A doctor is supposed to take care of you. And while there’s never any guarantee that a medical professional can make you better, they shouldn’t make your situation worse. Unfortunately, this happens more than most people would care to know.
The Elements of Medical Malpractice
Just because something unexpected occurred and you’re unhappy with the results, doesn’t necessarily mean medical malpractice has taken place. For something to legally be considered malpractice, the incident must pass four important criteria:
Element #1: A Doctor-Patient Relationship Existed. A random doctor can’t commit malpractice against you. There must be a doctor-patient relationship that both parties have knowingly entered into. (In other words, a doctor who steps in to give you CPR at a dinner party can’t be slapped with malpractice for something that goes wrong while administering.)
Element #2: The Doctor Was Negligent. It must be shown that the doctor caused harm in a manner that a competent doctor would never have. The doctor’s care must be “reasonably skillful and careful.”
Element #3: The Doctor’s Negligence Caused the Injury. If a mistake happened and no harm followed, then there’s no case. But if injuries and negative symptoms result from the incident, then there’s a case to be made.
Element #4: The Injury Led to Specific Damages. Finally, it must be shown that the injuries caused by the doctor’s negligence led to specific damages like physical pain, mental anguish, lost wages, medical bills, etc.
At first glance, providing these four elements may seem easy. However, there are always multiple layers to the situation.
“This might seem simple, as you know that the doctor caused your injury,” Emroch & Kilduff mentions. “But in a courtroom, it’s about what you can prove, and medical malpractice cases can quickly become complex, requiring the use of medical experts to establish the causes of your injuries.”
Each of these four elements must be present for an incident to be considered malpractice. If three elements are present and the fourth is missing, close but no cigar! Thus it’s imperative that you’re as meticulous as you can possibly be when building your claim.
5 Signs You Could be a Victim
Understanding that each of the aforementioned four factors must be present for a situation to be labeled medical malpractice, here are some common signs that you could be a victim:
1. Surgical Errors
Surgery isn’t always as straightforward as most people think. Anything can happen when doctors cut your body open. And all it takes is a momentary lapse in judgment, a distraction, or a simple mistake and an error can occur. This can include surgical infections due to a lack of sterilization, operating on the wrong part of the body (it happens), leaving a medical tool, device, or sponge inside of the body after completing surgery, etc.
2. Neglect From Staff
Feel like you were neglected by the staff? While medical staffers are not expected to wait on your every need, they should be attentive. If this neglect leads to negative complications, it could be a sign of medical malpractice.
3. Lack of Informed Consent
Prior to any major surgery or procedure, you must sign a document saying you understand the risks of surgery. If no such document is presented and signed prior to surgery, then this is considered a lack of informed consent. Should something happen, this could be labeled malpractice.
4. Fault Admitted
This one is a little sticky, as it typically turns into a he-said-she-said situation, but a doctor who admits a mistake could be unintentionally admitting to malpractice. You’ll have to consult with an attorney to figure out what the rules are around admitting fault in your state.
Were you totally misdiagnosed? Did the doctor tell you that you had one condition, injury, or disease when you actually had another? An improper diagnosis that leads to further harm, pain, suffering, or loss is grounds for medical malpractice. (You may also have a case if the doctor fails to recognize obvious signs of a particular condition and presents a diagnosis much later than he should have.)
Putting it All Together
If you’ve been involved in an incident involving one or more of the factors mentioned above, then contacting a medical malpractice attorney is the best thing you can do. They’ll listen to your situation, make an assessment, and let you know if there’s a reasonable case to be made.