We all look on the medical profession as a source of healing and well-being. Physicians are bound by law and tradition, to operate with a high standard of care. If they fail, and this causes injury or even death, the injured person or their estate can often make a claim for malpractice. Loss of life will be covered in the article "Wrongful Death."
There are countless situations which can lead to a claim of medical malpractice. Every situation is different. Sometimes, treatments may cause unexpected and unintended side effects. Sometimes, treatments may simply be ineffective. Sometimes, a treatment may be downright harmful, causing injury or even death.
Some of the most common situations which give rise to a medical malpractice claim include: performing the wrong surgical procedure, an incorrect (or missed!) diagnosis, or prescribing the wrong medication.
Who can be sued?
In addition to a physician, nurses, specialists and pharmaceutical companies can be pursued. A hospital can be held responsible for the acts of its employees - nurses, support staff, and other practitioners. A hospital is responsible for making sure that it hires competent and qualified staff, and providing sufficient staff.
Medical malpractice is a form of negligence. There are four elements a person needs to prove, to win a negligence-based claim. (for more information, see the article "What is Negligence")
1. Duty - The medical provider had a duty to provide a certain standard of care
2. Breach - the provider failed to meet the standard
3. Causation - because of this failure, someone was injured
4. Damages - the injured person has sustained loss, either economic or otherwise
I think I have a case. What do I do?
There is a time limit by which any claim has to be filed. This is called the Statute of Limitations. This can vary from state to state, so be sure to get legal advice so you do not miss this important deadline. Before you file any claim, it may be helpful to talk to the medical provider to get a better sense of what happened. There may be a solution. You also have recourse by going to the state or local medical licensing board to file a grievance.
Whatever you do, don't go it alone against the medical industry. This industry and its insurers have tremendous resources that the average person cannot compete with. If you believe you or a loved one have been a victim of medical malpractice it's best to consult an attorney as soon as possible.