The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) estimates that medical malpractice is the third leading cause of death in America.
When you go to a doctor or other medical professional, you entrust yourself into their care. When these professionals do not offer the care they should, it not only violates this trust but also has dire repercussions such as deep financial trouble. You, therefore, need to know the right way to bring a malpractice lawsuit to ensure you get justice.
Here’s a compact guide on medical malpractice to help you learn more about it.
What Is Medical Malpractice?
Medical malpractice is where a medical professional harms a patient due to their failure to perform their medical duties competently.
Every medical practitioner is expected to provide a particular standard of care when handling patients.
If a medical practitioner acts in such a way to make it clear that under the same circumstances, another medical professional would have reasonably offered better care, then there can be a question of medical malpractice.
Statute of Limitations in Medical Malpractice
A statute of limitations is the law that puts a cap on the amount of time you have to file a malpractice suit. If you wait too long before going to court, you may run the risk of not getting legal redress.
Typically, the ‘clock’ starts ticking when you discover the harm.
Each state has its law on the statute of limitations for medical malpractice cases. The details of each state’s statute will vary. For example, the statute of limitation in Washington, D.C, will be different from the statute of limitations in Florida. That is why your legal representation must be local. If you are a victim of medical negligence in Washington, D.C, you must hire a Doctor Negligence Lawyer in Washington, D.C.
Furthermore, some nuances and exceptions can impact each state’s filing deadline.
It’s therefore prudent to talk to a medical legal consultant at the start of the process to find out if you are within the statute of limitations for your state.
Essential Elements of a Valid Malpractice Lawsuit
The details of medical malpractice cases may vary, but there are four vital elements that each suit needs if it is to succeed.
1. A Doctor-Patient Relationship
If you are to bring a valid medical malpractice case, then you first need to show that there was a relationship between the doctor and the patient. The same goes for any other medical practitioner whom you want to bring a malpractice claim against.
You will need to show that you hired the medical practitioner and that they agreed to offer you their services.
Proving a doctor-patient relationship becomes harder in instances where a consulting physician did not directly treat you. In such cases, you will need to dig deep and rely on guided legal, medical expertise.
2. Negligence by the Doctor
After proving the relationship between you and the medical practitioner, you can show that they offered substandard service. There has to be more than your dissatisfaction with how the doctor treated you for it to become malpractice.
Consequently, you need to collect evidence that shows that under the same circumstances, a similarly competent doctor would not have caused you harm as the doctor did.
The care your doctor ought to have provided won’t need to be of the highest quality possible. Rather, it will need to pass the ‘reasonably skillful and careful’ test. Determining this fact is the heart of almost all medical malpractice cases, and many times you will need to hire an expert witness.
The job of the expert witness will be to provide professional assessment and evidence that shows there was no reasonably skillful and careful care from the defendant.
3. The Doctor’s Negligence Caused the Injury
Proving causation is critical in medical malpractice as many doctors see patients with pre-existing conditions. If you are not careful enough here, you might lose the case on a technicality.
Of critical importance is for you to directly link the doctor’s negligence as the cause of the harm you suffered. You must prove that ‘more likely than not’ it is the doctor’s actions that have directly resulted in the injury.
For example, a patient already suffering from lung cancer might see a doctor and, in the process, die. Now, if the doctor were negligent, there would be a question as to whether it is indeed the doctor’s actions that directly led to the death or if it was due to the pre-existing lung cancer.
An expert medical witness often comes in handy here to show that, more likely than not, the doctor’s negligence caused your injury.
4. The Injury Caused Specific Damages
A malpractice suit gains legs when you can show that the harm led to specific damages. These damages can include mental anguish, pain and suffering, extra medical bills, among others, and are classified as general or special damages.
Many states do place a limit on the total damages you can recover, whether as a combination or on general damages only.
How Long Can a Medical Malpractice Suit Take?
The time it will take for your medical malpractice suit to be resolved will depend on both its complexity and the case’s strength. Another critical factor in the time question is the capacity of the court hearing your case and the number of outstanding cases before yours.
For most malpractice suits, settling out of court is the typical outcome. But even with that, you will still need to file motions and proceed with discovery through the court process.
An experienced and reliable medical malpractice legal representative will seek to balance two critical elements. These are getting you the compensation fairly quickly while ensuring you don’t get duped.
Cases that settle faster are usually for a lesser amount, which means you may lose out on a lot more money due to you. On the other hand, most cases that pay well end up in trial, but that means even after you win, you’ll have to wait for a long time before receiving any money.
Therefore, one of the most critical questions you need to ask your medical negligence solicitor or consultant is how long they estimate the process will be.
Are You Ready to Seek for Justice?
Medical negligence can shake your confidence in the health system, along with placing you at risk of financial hardship. As a result, filing a malpractice lawsuit can help ease the unexpected financial pressure, but you have to go about it the right way to succeed. Ensure you understand the elements that make for a successful case and partner with a seasoned malpractice legal representative to seek justice.
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