You’ve seen the commercials on TV: A lawyer asks if you’ve experienced something traumatic, like taking a medication that made you ill. Or maybe the attorney asks if you were in a traffic accident and now have injuries. That lawyer promises to get you money. These types of lawyers are generally known as personal injury attorneys. They specialize in recouping losses and monetary awards for damages incurred when a person is injured or otherwise harmed in some way. A subset of this type of law covers medical malpractice. Medical malpractice attorneys pursue legal remedies for injuries that doctors, nurses, or hospitals cause directly through their own negligence.
What Does Malpractice Cover?
Medical malpractice includes legal claims related to acts of negligence or omission by a healthcare professional. Negligence and omission might be an oversight or mistake (an incorrect dosage of medication, for example, because a nurse read the wrong chart). Medical malpractice doesn’t mean a healthcare professional intentionally did something to cause harm. Instead, it means that a medical professional did something incorrectly that resulted in harm.
Does It Include All Claims Filed Against Healthcare Professionals?
The short answer to this question is no.
Medical malpractice claims are covered only when a healthcare professional is guilty of acts of negligence or omission. Claims related to insurance or billing, for instance, are not considered medical malpractice.
All valid medical malpractice claims share these characteristics:
- Either the medical provider or facility violated the acceptable standard of care given to similar patients. This means the doctor or hospital didn’t give you the standard treatment protocols that other patients typically receive.
- This act of negligence or omission directly resulted in your injury or death. This means if the provider treated you as expected, you would not have an injury or reason to seek compensation.
- You can prove the injury caused you significant costs that an attorney may recover through filing a lawsuit. This may sound confusing or like legalese, so let’s spell it out in plain terms. You now have significant medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, or other expenses because your healthcare provider injured you.
Why Would Anyone Sue for Medical Malpractice?
The reasons people sue for medical malpractice can be categorized in five general ways. Each of these categories includes a wide variety of specific claims. Medical malpractice is a specialization that requires both legal and medical expertise. This means it’s wise to seek the advice of a medical malpractice attorney with experience handling injury claims like yours.
Generally, acts of negligence and omission most often occur in intensive care units, operating rooms, and emergency departments. Issues that cause high error rates which are more likely to result in injuries typically include:
- Either very young or elderly patients
- New or unfamiliar medical procedures
- Urgent cases
- Severe medical conditions
The 5 Most Common Types of Malpractice Claims
These are the five general categories that most medical malpractice suits fall into:
- Misdiagnosis (46%). Misdiagnosis can occur when your doctor diagnoses you with the wrong thing, doesn’t diagnose you at all, or fails to diagnose you early enough for effective treatment. Unfortunately, reports show that many misdiagnosis claims are filed on a deceased patient’s behalf. About 68% of claims represented by attorneys specializing in medical malpractice resulted in a settlement. The top misdiagnosis allegation against primary care providers is that the initial patient assessment is inadequate. This means the healthcare provider did not ask about or assess family history or complete a thorough enough physical exam to make a proper diagnosis.
- Inaccurate treatment (about 20%). Most often, claims like these involve heart-related treatments. More specifically, these claims occur because treatment does not involve medication, pain management, wound care, and blood transfusions.
- Medication errors (~16%). Most medication error allegations happen when doctors don’t monitor patients closely enough while prescribing medication. Other claims allege doctors failed to prescribe medication at all, gave the wrong drug, or incorrect dosages.
- Childbirth injuries (~11%). Most birth injury claims involve damage to the baby’s brain. Cerebral palsy is a common reason why parents file birth injury claims. Medical malpractice attorneys commonly represent cases involving children that require lifelong care or wrongful death claims.
- Surgeries (~7%). This can include anesthesia errors, accidental injuries during a procedure, or leaving items inside your body post-surgery. For example, maybe your doctor put in a temporary IVC filter, but never scheduled surgery to remove it. As a result, the device broke apart, several metal pieces migrated and punctured your lung and spine.
How Do I Know If I Have a Valid Claim?
Hiring an experienced, well-versed medical malpractice lawyer can help you understand if your injury is the result of medical malpractice. If so, that attorney can help you navigate the legal system to pursue compensation and other possible remedies. It’s crucial to speak with an attorney before your deadline to file a claim passes; otherwise, you may not legally qualify for compensation. Our attorney matching service is free for those who successfully qualify for legal assistance. You must complete an online evaluation to determine if you qualify.
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Lisa Allen is a writer and editor who lives in suburban Kansas City. She holds MFAs in Creative Nonfiction and Poetry, both from the Solstice Low-Residency Program in Creative Writing at Pine Manor College. Prior to becoming a writer, Lisa worked as a paralegal, where she specialized in real estate in and around Chicago.