What is Medical Malpractice?

Medical malpractice is a form of negligence involving a medical treatment provider. If someone is injured as a result of a treatment provider’s digression from the standard of care, that treater may be liable for the injury that has occurred. The determination of whether a medical professional has met the standard of care is based on a comparison to other professionals in the same field and the same geographical region. In other words, what would a reasonably competent medical professional practicing in the same field as the defendant, and in the same area of the defendant, do under the circumstances that the defendant was facing with respect to care and treatment of the patient?

Medical malpractice does not occur every time there is a bad outcome from treatment. It is simply a duty to provide good care according to the accepted standards of the community and/or the accepted standards of a particular medical specialty. The law generally recognizes the practice of medicine as an “art” rather than as an exact science. Therefore, some latitude is given to practitioners with respect to the manner in which they choose to address the problems of specific patients.

If a medical treatment provider causes a patient to suffer a disease or injury by his or her negligent actions or failures to act, that health care professional may be guilty of medical malpractice. Even if a patient already suffers from a disease or injury, the treatment provider may still face liability for malpractice if his or her actions or in-actions increase a patient’s risk of harm or causes the condition to worsen. Medical malpractice can occur in an many different scenarios. Here are some of the more common medical mistakes:

  • Failure to diagnose and properly treat medical emergencies. In emergency situations prompt and correct treatment is essential.
  • Failure to diagnose and properly treat serious medical conditions. Often symptoms are overlooked or a patient is taken for granted. Sometimes x-rays and other test results are misread.
  • Surgical mistakes. As slip of a knife can cause severe problems. Sometimes medical instruments or sponges are left inside a patient after surgery by mistake.
  • Errors with medication or treatment. A wrong prescription or treatment can cause serious injury or illness.
  • Delays in diagnosis. Many times diagnostic delay can have dire consequences, especially in the case of various types of cancer.
  • Birth Injuries. Malpractice can often occur during labor. Complications arise that require immediate and proper reactions from doctors and nurses. Cerebral Palsy cases sometimes arise as a result of such medical mistakes.
  • Failure to advise of diagnosis. A patient has the right to know the diagnosis so that he or she can properly assess treatment options.
  • Lack of Informed Consent. A patient has the right to understand the risks associated with a particular type of treatment.
  • Abandonment. A treatment provider cannot always simply stop treating a patient, especially in emergency situations.

Medical Malpractice Damages

There are two types of damages available in medical malpractice cases, compensatory damages and punitive damages.

Compensatory Damages

Compensatory damages are designed to, in a word, compensate. To the extent possible these types of damages are meant to make the person as “whole” as possible. Generally, these damages can be broken up into two sub-categories, actual damages and general damages. Actual damages seek to reimburse a plaintiff for financial losses sustained. Actual damages typically include:

  • Medical and hospitalization bills incurred to treat your injuries
  • Wages lost due to work missed while you recuperate
  • Costs of household or nursing help during recovery, including costs of wheelchair or
  • crutches required

Malpractice victims can also sue for general damages in addition to actual damages. General damages include the things that can’t be precisely documented in dollars spent, including

  • Pain and suffering endured due to injuries and any subsequent mental anguish
  • Disfigurement
  • Value of medical expenses you are likely to incur in the future
  • Value of wages you are likely to lose in the future
  • Loss of consortium (benefits of a relationship)
  • Loss of normal life

Punitive Damages

Punitive damages may be awarded in certain cases. Punitive damages are not based on actual injuries sustained. Rather, they are a way to punish the defendant for intentional or grossly negligent conduct. It is fairly uncommon to see punitive damages in a medical malpractice case. However, it is not unprecedented.

Damages are also available in cases where the plaintiff is able to prove that he or she was not provided with proper informed consent.