a doctor in a partnership with other providers, and one of the doctors in that practice—the one with whom you have a doctor/patient relationship—fails to provide the treatment you need for a specific condition, injury, or diagnosis, you might have grounds for a medical malpractice claim against that specific doctor, but the claim would not extend to other doctors in the practice unless you also had a doctor/patient relationship with them and they did not exercise their duty of care in providing treatment for you.

Furthermore, a relevant relationship may exist with another care provider, such as a nurse, physician’s assistant, or tech. If that provider had a clear provider/patient relationship with you and made a mistake in their care of you that led to an injury, that provider may be liable for medical malpractice.

2. The doctor must commit a serious error in the course of your treatment.

Generally, medical malpractice occurs as a result of negligence: a doctor who fails to provide the high standard of treatment you deserve for your injuries or illness due to their carelessness. For example, in surgery, a doctor who does not count their instruments or double-check which part of the body they are supposed to operate on may commit a “never event” and operate on the wrong limb or leave an instrument in your body after surgery due to their overall lack of care and caution during the surgical process.

However, if a doctor followed standard procedures for care and accidentally made the wrong diagnosis or failed to properly diagnose a condition, you might not have a valid medical malpractice claim against them. Suppose, for example, that you present your doctor with a list of symptoms that clearly indicate that you have a specific condition or disease. Your doctor then diagnoses and treats that disease.

Later, it comes to light that you had other symptoms that relate to another diagnosis or that you did not have the first condition at all. Your doctor made the best diagnosis possible based on the information they had. As a result, you may not have grounds for a medical malpractice claim, since your doctor provided the highest standard of care possible based on the information they had at the time of your diagnosis.

3. You must suffer damages, including physical or financial damages, as a result of that act of negligence.

To have grounds for a medical malpractice claim, you need to show that you suffered damages due to the medical care provider’s negligent actions. Suppose, for example, that your doctor diagnosed you with one type of disease and provided medication for that condition.

Later, you may have discovered that you had a different type of disease. However, the medication prescribed to treat the initial infection successfully treated your condition, and you suffered no additional damages as a result of the misdiagnosis, so you might not have grounds for a medical malpractice claim.

On the other hand, suppose that your doctor misdiagnosed your disease and failed to provide treatment altogether. As a result, you became much sicker and had to go to the hospital, which led to considerably increased medical expenses. In some cases, you may even have long-term limitations or damages resulting from that misdiagnosis. In that case, you might have grounds for a medical malpractice claim.

Any time you believe you may have grounds for a medical malpractice claim, make sure you consult an attorney as soon as possible to learn more about your rights and the compensation you can reasonably seek for your injuries.

Types of Medical Malpractice

Medical malpractice can occur any time a doctor commits an act of negligence or carelessness that leads to damages for the patient. Take a look at these common types of medical malpractice to determine whether they might apply to your claim. To be sure that you have a valid claim, contact an attorney to discuss your specific circumstances and whether you may be eligible to seek compensation.

#1. Failure to Diagnose

You presented your doctor with a clear list of symptoms that another care provider would immediately have linked to a specific condition. Your doctor, however, failed to diagnose that condition. Maybe you went to the emergency room or an urgent care center with a broken bone.

The X-rays from your visit clearly show the break but the doctor failed to diagnose the break or provide you with the care you needed. As a result, you may have faced a longer healing time or even suffered additional complications from your injuries: for example, walking on a broken leg can worsen the damage, and waiting for a long time to receive care for a broken bone might mean the bones start to heal wrong. Failure to diagnose a serious ailment could require additional treatments or even decrease the odds that you will recover fully.

#2. Misdiagnosis

Like the failure to diagnose claims, misdiagnosis involves a doctor’s failure to accurately diagnose a condition based on your symptoms. In the case of misdiagnosis, your doctor may diagnose a different ailment or injury entirely. You may receive treatment for the incorrect condition, disease, or illness, which could have its own set of side effects, some of which might even worsen the initial condition for which you sought treatment. Misdiagnosis may also mean that your original condition goes untreated, which could lead to further complications with your recovery.

#3. Failure to Treat

Your doctor clearly diagnosed your condition but failed to offer the treatment you needed. Some doctors may take a “wait and see” approach or insist that you can decrease your symptoms by, for example, changing your diet or losing weight. Unfortunately, meanwhile, you may continue to show symptoms of those ailments and even suffer increasing damage to your body. Once your doctor diagnoses you with a specific condition, they should provide treatment that will help increase your odds of making a full recovery. If your doctor fails to provide that treatment, you may have grounds for a claim against them.

#4. Failure to Inform

As a patient, you have the right to decide what type of care you want for your injuries or illnesses. You also have the right to forgo specific treatments or types of procedures based on your personal beliefs or the side effects that could occur if you choose to go forward with a specific procedure. For example, many types of back surgery have a high risk of complication and may not alleviate the pain they intend to treat.

Many patients may choose not to go forward with these procedures because of the potential consequences and their fear that the procedure will not actually provide the benefit they seek. Your doctor should always inform you of the risks and potential side effects associated with a procedure and allow you to make your own choices about how to proceed.

Doctors can, however, move forward with treatment in emergency cases without consent, especially if you cannot respond to their information or make informed decisions about your care. In emergencies, doctors will usually provide the best care possible for their patients regardless of the potential side effects since they are acting to save their patients’ lives.

#5. Prescription Medication Errors

Prescription medications can bring with them a host of side effects, some of which may seem worse than the conditions they aim to treat. In some cases, prescription medications can create terrible side effects or even result in death if prescribed in the wrong quantities. Physicians and pharmacists work on a system of checks and balances to ensure that patients receive the right dosage of their medications, that their medications do not interact dangerously with one another, and that patients do not take medications that create dangerous allergic reactions. Errors in prescription medication distribution can incapacitate or even kill a patient.

#6. Never Events

“Never events” are events that should never happen. Most often, never events occur in surgery: an instrument left behind in the patient’s body, a surgeon who operates on the wrong body part, or a surgeon who commits a dangerous error during the surgical process, for example. Never events can have catastrophic consequences for the victim. In many cases, they may kill the patient, or substantially decrease the patient’s overall quality of life.

#7. Birth Injuries

Doctors who oversee the birthing process must carefully monitor their patients. While many women give birth without problems, others may find themselves or their babies in danger during the birthing process. Doctors must monitor both mother and baby, and intervene when needed to help protect the life or health of mother or child. At the same time, however, doctors should not undertake unnecessary interventions, which can also raise the risk to mother and baby. If a doctor’s negligence during the birthing process leads to an injury to either mother or child, this is a birth injury.

#8. Medical Device Errors

Medical devices help provide support to patients in a variety of ways. Medical devices can replace damaged joints, keep a heartbeat in rhythm, or monitor a patient under dangerous circumstances. When medical devices fail, however, this can lead to serious injuries for the patient. In those cases, you may have grounds for a claim against the manufacturer of the device.

Pursuing Compensation for Your Injuries

Prompt medical care can make a huge difference in a patient’s overall recovery following a serious ailment. Unfortunately, not all doctors provide the high standard of care their patients both need and expect.

If you suffered negligence at the hands of your medical care provider that resulted in serious injury or damages, contact a medical malpractice attorney as soon after the incident as possible to learn more about your right to seek compensation.

Gomez Trial Attorneys
655 West Broadway, Suite 1700
San Diego, CA 92101
Phone: (619)-237-3490


Posted in: Medical Malpractice
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