People visit their doctors and enter hospitals in Clearwater to receive medical care. But what happens when medical professionals don’t make people better, but impair their health or do them harm? What if you don’t receive proper care, or something goes wrong with the care you do receive? What if a healthcare professional fails to take an appropriate action that hurts you or allows your health to deteriorate?
All of these scenarios constitute medical malpractice. Medical malpractice encompasses a wide range of actions and, at times, acts of omission (failure to do what should have been done). These can be gross errors, such as a failure to diagnose pathology or symptoms, improper diagnosis, and negligence in performing medical services. They can be medical errors, not only in diagnosis, but in health management, treatment, aftercare, medication prescribed, given, or dosage amounts. They can be accidents, such as leaving surgical equipment in a patient during surgery.
If you believe you or a loved one has been a victim of medical malpractice in Clearwater or surrounding areas, contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney. At Dolman Law Group, we offer a free, no obligation confidential consultation and case evaluation.
We have helped patients who were harmed by medical malpractice in the past, including patients who have suffered:
- Broken bones and permanent nerve damage resulting from a surgeon’s negligence.
- Post-operative infections or surgical site infections caused by negligence from either a surgeon, surgical staff, or a healthcare provider
- Birth trauma or negligence during delivery, causing cerebral palsy.
- Errors made during delivery, resulting in brachial plexus injury
Florida law regarding medical malpractice is complicated. Let us help you understand how to pursue justice.
Medical Malpractice Defined
Medical malpractice is professional negligence by a healthcare professional or provider in which the treatment provided fell short of the accepted standard of care, resulted in injury or caused harm, or caused the patient’s death. Medical malpractice is in almost all cases not the result of deliberate intent. Medical professionals take an oath to do no harm. Medical professionals and providers want to help their patients—and by far the majority do. At the same time, though, accidents, mistakes, and deviations from acceptable care standards do exist. No patient should suffer through the failure to provide an acceptable standard of care.
What Does a Case Need to Prove?
All cases regarding personal injury need to prove certain elements to be successful, and medical malpractice is no exception. The plaintiff’s case must be able to prove the following for medical malpractice to be established in a court of law.
The Provider Had a Duty of Care to The Patient
A duty of care is the legal duty to provide medical care that a reasonably prudent person would consider reasonable and acceptable. A doctor who sees a patient at a clinic, for example, has a duty of care to provide proper medical care to that patient, and so does the clinic.
The patient’s injury was caused by an action (or inaction) that the healthcare provider and or institution did or failed to do. It must also be proved how, why, and when the event, diagnosis, or procedure caused an injury or harm to the patient.
The Provider Strayed From Reasonable Standard of Care
It must be proved that the healthcare provided strayed from a reasonable standard of care. The reasonable standard is often determined by comparing the actions and steps of other healthcare providers in similar situations, with patients of a similar age, condition, health record, geographic locale, and family history.
Expert opinion is often consulted when determining the reasonable standard of care.
The Harm Was the Result of Negligence
Finally, the plaintiff needs to be able to show that the harm received stemmed from the healthcare provider’s negligence, and not some other cause. The harm needs to be directly correlated with the alleged negligence. Some medications, for example, have been shown to cause stroke or conditions leading to a stroke in otherwise healthy patients. If you suffered a stroke, it needs to be specifically correlated with the prescription of one of these medications, and not with underlying conditions that were part of your overall health and might have occurred in any event.
Why Are These Standards in Place?
The standards that must be proven in medical malpractice cases are very similar to that of other common personal injury cases (such as being injured by a car driver who runs into you). Standards of establishing negligence and correlating the negligence specifically with the cause of an injury are common to all personal injury cases. The standards also exist to help both plaintiffs and defendants in a medical malpractice case understand the law in dispute.
People who seek a doctor or other medical provider’s care may be ill or have medical conditions that cause harm. Any doctor, hospital, or other medical provider or professional is not liable for all the illness and harm a patient might undergo or suffer. They are only liable if they are negligent and didn’t follow an acceptable standard of care. The proof required in a medical malpractice case can help make instances of negligence clear—and also instances where negligence did not occur, and there is no case of medical malpractice.
Frankly, it is human nature to want to know why we are sick, or why treatment didn’t work. The standards are in place partly to deter people from bringing medical malpractice claims against practitioners and providers who did nothing wrong. False medical malpractice claims occur across the country.
On the other hand, if people have been injured by malpractice, they are entitled to seek just compensation vigorously, to redress the wrong done them.
What Damages Are Possible in a Medical Malpractice Suit?
Legal cases are generally brought to provide victims with economic compensation for the damage done to them. These are referred to as “damages.” In a medical malpractice case, victims can be entitled to the following forms of compensation.
