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What Is Medical Malpractice?

Medical malpractice occurs when a hospital, doctor or other health care professional, through a negligent act or omission, causes an injury to a patient. The negligence might be the result of errors in diagnosis, treatment, aftercare or health management.

Medical malpractice law governs the liability of doctors and other treatment providers when they cause harm to a patient by rendering their services in a negligent manner. All states have their own laws and procedures to handle these specialized personal injury cases.

But in general terms, a doctor will be held liable if his or her conduct fails to meet the “standard of care” provided by other doctors under similar circumstances. 

 Medical Malpractice Liability section offers helpful information if your injury resulted from a medical procedure or a doctor's visit.

When doctors act carelessly, the results can be catastrophic for the patient. It is not surprising, then, that damage awards in medical malpractice cases are among the largest of all personal injury cases. Damages may include medical expenses, physical pain, and suffering, emotional distress, lost wages, decreases in earning potential, punitive damages, as well as compensation for partial or complete impairment, disfigurement, and death. 

How to Begin a Medical Malpractice Case

Even though the majority of health care providers aim to exercise the highest standard of care for all of their patients, there are times when things go wrong.

1. Find out the time limit, referred to as the statute of limitations, to file a medical malpractice claim.

2. Before filing a claim, contact the medical professional to understand what might have gone wrong, and allow the doctor to determine if your issue can be fixed.

3. If contacting the medical professional doesn't help your situation, you can contact the relevant licensing board, which can issue a warning or discipline the medical professional.

4. Find out if you need to get a "certificate of merit" to determine that the injuries or harm you suffered was the result of negligence by the health care professional.

The first step in pursuing a medical malpractice case is to retain an attorney. Unlike some other areas of the law, self-representation in these cases is not feasible. In fact, due to the financial resources and litigation expertise required, most attorneys do not accept medical malpractice cases.

Plaintiffs should seek out a reputable law firm that specializes in medical malpractice. 

The expert’s report will be turned over to the defendant’s attorneys and insurance adjuster, and settlement negotiations will take place. If the two sides can agree on a number of damages that should be paid, they will enter into a settlement agreement.

The plaintiff will be compensated, and the case will end. If the parties cannot agree, the case will proceed to trial. A judge or jury will then decide the outcome. 

Defenses to Medical Malpractice Cases

If you've decided to file a medical malpractice claim, it's important to know some of the defenses that the medical professional may employ. 

 Medical malpractice is, in essence, a type of negligence, which means that any defense available to a general negligence claim is also available in a malpractice claim. The most common defense to negligence and medical malpractice is to disprove an element.

Patients trust doctors to perform their duties with care. However, when preventable accidents occur during the course of medical treatment, injured patients and their families often encounter insurance companies that want to deny compensation or pay far less than they should.

If medical malpractice is suspected, the best way to protect a patient’s rights is to contact a qualified attorney.