<Residents and visitors can seek medical care at more than 90 hospitals and clinics in the San Diego area. Whether you obtained your care at the smallest clinic in San Diego County or you received trauma care at the region’s largest hospital, Sharp Memorial, your care provider has the responsibility to avoid causing you any harm.
The failure to live up to this responsibility may constitute medical malpractice, which gives rise to several thousands of personal injury claims in California every year. Manufacturers of medical devices also have a responsibility to healthcare patients, and may face liability in the event of a defect in a device itself or misleading instructions for implanting a device, leading to harm.
If a medical error in San Diego injured you, contact an experienced medical malpractice lawyer as soon as possible. They can provide information and guidance about the legal process for holding the negligent parties responsible and obtaining compensation for the expenses and impacts you incurred from the error. This piece provides general information about medical errors and how victims can recover compensation.
Common Medical Errors
If someone asked you in what year medical errors were the third leading cause of death in the U.S., you might want to reach back decades, or even a century or two. But this finding was actually made by a Johns Hopkins study. Medical errors fell behind only heart disease and cancer as leading causes of death. The study conservatively estimated that medical errors result in at least 250,000 deaths in the U.S. each year. The number is likely much higher, as many physicians, funeral directors, or medical examiners rarely note human error or systemic failure as a cause of death on death certificates.
Some common types of medical errors that result in death or injury to patients include:
Medication errors, including prescribing the wrong medication or an incorrect dose. Medication errors are often the result of communication failures between physicians and their staff, or between staff and a pharmacy,
Misdiagnosis, which is often from failing to identify or take into account all of a patient’s symptoms, failing to take an accurate patient history that might provide clues to a diagnosis, or failing to read lab reports properly.
Delayed diagnosis, when the physician fails to obtain all of the pertinent patient history and symptom details, or when the physician fails to take seriously the patient’s symptoms.
Surgical errors, including the improper placement of a medical device, leaving a surgical instrument in the body cavity, the placement of a medical device that is known to cause unreasonable risk to the patient, wrong-site surgery, or even wrong-patient surgery.
Birth injuries, which involve harm caused to an infant by a physician error made during or around the time of birth. Common errors resulting in birth injuries include a failure to perform a C-section when it is medically indicated, performing a C-section when it is not medically required, failing to monitor the mother’s or child’s vital signs during labor, or failing to treat known medical issues occurring to the mother or child during pregnancy.
Infection, a known risk of surgical procedures. Not all result from medical errors. However, a doctor must take steps before, during, and after a procedure to prevent infection. Health care facilities are also required to have procedures in place to prevent the spread of communicable diseases.
Failure to obtain informed consent. Doctors are required to thoroughly explain proposed treatment options to their patients, including disclosing all known risks. Failure to obtain informed consent occurs when a doctor fails to disclose information to the patient that, if disclosed, would have allowed the patient to properly assess the risks and make an informed decision on whether to consent to the procedure.
Lack of proper follow-up care or improper discharge. Patients are often sent home from a surgical procedure with instructions on how to care for their post-surgical wounds and what to do if they experience an unexpected risk or complication. However, facilities release some patients with insufficient instructions and before healthcare professionals properly monitored them for dangerous side effects or risks of a procedure.
How Do Medical Errors Occur?
While many circumstances can lead to a medical error, the most common reason for medical errors is a breakdown in communication among care providers. This includes failing to properly communicate the medications prescribed to the pharmacist, known risks of a procedure to a patient, results of diagnostic tests, care instructions to other health care staff, either verbally or in writing, or obtaining an accurate medical history from the patient. However, human error in the healthcare industry goes beyond communication problems.
The following are also common causes of medical errors:
Improper training of healthcare staff, including training on specific policies and procedures to prevent errors
Improper identification and assessment of a patient, including failure to obtain a complete patient medical history.
Inadequate staffing levels, which may result in the inability for staff to meet the needs of all patients and can lead to errors that result from hurrying through procedures or evaluations of the patient.
Technical failures from the computer programs used to capture and maintain patient information, as well as failure involving medical devices, grafts, or surgical equipment.
Inadequate policies and procedures that fail to properly provide a system of checks and balances that make it more difficult for errors to result in patient harm.
Doctors and other healthcare workers often work long hours under stressful circumstances, which can lead to fatigue. Fatigue causes major deficits in a person’s cognitive skills, and they’re similar to the effects of alcohol impairment, including slowed response times, difficulty multitasking, and difficulty making good decisions.
