How does medical malpractice differ from negligence? Medical malpractice occurs when a medical professional or institution violates a standard duty of care to a patient, causing the patient harm or injury. Medical negligence occurs when a medical professional makes errors or omissions in a patient’s treatment for an illness or injury.
What Is Medical Malpractice?
Medical professionals like physicians and nurses take an oath to protect their patients from harm while patients are under their care. Medical malpractice occurs when a medical professional fails to uphold their oath and a certain professional standard of care and the patient suffers harm, injury, or death as a result.
Patients trust their doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals to provide proper care and appropriate treatment for their health conditions, such as diseases, illnesses, and injuries. Many patients suffer from problems or complications during the course of their medical care. However, the issues are not always caused by medical malpractice. To prove medical malpractice, you must establish four facts:
- Doctor/Patient Relationship
The patient must prove that an established doctor/patient relationship existed during the time his or her illness or injury occurred. If a patient is being treated by multiple doctors or specialists, proof of medical malpractice may be more complex. In such cases, a medical malpractice attorney can establish necessary facts to prove a case.
- The Standard of Care was Violated
The patient must show that the doctor or medical professional violated the standard of care by acting in such a way that another medical professional would not have acted under the same or similar circumstances.
- The Doctor’s Actions Caused Patient HarmTo prove medical malpractice, the patient must establish that his or her harm or injury is directly related to the actions of the attending doctor or medical professionals. When a patient is already suffering from a disease, illness, or injury, proving malpractice may be more difficult.
- The Patient Sustained Damages
For a valid medical malpractice claim, a patient must prove that he or she sustained damages as a result of the doctor or medical professional’s actions. If proof is shown, the patient can recover damages for lost wages, medical expenses, physical injuries or disabilities, emotional distress, and pain and suffering.
While some forms of medical malpractice and medical negligence are obvious and easy to prove, other cases may be more difficult to prove. For example, performing a procedure on the wrong patient or performing the wrong procedure is an obvious mistake. However, misdiagnosing a patient, prescribing the wrong medications, or failing to schedule follow-up exams may go unnoticed. In many cases, patients who suffer injuries due to malpractice or negligence don’t even realize it until symptoms manifest at a later date. In some cases, that could be several years.
What Damages Can You Recover for Medical Malpractice?
Patients who suffer harm due to medical malpractice or negligence have a legal right to file a civil lawsuit to recover damages for injuries. To file a lawsuit, the person being sued must be a qualified medical professional such as a physician, surgeon, nurse, EMT, dentist, or other health care worker. Patients may also sue a medical institution such as a hospital, urgent care facility, nursing home facility, or clinic.
When pursuing a medical malpractice case, an attorney will handle the case and assign monetary damages to the patient’s injuries. Compensation will include both economic and non-economic damage awards to the patient. In some cases, a fair settlement may be negotiated outside of court. If parties can’t agree on a settlement, the patient’s attorney will proceed with a civil lawsuit and take the matter to court.
Whether the patient reaches an insurance settlement or the case goes to court, injured patients may receive compensation for the following damages:
- Lost Wages
- Loss of Future Earning Capacity
- Medical Expenses
- Emotional Distress
- Pain and Suffering
- Loss of Consortium
If a patient dies due to medical malpractice or negligence, the patient’s family has a right to file a wrongful death claim on the patient’s behalf to recover damages.
What Are the Steps in a Medical Malpractice Case?
Medical malpractice and negligence cases can be complicated. It’s often hard to understand how medical malpractice differs from negligence and the best way to proceed with a legal claim. There are a variety of reasons why medical malpractice happens.
If a patient suffers harm and chooses to file a legal claim or civil lawsuit, there are steps to take to ensure a successful outcome. The first step is finding an attorney who has an in-depth knowledge of both medicine and the law. Whether the case settles out of court or proceeds to a court trial, a medical malpractice attorney can make sure that the right steps are taken to win the case.
The second step is investigating the patient’s injury and gathering information to support a claim. This includes:
- Information on the patient’s attending doctors and specialists
- Hospital records
- Medical records of doctor’s visits, treatments, and lab results
- Medical records of prescription medications
- Followup visits and exams
- Medical costs billed to the patient
Medical professionals and medical facilities are usually represented by attorneys who are appointed by insurance companies that provide medical malpractice coverage to doctors and hospitals. Since medical malpractice and negligence cases often result in large payouts to victims, insurance companies will try to settle the case out of court with a lower payout to eliminate attorney’s fees, trial expenses, and court costs. According to case statistics, more than 80 percent of medical malpractice and negligence cases end in a settlement and never proceed to a trial.
Once an attorney takes the case, a pretrial period begins, which involves a period of discovery. During this period, which typically lasts for several months, the plaintiff’s attorney and the defendant’s attorney exchange information such as medical records, statements from medical experts, and depositions of medical professionals and the patient. Both sides will review key facts and ask questions about the patient’s injuries and whether they were caused by medical malpractice or negligence. The answer to this question determines how the case proceeds and how damages should be awarded.
Most states, including Illinois, impose time limits on filing a medical malpractice or negligence claim. In Illinois, a claim must be filed within two years from the date of an incident causing injury or two years from the date on which the patient should have reasonably discovered the harm caused by medical care. The time frame of the case can last several months or even several years, depending on the circumstances involving malpractice or negligence, the severity of the patient’s injuries, and whether the case settles or goes to court. An Illinois medical malpractice attorney is essential to a successful outcome for the patient due to the time and knowledge such cases require.