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Doctors generally work hard to take care of their patients. Unfortunately, they sometimes slip up. In some cases, those mistakes can have serious consequences for the hapless patient. Then, the patient may choose to file a medical malpractice suit to get compensation for the harm she suffered. Let’s take a look at some of the causes of medical malpractice and the most common medical malpractice claims.
What Is Medical Malpractice?
Not every bad medical outcome gives rise to a medical malpractice claim. Sometimes, treatments may cause unexpected and unintended side effects. Sometimes, treatments may simply be ineffective. Sometimes, treatment may be downright harmful. Unfortunately, a bad medical outcome can have a serious impact on your quality of life. In some cases, it may be fatal. When do you have a legal claim against your healthcare provider?
In Ohio, medical malpractice has two prongs, and both must be met in order to make a claim. First, a healthcare provider fails to meet the standard of care in your case. Second, that failure results in an injury. So, if your healthcare provider met the standard of care but you were still injured, you don’t have a claim. If your healthcare provider failed to meet the standard of care but you weren’t injured, you don’t have a claim. Finally, if your healthcare provider failed to meet the standard of care and you were injured, but the failure didn’t cause the injury, you don’t have a claim. You can see how medical malpractice claims can get very complicated, very quickly.
The Standard of Care
A medical malpractice claim turns on the “standard of care.” The standard of care is an industry-standard. For example, the reasonable standard of care for heart surgery is the type of treatment that heart surgery experts recommend. Some cases are easier to prove than others. It’s always a failure of the standard of care if a surgeon leaves an instrument inside your body after the surgery. It may or may not be a failure of the standard of care if your heart surgeon uses an unusual or new technique during the surgery.
Medical Malpractice Damages
If you win a medical malpractice claim, you’ll be entitled to money damages. Those damages are usually calculated to cover your additional medical expenses caused by the malpractice, any lost wages due to the malpractice, and any other expenses incurred because of the malpractice. These are “economic” damages and are meant to ensure that you don’t bear the financial burden of your healthcare provider’s malpractice. You may also receive non-economic damages for your pain and suffering, loss of quality of life, and other issues. In Ohio, medical malpractice damages are typically capped at $350,000 for an individual. If the injury was particularly severe or caused permanent damages, you may be entitled to up to $500,000.
The medical malpractice claim process is complex and requires the help of a skilled attorney.
Causes Of Medical Malpractice
So what are the causes of medical malpractice? Obviously our doctors aren’t intentionally causing us harm, but problems happen. Medical malpractice on the part of doctors or other medical staff often has to do with misdiagnosis or failure to diagnose. They may misread your symptoms, for example. They may write down the wrong medication or the wrong dose for a prescription. Another common malpractice issue is a mistake during surgery, which can either damage other parts of your body or fail to treat the underlying condition. In other words, human error.
However, the most common cause of medical malpractice is actually communication error either between doctors or between doctors and the rest of your care team.
Hospitals and other care centers can also be responsible for medical malpractice. These issues usually arise due to failure to maintain equipment, failure to maintain a clean environment (leading to dangerous infections), or failing to adequately train doctors and other staff. Again, another major issue is communication. Hospitals may fail to put the necessary procedures and systems in place to make sure that every member of your care team has the information they need about you.
Common Causes for Medical Malpractice Claims
Anywhere from 15,000-19,000 medical malpractice claims are brought against healthcare providers in the US every year. What are people filing those claims for?
For inpatients, the most common causes of medical malpractice claims are surgical errors. Those make up about ⅓ of all medical malpractice cases brought by inpatients. Surgical errors can range from the strange (leaving surgical instruments inside the body) to the horrific (amputation of the wrong limb). The most common types of surgical errors are surgery performed on the wrong site, surgery performed on the wrong patient, use of unsanitary surgical tools, organ damage, and nerve damage. The first three are generally considered to be preventable errors, while the second two may reflect either an unfortunate medical outcome or some wrongdoing on the part of the surgeon.
Inpatients may also suffer injuries due to problems with anesthesia. In many cases, these types of errors are more dangerous than surgical errors. Anesthesia can interact with the body in unexpected ways and anesthesiologists must pay careful attention to a patient’s medical history and constantly monitor patients while they’re under anesthesia. In addition, some of the procedures required for surgery under anesthesia can cause harm if they’re improperly performed. For example, a patient’s trachea may be damaged by an improperly inserted breathing tube. Worse, that patient may not be able to breathe easily during the surgery, causing brain damage or even death. Anesthesia-related errors are a common cause of medical malpractice claims.
For outpatients, by far the most common cause of medical malpractice claims is misdiagnosis or failure to diagnose. In adults, the most common errors of this type relate to the diagnosis of cancer and heart attacks. For children, the most common errors relate to the diagnosis of meningitis. In some cases, diagnosis of these conditions is difficult. They may share symptoms with other common ailments, for example. Unfortunately, failure to diagnose cancer, a heart attack, meningitis, pneumonia, and other serious conditions can be life-threatening.
Another common cause for medical malpractice suits is errors relating to childbirth. About 20% of medical malpractice cases are filed against OBGYNs – more than against any other type of doctor. Childbirth-related suits are particularly difficult. Doctor errors can cause serious health problems for newborns, but many health problems are unrelated to the doctor’s actions.
There are three types of childbirth-related medical malpractice claims: injuries to the child or mother, wrongful birth (where parents were not made aware of birth defects that would have led them to avoid or end the pregnancy), and wrongful pregnancy (where an attempted termination fails). Each of these claims is governed by different laws and offers different remedies to the injured parties.
Medication errors cause more than 1.5 million injuries in the US every year. Medication errors include prescribing the wrong medication or the wrong dose, administering the wrong medication or wrong dose, and failure to warn patients of potentially dangerous side effects. In addition, doctors may prescribe the right medication for the diagnosis but get the diagnosis wrong. Dosage issues are the most common mistakes.
Medical Malpractice Claim Success Rates
Estimates of medical malpractice claim success rates vary, but the injured patient prevails 20-30% of the time in medical malpractice cases. The highest estimates suggest that a third of the cases are decided in favor of the patient. However, these numbers reflect only the cases that went all the way to trial. That rarely happens. In fact, only about 7% of medical malpractice cases go all the way to trial. For cases that settle before trial, plaintiffs receive a favorable outcome in about 2/3 of cases.
According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, the average payout (including both settlements and trials) for inpatients is almost $400,000. For outpatients, it’s almost $300,000. A different study by the New England Journal of Medicine found much higher payouts, with out-of-court settlements averaging almost $500,000 and jury trial verdicts in the range of $800,000, for an average of about $485,000 across all cases.
Have you been injured by your healthcare provider?
If you’ve suffered an injury or serious medical side effect due to the actions (or inaction) of your healthcare provider, contact one of our experienced medical malpractice attorneys today for a free consultation. The law limits the amount of time you have to file a case, so don’t hesitate. We’ll evaluate your case and help you explore your options for compensation. Remember that a medical malpractice suit is just one of several options for dealing with medical injuries. You may want to file a claim relating to a dangerous drug or a defective medical device or product. If a loved one has passed away as the result of a healthcare provider’s error or misjudgment, you may also choose to file a wrongful death suit.
We can’t undo the pain of your injuries or loss, but we can help you get the compensation you deserve to ease the financial burden and help protect future patients.