San Diego’s Problem With Medical Errors
Medical malpractice claims in California have declined for decades and remained relatively low when compared to other states, although California is the most highly populated state in the country.
However, one potential reason for this isn’t necessarily a good one. California state lawmakers have recently accused the State’s Medical Board of failing to hold doctors accountable for the errors they make in patient care. A pending Senate bill would change the state’s law to require a smaller licensing fee for physicians to practice in the state but would expand the board’s powers to investigate complaints against doctors and recoup the cost of the investigation from the doctor under investigation. Lawmakers also want the eight-person California Medical Board to create an independent monitor to review the efficiency of the board’s current investigative and disciplinary processes.
According to a recent board report, in just one year, California received nearly 11,000 complaints of medical errors, but only initiated an investigation in just under 2,000 of those cases. Thirty-five physicians had their licenses revoked after investigations into patient complaints, 170 doctors went on probation, and 108 doctors were reprimanded for committing medical errors. Ninety-six physicians surrendered their licenses.
Seeking Compensation for a Medical Error
Seeking compensation for the expenses and impacts of an injury or illness that a medical error caused can require a complex undertaking.
Medical malpractice cases are different than other types of personal injury lawsuits, due to:
The notice of intent to sue requirement. To file a medical malpractice lawsuit, you must first serve all medical malpractice defendants—including all specific doctors and facilities—with a notice of intent to sue at least ninety days before filing suit.
A $250,000 cap on non-economic damages. These are the damages that cover pain and suffering and other negative impacts that you have incurred because of the medical error. You may not recover more than $250,000 in non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases, a constraint that does not exist for many other kinds of personal injury claims.
Limitations on the amount of money that an attorney can charge in this type of case for their services. Medical malpractice lawyers typically take their fee from a percentage of settlement or court award they help recover on your behalf. California law places limits on the percentage they may take, which decreases the more they can recover.
Not all errors occurring in a medical facility rise to the level of medical malpractice. To prove that medical malpractice occurred in your case, you must be able to show the following elements:
The patient was receiving treatment from the provider,
The provider strayed from the standard of care, which refers to the actions that a reasonable provider would have taken under similar circumstances to protect their patient from harm, and
This deviation from the standard of care caused the patient to suffer an illness or injury and subsequent, related impacts and expenses.
In the legal arena, the term “recovering damages” means obtaining compensation. California allows the recovery of both economic damages—that is, compensation for the expenses of your injury—and non-economic damages, which pay for other impacts that your injury has had on your quality of life.
Some common expenses and impacts to appear on medical malpractice damage claims in San Diego include:
Medical expenses related to repairing or treating the injury or illness that resulted from the medical error.
Lost wages due to being too injured or ill as a result of the error to work.
Loss of future earning capacity, if the medical error results in permanent deficits that prevent you from having the same earning capacity as you did before the error took place.
Physical pain and suffering as a result of the injury or illness or particularly painful procedures involved in treating it.
Loss of the enjoyment of life, if your injury prevents you from participating in activities and events you previously enjoyed.
Loss of consortium, for the loss of physical intimacy and companionship that a patient may experience after a serious medical malpractice injury.
The Time Limit for Filing a Claim
In California, you must file medical malpractice claims a statutory deadline referred to as the statute of limitations.
The statute of limitations for a medical malpractice claim is the earliest of:
One year after learning, or when you reasonably should have learned, that you suffered an injury as the result of medical malpractice, or
Three years after the date on which the injury occurred.
Three situations will extend, or toll, the statute of limitations in a medical malpractice claim.
Those exceptions include:
Cases involving medical fraud involving a minor,
Cases in which the provider deliberately concealed information about the error that occurred, and
Cases in which doctors left a foreign object (for example, a scalpel) inside the patient.
Healthcare spending in the U.S. is currently at more than $4 trillion a year, with the largest share of that portion—$1.4 trillion, or about 30 percent—being spent on hospital services. Despite this spending, medical facilities remain understaffed and providers are subject to carelessness, communication breakdowns, and fatigue. While making a mistake doesn’t necessarily mean that a doctor shouldn’t be practicing, if that mistake causes a patient to be seriously harmed or even results in the death of a patient, the provider should be held accountable and responsible for compensating the patient.
If you were injured by a San Diego medical error, the best favor you can do yourself is to contact an experienced medical malpractice lawyer. A medical malpractice attorney can represent you and help obtain the maximum amount of compensation available in your case.