Malpractice and Negligence
In order to understand malpractice, we must first understand medical negligence. Malpractice occurs when a healthcare professional engages in a negligent act or omission.
Medical professionals owe a duty of care to all of their patients. They are obligated to provide medical care to the accepted standards of the industry. More specifically, an action or omission may be considered negligent if another reasonable professional in the same field, with the same training, and operating in the same region would not have taken the same action or omission.
In order to establish that a healthcare provider acted negligently, you must prove four elements:
- Duty of care - Under the professional doctor-patient relationship, your physician owed you a duty to provide medical care which meets the industry standard in your region.
- Breach of duty - Your medical professional failed to meet this duty by acting or failing to act in a way another competent professional would have.
- Injury - This breach of duty directly lead to your injuries.
- Damages - Your injuries resulted in economic and/or non-economic damages, such as medical expenses or pain and suffering.
If these four elements apply to your experience, you likely have a strong case for a medical malpractice lawsuit.
When Does Negligence Become Malpractice?
In order for a healthcare injury to qualify as malpractice, a medical professional must have acted in a negligent way which directly caused your injury and subsequent damages such as additional medical expenses and lost wages.
Not all cases of medical negligence constitute malpractice. For example, a doctor could breach his duty of care but if your injuries were preexisting, this breach would not qualify as malpractice.
If negligence did directly contribute to your injuries, you may be eligible to recover the following damages for personal injury:
- Past and future medical expenses
- Past and future lost wages
- Loss of quality of life
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of financial support or consortium (in wrongful death cases)
Be aware that in Pennsylvania, the statute of limitations for these cases is set at 2 years after you discover, or reasonably should have discovered your injuries.
Common Forms of Malpractice
Medical malpractice can occur in several different ways. All medical procedures require a high standard of care. Lapses in judgment and poor communication can often lead to the following costly mistakes:
Sometimes, doctors may prescribe a medication without realizing that it could cause further health complications or make the problem worse. They also might prescribe an improper dosage. For example, your doctor may have prescribed a certain medication that is known to cause complications with a different medication you were already prescribed.
Medication and prescription errors are possible at multiple levels of the healthcare industry:
- A doctor may make a prescription error.
- A pharmacist could make an error while filling the prescription.
- A nurse may accidentally administer the wrong medication, dosage, or use the wrong method.
A doctor may fail to recognize a serious health condition or mistakenly identify a condition which is not present. Additionally, they may give a delayed diagnosis of a health condition which could have been properly treated if it was discovered earlier. Examples of serious conditions which need to be diagnosed and treated promptly include:
- Heart conditions
- Cystic fibrosis
Part of the doctor-patient relationship is the trust that health complications will be identified quickly so that they can be treated as effectively as possible. Failure to recognize these and other health conditions can lead to devastating health problems.
Going under the knife is one of the most nerve-wracking medical procedures you can experience. Mistakes made in the surgery room cause damage in two ways: the problem has not been addressed, and additional issues may now be present as a result of the mistake. Examples of surgical mistakes include:
- Operating on the wrong body part
- Incision mistakes
- Anesthesia errors (too little or too much)
- Injuring nerves
- Leaving equipment inside of the patients
- Mixing patients up and performing the wrong procedure
Childbirth today is much safer than it was 100 years ago, but many birth injuries still occur. Some of these injuries are caused by unavoidable complications, but many are a direct result of medical negligence. These are some of the most tragic cases of malpractice, as a child's potential for a happy and healthy life is cut short before they even have a chance to develop.
Birth injuries are commonly caused by:
- Failure to order a necessary c-section
- Poor communication between hospital staff
- Misuse of assistive tools such as forceps and vacuum extractors
- Failure to diagnose or treat pregnancy or labor complications
- Failure to treat infections and other medical conditions in mother
These mistakes can cause a variety of birth injuries. Some infants will recover from their injuries within the first days or weeks or life, while others are saddled with lifelong health complications. Common examples of birth injuries include: