What Constitutes Medical Malpractice?
Medical malpractice is a term that is often thrown around without a fundamental understand of what it means. While it is related to a medical professional screwing up, that is not the only requirement to bring forth a successful lawsuit.
Medical malpractice arises as a result of the patient-provider relationship that every medical professional consents to when they agree to provide care to a patient. Once established, that professional has both an ethical and legal obligation to provide a level of care commiserate with industry standards, as defined by what “a competent and ethical practitioner” would do given the same patient.
Failure to meet this standard is unfortunate, but does not constitute medical malpractice, unless the case involved measurable “damages.” That sounds generic, but “damages,” in this sense, is a carefully defined legal term. It encompasses unnecessary medical issues, the exacerbation of previously existing medical conditions, the onset of new ones as a direct result of the care provided, an unreasonable delay in treatment, and the non-treatment of an otherwise treatable condition.
The definition is broad enough to include auxiliary damages to the care itself, including lost wages and psychological duress. However, you must meet the legal definition of damages for your claim to succeed. Being really, really mad at your doctor is generally not good enough.
A medical professional may also face a medical malpractice suit for failure to obtain “informed consent,” even if there were no other errors in the care provided. Informed consent is also a legal term meaning that a patient has been informed of and understands the risks associated with any given medical treatment before a medical professional begins administering it. A complicated explication filled with cryptic medical jargon does not qualify, as a patient must understand what they are being told.
Almost any medical professional may be the target of a medical malpractice claim, provided that they fail to provide an acceptable level of care. This includes doctors, dentists, surgeons, plastic surgeons, and even pharmacists. Medical professionals marketing themselves as specialists are often held to a higher standard than other physicians, making it a bit easier to bring a claim against them.
The process of bringing a formal claim varies by state, but they all have several commonalities. First, the plaintiff must notify the defendant of their intent to sue. Next, legal representation for both parties must meet and exchange discovery, or the evidence they plan to use in trial. An opportunity will then be provided to attempt to settle the matter without litigation. If negotiations fail, the case proceeds to trial.
At trial, both sides are expected to present expert witnesses to testify whether the care provided was in accordance with standard practices or not. Experts must have credentials and experience in the matter at hand in order to qualify as such. If the plaintiff wins, the judge or jury (whoever is acting as decision maker) will then decide how much should be awarded in damages. Both sides have the right to appeal the decision, and may also be able to protest the amount of the award depending on the jurisdiction.
Of course, the specifics of your individual claim will ultimately decide if you have a legitimate case. Compensation for medical negligence is often higher in the United States than other jurisdictions, so it’s important to seek legal advice before signing any paperwork. It could be the difference between earning the money you deserve and struggling to get by without it.