The law terms specific expenses incurred by victims of medical malpractice suits “special damages.” These include:
- Medical bills and expenses
- Expected future medical bills and expenses
- Wages lost from work
- Expected future lost wages from home
- Modifications to home to compensate for a disability, such as a ramp for a wheelchair
These damages are arrived at by determining how much has been spent (with references to bills and receipts). If future medical bills or future wages lost from work are likely to occur, expert testimony on advisable treatment and length of time likely to be lost from work is usually sought.
Noneconomic losses such as pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life are general damages. If the victim has become unable to work at all, future lost earnings calculations are also covered under the term general damages. Expert testimony is usually solicited for general damages as well.
In some extreme cases, punitive damages may be assessed. Punitive damages in all cases are awarded when the harm has been extreme and resulted from intentional actions or particularly egregious behavior. They are intended to punish the defendant for their actions; hence the word “punitive.” These are rare in medical malpractice cases, but they do occur.
Are There Limits on Damages?
Many states have limits on medical malpractice damages. Florida limits compensation for medical malpractice suits to $500,000 against a healthcare provider (such as a doctor or hospital) and to $750,000 against non-medical practitioners.
Is There a Time Limit on When I Can Bring a Medical Malpractice Suit?
Most legal cases must be brought within a certain period of time, or the court will in all likelihood refuse to hear the case. This is called a “statute of limitations.” The Florida statute of limitations for medical malpractice cases is two years from the time the person discovers their injury or harm. However, the person has four years total from when the incident in question occurred.
Note that the statute of limitations clock starts from when the injury or harm is discovered. That’s because, in some cases, the person may not realize they were injured immediately. A surgical implement left in a patient during surgery, for example, can cause complications, but the symptoms may not be apparent immediately.
The four-year statute of limitations is in place due to a statute of repose. After four years, it may be difficult to ascertain what in a person’s health has been caused by past events. It is also to prevent providers and professionals from being sued many years after an event has passed.
There are some exceptions. First, if the healthcare provider or professional intentionally hid their actions from the patient, the statute of limitations is extended to seven years from when the incident occurred. It continues to be two years from when the injury was discovered. Second, the statute of limitations does not apply to people who are under 18 at the time of the alleged medical malpractice.
The Process of Bringing a Medical Malpractice Suit
Florida, like many states, requires a specific process in medical malpractice cases.
The injured person is required to notify the health care provider or practitioner of their intent to bring a suit. The notification must include an expert witness statement, duly sworn, attesting to the merits of the claim. This is done so to discourage suits that are not supported by medical evidence and the proof requirements.
In addition, Florida mandates certain guidelines for expert witnesses before a trial actually begins. First, the expert witness is required to provide testimony to the trial court judge, with no jury present, before trial. The judge then decides if their testimony is worth presenting to the jury.
But before that, the defense expert needs to review the case, according to Florida guidelines. They need to review all the facts related to their area of expertise and prepare an opinion.
If an expert’s opinion differs from the defense expert, the medical malpractice case is considered credible and will proceed to trial. Note that this determination of credible is quite different from determinations of guilt or innocence. Those determinations are always made by the jury. The determinations of defense experts and expert testimony from the plaintiff’s side are intended to discourage frivolous or false suits and to establish that the plaintiff’s claim of medical malpractice is credible.
Medical malpractice cases can rely very heavily on expert witness testimony. To be an expert witness, the person must be at least as educated, trained, and experienced as the person being accused, or more. Their opinion needs to be reliable. In other words, if a cardiologist is accused, the expert witness must also be a cardiologist, and their education, training, and experience must be equal to or higher than the accused.
But the kind of events that cause injury or death in a medical or healthcare setting is very broad and differs from other kinds of events, of course. While some expert witnesses might be experts in the specialty of the practitioner, others might be medical examiners that testify to the cause of death. Some might be scientists, testifying to a drug reaction. Others might be general practitioners, testifying to the generally accepted standard of care for particular conditions.
If You or a Loved One Has Suffered Medical Malpractice in Clearwater
What should you do if you or a loved one has suffered from medical practice in Clearwater or surrounding areas? Frankly, it can be difficult to know what to do. It can be daunting to go up against a medical provider or institution, particularly if you still need medical care.
An experienced medical malpractice lawyer in the Clearwater area can help. At the Dolman Law Group, we have assisted many patients in obtaining justice and fair compensation in the wake of medical malpractice. Our first consultation is always free.
Florida law concerning malpractice is complicated. Let us help. We can explain the law clearly and discuss your case in a transparent way. Contact us today or call 833-552-7274.