Do I Have a Medical Malpractice Case?
Medical malpractice, or doctor negligence, is one of the most complex and misunderstood areas of personal injury law. In this article, our medical malpractice attorneys will explain what doctor negligence is – and what it isn’t – so that you can get a clearer idea of what goes into a successful claim.
Components of a Medical Malpractice Claim
While it’s normal to feel grief and anger when doctors fail to correct a health problem, a poor outcome does not always indicate that medical malpractice occurred. There are many cases where doctors perform surgeries or other procedures perfectly, without making any errors, yet the patient still experiences subsequent pain, illness, or even death.
There are four key components which must be present in order for a medical malpractice claim to succeed. If any of these components are absent, the strength of the claim will be undermined and the plaintiff will not be able to recover compensation for his or her injuries, pain, and suffering.
The first component is the nature of the relationship between the healthcare provider and the patient. In order for a claim to succeed, a formal doctor-patient relationship must have existed. This professional relationship creates a “duty of care” toward the patient. If you have a bad reaction after taking casual advice from your friend who happens to be a doctor, you don’t have a malpractice claim.
The second component is the doctor’s failure to meet the reasonable standard of care (i.e. breaching the duty of care). In other words, the doctor either (1) does something that any other doctor would not have done under the same set of circumstances, or (2) fails to do something that any other doctor would have done under the same set of circumstances.
The third component, called “causation,” is that harm resulted from the doctor’s failure to meet the standard of care. If the doctor makes a harmless mistake which does not result in any adverse effects to the patient, such as accidentally making one extra stitch, then there is no malpractice claim. (If the stitching later became infected because the doctor failed to sterilize their equipment, that would be a different matter.)
The final component, called “damages,” is that the error results in damages (harm/injury) to the patient.
This sequence is concisely summarized by a 2008 study (“An Introduction to Medical Malpractice in the United States”) published in Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research, which states that “four legal elements must be proven: (1) a professional duty owed to the patient; (2) breach of such duty; (3) injury caused by the breach; and (4) resulting damages.”
Common Examples of Doctor Error and Negligence
Real-world examples help further illustrate the types of issues that can constitute medical malpractice. Some common problems and mistakes from which malpractice arise claims include:
- Accidentally leaving foreign bodies, such as pieces of gauze, inside a patient’s body after surgery. This is known as foreign object retention.
- Allowing a patient to aspirate foreign bodies during dental procedures.
- Failing to check a patient’s medical history, leading to issues like dangerous or lethal drug interactions, or surgery being performed on an unsuitable/inappropriate candidate.
- Failing to diagnose a current or developing condition which another doctor would have spotted and addressed (e.g. failure to note a cancerous mole and take appropriate measures).
- Failing to monitor a patient’s oxygen levels while the patient is sedated.
- Failing to sterilize equipment or take other sanitation measures.
- Misdiagnosing a condition, which leads to delays in getting proper treatment, thereby allowing the true condition to grow worse.
- Mixing up two or more patients’ prescriptions.
- Performing a procedure for which the doctor is not actually licensed and certified.
- Prescribing excessive amounts of medication. This issue has become increasingly widespread with the rise of “pill mills” and prescription drug abuse. Writing inappropriately large prescriptions dramatically increases the risk of fatal overdose.
- Unnecessary delays in performing a C-section (Caesarean section), or performing an unnecessary C-section.
- Using excessive force during delivery. For example, using forceps too roughly can cause brain injury to the baby, in turn resulting in serious health problems like epilepsy or cerebral palsy.
- Sexually assaulting, abusing, or harassing a patient.
Finally, it’s worth noting that all types of healthcare professionals can be guilty of malpractice – not just surgeons, as most people tend to imagine. Other types of healthcare professionals who can be named in malpractice claims include, but are not limited to:
- Dentists and Dental Assistants
- Emergency Doctors
- Obstetricians/Gynecologists (“OB/GYN”)
- Oncologists (Cancer Specialists)
- Ophthalmologists (Eye Doctors)
- Plastic Surgeons
It’s alright if you still have questions, or aren’t quite sure about the strength of your claim – that’s what our personal injury lawyers are here for.
If you were injured or became seriously ill after receiving medical care in Maryland, or if one your loved ones was a victim of wrongful death, please don’t hesitate to call our law offices, any time of day or evening, at (410) 583-8000 to set up a free, completely confidential legal consultation. While our law offices are located in Towson, we handle claims in Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Anne Arundel County, Carroll County, Howard County, Harford County, Montgomery County and Prince George’s County.