Medical malpractice cases can be emotional for everyone involved. At a time when you or a loved one believed you were getting appropriate medical care, your medical providers let you down, possibly making things worse. If you believe you or a loved one have been a victim of medical malpractice, your emotions may range from anger and grief to stress and sadness, making it difficult to know what steps to take.
Medical malpractice cases are some of the most complicated and expensive cases out there. You will need an experienced personal injury attorney on your side to help navigate the process and determine if you have a case. In this article we will explore the elements of medical malpractice and help you decide if it is time to contact an attorney.
What Qualifies as Medical Malpractice?
Simply put, medical malpractice is when a patient is harmed by the actions of a healthcare provider who fails to competently perform their medical duties. The critical question in a malpractice case is whether a competent doctor, under the same circumstances, would have made different decisions to provide a better outcome.
If the answer is yes, and you experienced physical, emotional or financial damages because of your doctor’s actions, you may have a case. An experienced medical malpractice attorney can help you determine if your situation qualifies.
How Do I Know If I Have a Medical Malpractice Case?
To prove that medical malpractice occurred, your attorney will work to prove a few basic things.
1. You had a doctor-patient relationship with the provider
Essentially, this means that this person acted as your doctor or medical provider, and they agreed to treat you. This is relatively easy to prove, especially if the healthcare provider saw you in their office, prescribed you medication, or performed any type of procedure on you.
2. Your doctor was negligent
Your attorney will work to show that your healthcare provider did not follow the professionally accepted standard of care for their field. In Florida, this requires you to have a medical expert who will testify to the appropriate medical standard and how your doctor deviated from it.
3. Your doctor’s negligence caused the injury
To prove medical malpractice, it must be clear that your doctor’s actions — not another event or underlying condition — caused your injury. Your attorney will work to prove it is more likely than not that your doctor’s specific action is to blame for your negative outcome.
4. Your injury is permanent and caused you specific damages
Even if your doctor clearly made an error, to sue for malpractice your lawyer will need to prove that the error caused you one or more of the following:
- A permanent injury
- Physical pain
- Mental or emotional pain
- Medical bills
- Lost job or ability to earn wages
Because of the complexity of the medical malpractice field, your best option is to schedule a consultation with an attorney to determine the strength of a potential suit.
Who Can Be Liable for Medical Malpractice?
Medical malpractice cases can be pursued against a variety of healthcare providers, including doctors, nurses, pharmacists, dentists, physical therapists, anesthesiologists, chiropractors, and more. In addition, any type of healthcare facility may be liable for medical malpractice incidents.
What Is the Statute of Limitations in Florida for a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit?
Each state has its own guidelines on how long you have to file a medical malpractice claim. In Florida, you have two years from the date you believe the incident occurred to file your claim. It is important to contact a medical malpractice attorney as soon as possible to ensure a complete investigation and to make the deadline to pursue your claim.
What Does “Pure Comparative Fault” Mean in Florida?
Pure comparative fault means that even if a patient is responsible for part of their injury, they can still collect damages from their doctor for malpractice. The amount of damages a patient can be awarded, though, will be proportional to the level their doctor was at fault for the injury. For instance, if a patient is deemed to be 90% at fault for their injury and their doctor is 10% to blame, the patient can only collect 10% of their total damages from the doctor.
Can a Medical Malpractice Case Be Reopened After It Has Settled?
Unfortunately, nearly all settlements include an agreement not to revisit the claim in the future. Some exceptions exist, such as in a case where you verbally accepted a settlement but never physically signed it, if you were forced into signing, or if you signed after being given fraudulent information. This is why it is important to speak with a medical malpractice attorney as soon as possible, to ensure that you identify every potential claim and negligent medical provider as early as possible. That will help ensure that you do not prematurely settle your case without knowing your options.
Can I File a Medical Malpractice Suit If I Signed a Consent Form?
Most doctors require patients to sign some kind of consent form before being treated, especially if they are undergoing a more intensive procedure. Simply signing a form, though, does not necessarily mean you cannot sue for medical malpractice.
A possible medical malpractice case depends on what was specifically stated in the consent form, whether your doctor fully explained the risks of your treatment, whether you were able to fully understand the risks outlined, and other factors.
Even if you signed a consent form, you should still speak with an attorney about the specifics of your case. They will be able to help you determine whether a settlement might still be possible.
If I Already Have a Settlement Offer, Why Do I Need an Attorney?
The simple answer is that you should never sign any settlement documents without an attorney present, especially when the case involves your health and finances and has the potential to impact your life for years.
The more detailed answer is that an attorney can help you evaluate the settlement offered and determine whether it is a fair offer. Once you sign a settlement, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to revise it, even if you discover after the fact that your injuries and subsequent damages are more extensive than you thought.
The easiest way to avoid regret in your medical malpractice settlement is to enlist the help of an experienced attorney. They can help you pursue a settlement substantial enough to take care of you for the long term, not just the immediate future.
What are Examples of Medical Malpractice?
Some of the more common types of medical malpractice include:
Failure to diagnose a patient
This applies to situations where a competent doctor should have been able to discover an illness or injury, which would have led to proper care.
Delayed diagnosis of a patient
Even if your doctor eventually diagnoses you correctly, they can still be sued for malpractice if a competent doctor would have identified your condition earlier, resulting in more expedient treatment and a more positive outcome.
If a doctor uses poor judgment in selecting a treatment plan or if they fail to administer treatment in its entirety, negligence has occurred and a malpractice suit can be pursued.
Failure to adequately communicate with the patient
Doctors have a duty of informed consent to their patients. If a patient is receiving care for an illness or injury, the doctor must also inform them of any side effects or risks associated with treatment. In cases where a patient would not have elected for treatment if the risks were known, medical malpractice has occurred.
Other examples of medical malpractice
In addition to various types of medical malpractice, these cases can also occur in nearly every field of healthcare. Common areas when patients experience medical malpractice are:
- Childbirth injuries or negligent prenatal care
- Errors during surgery
- Hospital-related infections
- Being discharged too soon
- Medication errors
- Anesthesia errors
When Should I Contact an Attorney for a Medical Malpractice Case?
If you believe you have been the victim of medical malpractice, contact an attorney as soon as possible. The earlier you consult with an attorney, the sooner you have an expert on your side to help you get the settlement you deserve.
Medical malpractice cases require a significant amount of analysis and expertise on the front-end to determine if you have a case to pursue. Ask your attorney whether they have ever handled a medical malpractice case before and whether they have the financial resources to take your case through trial. The defense attorneys and insurance companies will know, so you should too.
*This information was written or reviewed for accuracy by Marc Matthews, an experienced medical malpractice attorney and managing partner at Matthews Injury Law.