What is Medical Malpractice?
- Did you suffer an injury in a hospital or medical institution?
- Do you believe that medical negligence is to blame?
- Can you file a medical malpractice lawsuit?
Before you explore your legal options, you must understand the meaning of medical malpractice. You must also recognize the difference between medical malpractice and negligence, as well as the definition of medical liability.
What’s the definition of medical malpractice? Malpractice, according to a leading legal dictionary, is: “The tort committed when a professional fails to properly execute their duty to a client.” Sounds confusing right? A tort is a legal term meaning “an act or omission that gives rise to injury or harm to another.” This means that medical malpractice can occur from an action or failure to act on the part of doctors, nurses, pharmacists, hospitals, surgical centers, healthcare systems, and more—any entity that provides medical treatment.
When a doctor or medical professional causes harm to their patient, they bear legal responsibility. This legal responsibility is also known as medical liability. Medical liability is a liability for any damage inflicted to a patient by a health service provider. This harm results in significant losses for which the injured patient can seek compensation.
How do you know when medical malpractice has been committed? After all, people who are receiving medical treatment are generally ill in some way. As such, not all poor outcomes or complications are the result of medical malpractice or medical negligence. So, how do you tell if you have been a victim of medical malpractice?
Did Medical Malpractice Cause Your Injuries?
Patients or their loved ones may suspect that medical malpractice has occurred. However, medical malpractice is, as the definition implies, not one easily definable set of actions. Usually, the standard is that the care deviated from generally accepted standards of care and practice.
Medical malpractice can occur in many different ways.
- An error that caused serious illness or death
- Failure to diagnose properly or soon enough
- Accidents that impair health or cause harm
- Failure to act properly and according to generally accepted standards of care
The best way to determine if medical negligence led to your injuries is to speak to an experienced medical malpractice lawyer today. Your attorney will need to examine the specific details of your case and review this information with leading medical experts. If medical malpractice has occurred, you will need a legal team on your side to fight large insurance companies and medical institutions.
How Do You Prove Medical Malpractice?
The Four Components of a Medical Malpractice Case
Is medical malpractice difficult to prove? The answer is yes. It takes a team of skilled and experienced medical malpractice attorneys to negotiate and litigate these tough and complex cases.
To prove a legal case of medical malpractice, a patient and their attorney must prove four components in a case.
- Duty of Care. The first is establishing that the physician owed a duty of care. This is usually rather easy; all medical care providers, whether an individual or a larger entity (such as a hospital), owe a duty of care to their patients. They take a Hippocratic oath to treat their patients to the best of their abilities and judgments without causing harm.
- Deviation from Duty of Care. A plaintiff must establish that an action or failure to act violated the duty of care. An act that provides substandard or improper care to a patient is a violation, as is a failure to act or an omission. The violation of the duty of care is medical negligence. A negligent act makes the perpetrator liable for injuries.
- The Patient Suffered Harm. The patient must have suffered harm or injury.
- Injury Must be Directly Caused by Deviation from Care. The harm and injury must be a direct consequence of the violation of the duty of care. In other words, you may have an illness or injury, but it is only compensable through a medical malpractice suit if it is directly related to the care you received or failed to receive.
These components often require expert testimony to establish how the patient suffered harm and what the acceptable standards and practices of care in similar and comparable cases are. Usually, courts review these standards with attention paid to the care that patients receive who were similar in medical or health condition, age, geography and environment, and family history of health.
The components of a medical malpractice suit are common to all personal injury cases in law. If you slip and fall in a grocery store, for instance, you also have to prove the same key elements.
In Florida, though, the system for bringing medical malpractice cases is quite different than the system for bringing other cases.
Bringing a Medical Malpractice Claim in Florida
The process of filing a medical malpractice lawsuit or claim in our state has several steps designed to ensure the validity of the case. It also establishes that established medical professionals—peers of the planned defendant as the case goes forward—view it as such.
- Give Notice. The law mandates that the injured person (prospective plaintiff) give notice to the prospective defendant of their intent to bring a medical malpractice claim. This notice must contain a statement from a duly sworn expert witness testifying to the claim’s merits. In other words, if a patient’s claim is not supported by the proof requirements above and by medical evidence, the medical malpractice lawsuit is unlikely to pass this first step. The state does this to discourage unmerited or frivolous claims.
- Defense Review. An expert for the defense must review the case, according to the guidelines for medical malpractice lawsuits set up by the state. That expert must go over all of the facts specifically related to his or her area of expertise and put together an opinion for the court as to the merits of the case.
- Expert Witness Testimony. Before trial, an expert witness must give testimony to the judge slated for the trial. No jury will be present (it is not the trial phase, after all, during which the jury is usually present). The judge determines if the testimony is worthy of a jury hearing it.
If the courts approve the medical malpractice lawsuit through all of these steps, it then proceeds to a full jury trial. The determination of credibility is not the same as the determination of guilt or innocence. Only a jury can render a judgment of guilt or innocence.
The steps to establish the credibility of the medical negligence claim are to make sure that, for example, a sick person or a person who did not get better via medical treatment in the way he or she had hoped does not try to bring a legal suit in the understandable human desire for an explanation or closure if no medical malpractice existed. Legislators designed medical malpractice procedures to protect both the plaintiff and the defendant, and the court system itself.
Who Serves as an Expert Witness in Medical Malpractice Cases?
As you can see, expert witness testimony is crucial both at the beginning of medical malpractice cases and often in the later stages, as well. Expert witness testimony uses the expertise of a highly recognized authority in the same field as the person accused of malpractice. In other words, the expert must have similar education, training, and experience.
If an oncologist is accused of medical malpractice, the expert witness should hold a position as a recognized and reliable oncologist. All of the expert’s training, education, and experience must be at least equal, and in most cases, it will be higher.
Because the range of potential medical malpractice is so broad, however, expert testimony is broad, as well. In some cases, healthcare system administrators may speak to the practices of a healthcare system. In others, a medical examiner or coroner might testify to a death’s likely cause. Some expert testimony may come from internists or general practitioners if the accused is an internist or general practitioner.
How Do Medical Malpractice LawSuits Compensate Victims?
Medical malpractice lawsuits, like all legal suits, seek to compensate victims for harm and injury done. The compensation is monetary, even if it is for non-monetary damages, such as pain and suffering.
As an injured patient in a medical malpractice case, you can seek different types of compensation.
The first is special damages. These compensate you for expenses related to the medical malpractice claim, including:
- Medical bills and expenses
- Prospective medical bills and expenses
- Lost wages from work
- Prospective lost wages from work
- Changes to dwelling to compensate for a disability, such as a hospital bed or mobility devices
A medical malpractice lawyer will ask for these damages by assessing how much you spent in these categories (or lost, in the case of wages) to date. If you expect future medical bills or lost time from work, the court will likely solicit expert testimony. You should keep all receipts and bills from your case to determine and recompensate you for those losses.
The second type of damages is called general damages. These comprise non-economic losses, such as loss of enjoyment of life and pain and suffering. If the malpractice resulted in an inability to work in the future, or you can no longer work at your former occupation, you can seek compensation for loss of future earnings under general damages. Expert testimony is usually solicited for general damages as well.
If the medical malpractice was extreme or part of a pattern of disregard, intentional actions, or misleading actions, the court may assess punitive damages. Punitive damages, as the term implies, punishes wrongdoers for their behavior.
Florida, like several other states, has imposed legal limits on medical malpractice suits. The damages are capped at $500,000 for a healthcare provider (such as a doctor or hospital) and $750,000 against non-medical practitioners.
The Statute of Limitations in Med Mal Cases
Injured patients must bring their medical malpractice lawsuits within a specific time, or the court will refuse to hear the case. This time limit is called the statute of limitations.
In Florida, most cases must be brought within two years from the time the person is first aware of his or her harm or injury. However, the injured individual has a total of four years from when the incident happened to bring a case.
The statute of limitations in medical malpractice begins when the victim first becomes aware of the harm or injury because it is not always apparent that harm or injury has occurred immediately. If you were misdiagnosed, for example, it may take a while for symptoms to occur.
Why does a person only have four years from the incident to file? This is because of a statute of repose. After that time frame, differentiating the effects of a medical malpractice case from that of other incidents may become difficult. The statute of repose also guards professionals and providers against a suit occurring many years after the alleged event.
That said, some exceptions to the statute of limitations do exist. If a provider deliberately tries to hide his or her actions, the statute of limitations increases to seven years from the time of the incident. Although, it continues to be two years from when you discovered the injury.
In addition, the statute of limitations doesn’t apply to minors who are less than 18 years old at the time of the alleged incident.
What if My Loved One Died as a Result of Medical Malpractice?
When someone dies as a result of negligence, the law allows certain family members and the estate of the deceased to file a lawsuit for damages. The type of lawsuit is called wrongful death. A personal representative of the deceased or the estate must file the lawsuit.
The following family members can seek damages as a result of wrongful death:
- Surviving spouse
- Adult children of the deceased if there is no spouse
- Parents of adult children when no other survivors exist
- Dependents of the deceased, including minor children, adopted children, and other blood relatives
- Parents of minor children
Wrongful death damages resulting from medical negligence are intended to compensate family members for their losses. A spouse, for example, can seek damages for loss of companionship. Spouses and children can see damages for emotional pain and suffering, and children can seek damages for the loss of companionship, instruction, and guidance.
In addition, the family members or the estate may also seek compensation for medical costs for treatment up to the time of death, burial costs and funeral expenses, and lost wages from work until the date of death.
Seek an Experienced Florida Medical Malpractice Lawyer
If you or a loved one have been harmed because of the negligence of a healthcare professional or institution then you may be able to seek compensation for the damages you have suffered. Medical malpractice committed by doctors that deviate from the standard of care only to hurt their patients can be grounds for litigation seeking restitution via a medical malpractice lawsuit. The medical malpractice attorneys of Sibley Dolman Gipe can assist you in this endeavor by providing award-winning legal representation and insight earned through years of representing many satisfied clients.
Dealing with a medical malpractice case on your own is a sure way to end up damaging any potential settlement you could attain. Insurance companies always have the advantage in knowledge, experience, skill, and resources. It is in your best interest to give your chance at holding those responsible for your injuries accountable for their negligence the best odds of success by hiring an attorney that can put you on even footing with the insurance company.
Medical malpractice cases are complex and difficult, and it is natural to have questions. For further information on medical malpractice and your specific situation, contact an experienced medical malpractice lawyer today. At Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA, we are here to help you explore all your legal options from the very start. We offer compassionate and aggressive legal support and guidance every step of the way. Your health should be your primary focus – let us handle the legal work for you. Fill out a contact form online or Call today!
Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765