A medical malpractice lawsuit is a legal case in which a plaintiff brings a case against a defendant for negligent medical care. The plaintiff is either the patient who has been harmed or family of patient if it is a minor or someone who has passed away. The defendant in this type of case may be an individual doctor or other type of medical professional, or it may be an institution, such a hospital.
Medical malpractice cases can be difficult to win, and most settle out of court rather than going to trial. The lawyer and plaintiff must make a case that proves the patient suffered harm from negligence. In some cases this is obvious, but in others it takes a lot of research, collection of evidence, and testimony from experts to prove it. When patients win they receive compensation that may help with medical expenses, pain and suffering, and other needs.
What is a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit?
A medical malpractice lawsuit is a lawsuit that involves some type of negligence committed by a health professional or medical institution that resulted in harm and damages to a patient. The lawsuit can be brought by the patient or someone representing the patient, such as a parent or adult child. Most cases are led by an experienced and certified medical malpractice lawyer.
For a medical malpractice lawsuit to be successful it must prove several factors. The first is that the plaintiff had an established patient-medical professional relationship with the defended. Then, the case has to prove that the doctor or institution breached the duty of reasonable care. The breach may occur in one or more of several ways: a mistake with medications, failure to diagnose a condition, failure to warn about the risks of a procedure, surgery errors, incompetence, and many others.
Once breach of duty is established, the lawsuit must prove that the breach caused harm to the patient. For instance, failure to diagnose a condition may lead to lack of treatment and the worsening of the condition and symptoms. The final piece of evidence is that this harm caused the patient significant damages. For instance, if the undiagnosed condition causes other symptoms and illnesses, it may cause the patient more pain, suffering, and costs in medical bills.
How a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit Works
A medical malpractice lawsuit begins with a patient or the patient’s family seeking a lawyer to determine if they have a case to proceed with one. A medical malpractice lawyer is generally hired on a contingency-fee basis, only demanding a fee if the case is won. If the lawyer takes the case, there is then a typically lengthy pretrial period, whether or not it actually leads to a court trial or not.
During this time the legal teams on both sides go through a discovery period of sharing information from medical records, medical experts, and depositions with the patient, doctor, and anyone else involved. The doctor or medical facility is usually represented by lawyers appointed by the insurance company providing medical malpractice coverage.
There are then three possible outcomes: the case may be settled without any trial, it may be settled after a period of trial, or it may end in a jury decision at trial. The settlement or jury award, if any is given, is based on many factors, such as the suffering of the patient, current and future medical expenses, mental anguish caused by the negligent care, and loss of the ability to earn an income. Whichever side loses in a trial can appeal or apply for a new trial.
Out-of-Court Settlement vs. Trial
Most malpractice cases end in a settlement and never go trial. Ninety percent of the cases are settled out of court. This is because it typically costs much less, especially for the defendant. A jury is likely to award a much larger amount than the two parties will agree on in a settlement. For the plaintiff, there is a chance of getting more money through a trial, but there is also a risk that the jury will find in favor of the defendant, in which case the damaged patient gets nothing.
Examples of Medical Malpractice Lawsuits
There are thousands of medical malpractice lawsuits that find in favor of the patient every year. Many are small cases with smaller payouts that don’t make the news, while a few are notable for involving large settlements or because of the incident that led to the case. Some are against individual doctors, while others target hospitals, like a case from 2014 when Johns Hopkins Hospital was ordered to pay $190 million to thousands of plaintiffs in a medical malpractice case. A gynecologist working at the hospital for decades had been found to have been photographing his patients without their knowledge.
In another notable case the defended was the City of New York. A woman won a settlement from the city of $172 million after an ambulance responded to a call her mother made to 911. The woman was suffering from anaphylactic shock but the EMT crew showed up without the proper life support equipment. The result was that the woman survived but suffered from severe brain damage and partial paralysis. The jury awarded her the settlement for pain and suffering and future medical bills.
Unfortunately, many cases of medical malpractice involve infants or children. In a case from 2013, a baby was born prematurely but otherwise healthy. She needed a feeding tube, and someone made a mistake with it. The baby had too much glucose intake from the tube, ended up in intensive care for several days, and ultimately suffered brain damage and cerebral palsy. Her mother won a $20-million settlement.
Some cases involve very overt instances of negligence and wrongdoing, such as in the case of a little boy with cerebral palsy whose family won $30 million for him and his ongoing care. He was born with some health problems that were not life-threatening, and yet his doctor subjected him to 25 surgeries, including using several that were not proven to be safe or effective. The boy was left with brain damage and cerebral palsy.
Medical malpractice lawsuits are not uncommon and are important for individuals who have been harmed by negligence. They are also important because they force the medical industry to raise standards of care and to take steps to make sure individuals provide better care for patients. If you think you may have a medical malpractice lawsuit, look for an experienced lawyer licensed in your state, as laws regarding medical malpractice, including statute of limitations, vary by state.