Medical malpractice occurs when patients are harmed by the actions (or inaction) of doctors and other healthcare professionals. Common types of cases in this area of law include childbirth injuries, medical misdiagnosis, surgery errors, and hospital related infections. Learn about common types of medical malpractice and legal issues like informed consent, medical negligence, and damage caps in medical malpractice cases.
The 1960's were a critical moment in the history of medical malpractice litigation in the US. The frequency of suits saw an enormous uptick. Contributing factors included new, complex treatments which allowed for more error or injury; what the AMA described as a "changing legal landscape that removed barriers to lawsuits and changed liability rules"; and finally changes in satisfaction with health care. This caused medical professionals to lobby for federal intervention in the realm of medical tort litigation. Legislators attempt to take an evenhanded approach that would excessively favor neither plaintiff nor defendant. As every state is afforded the right to legislate medical malpractice laws independently without federal oversight, the approach differs from state to state. There are two competing schools of thought that weigh into the manner of legislation regarding medical malpractice. The American Medical Association writes “Physicians and physician organizations have tended to view most medical malpractice claims as spurious and injurious to the medical system, whereas patient advocates view the malpractice system as both a deterrent against the practice of dangerous medicine and an avenue for much-deserved compensation for injured patients.”
You withheld information from the doctor or gave misleading information to the doctor which might have aided or hindered the doctor’s ability to diagnose the problem. For example, if you tell the doctor that you don’t smoke even though you do, than the doctor may not be able to properly diagnose that you have developed lung cancer or other respiratory illnesses.
Once a doctor initiates treatment of a patient, the doctor must not only terminate care at a proper time, but also in a proper manner. If a doctor transfers a patient to the care of a second doctor, the second doctor may not be familiar with crucial details of a patient's care. So, the first doctor has an ongoing obligation to provide the second doctor with proper instructions and all relevant records (treatment notes, test results, etc.). Failure to do so could rise to the level of medical malpractice.
The Lexington, Kentucky Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center was one of the first to introduce such a program. Non-economic benefits to medical professionals included the promotion of ethical, honest behavior, and benefits to patients and their loved ones included a truthful account of what occurred, an apology, and potentially an offer of compensation. The VA also benefited financially – it became the VA hospital with the lowest malpractice payouts. Also, their average length of cases decreased from 2-4 years to 2-4 months.
In response to rising malpractice suits, many states pushed for "tort reform" measures. Such measures limit the amount of damages a patient can recover for noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering, and Punitive Damages. For example, in 1975, California enacted the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act, which limits recovery of noneconomic damages at $250,000 and restricts the amount of fees that may be recovered by lawyers. Several other states adopted similar measures based on the California model.

In Federal tax refund cases filed by taxpayers (as opposed to third parties)[11] against the United States, various courts have indicated that Federal sovereign immunity is waived under subsection (a)(1) of 28 U.S.C. § 1346 in conjunction with Internal Revenue Code section 7422 (26 U.S.C. § 7422), or under section 7422 in conjunction with subsection (a) of Internal Revenue Code section 6532 (26 U.S.C. § 6532).[12] Further, in United States v. Williams, the U.S. Supreme Court held that in case where an individual paid a federal tax under protest to remove a federal tax lien on her property where the tax she paid had been assessed against a third party, the waiver of sovereign immunity found in 28 U.S.C. § 1346(a)(1) authorized her tax refund suit.[13]
Of course, these questions get even more murky when talking about the legal system of a foreign country. Some nations may not recognize rights to sue by foreigners. Others may bog down in administrative red tape far thicker than anything found in an American court. Some estimate cases for malpractice brought in foreign nations could take 20 years or more to resolve. Worse yet, some nations may try to transfer jurisdiction back to the United States and the US may refuse to accept it, creating a legal back and forth leaving the parties in limbo.
However, our legal system is set up in such a way where monetary damages is not only a way to compensate persons for lost wages, medical bills, and pain and suffering; it is also there as a way to hold doctors accountable for their actions. Without the threat of monetary sanctions and lawsuits, doctors would lose some motivation for conducting their professional lives in a careful and cautious manner. Furthermore, if you doctor did negligently injure you or a loved one, bringing suit against him may serve as a wakeup call and could possibly prevent him from injuring someone else in the future.

As an analysis of the bill from Texas’ Senate Research Center notes, the “wrongful birth” cause of action was originally recognized in 1975 by the Texas Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of the parents of a child with disabilities in Jacobs v. Theimer. The doctor did not inform the plaintiff that she had contracted rubella, which is known to cause “severe birth defects in infants.”

The negligence resulted in significant damages - Legal malpractice lawsuits are expensive to litigate. For a case to be viable, the plaintiff must show significant damages that resulted from the negligence. If the damages are small, the cost of pursuing the case might be greater than the eventual recovery. To be worth pursuing, the plaintiff must show that the outcome resulted in losses far in excess of the amount of legal fees and expenses necessary to bring the action.
Perhaps least surprising is that doctors give overly positive prognoses. It's hard to deliver bad news, especially when a patient has run out of options, and until recently doctors have had little training in how to do so. But Iezzoni said patients with the worst outlook especially deserve to know, so they can get their affairs in order, and patient studies have found most want to know.
One of the most common reasons that a physician may be accused of medical malpractice is due to the failure to diagnose. This is premised on the idea that the patient needlessly suffered for an extended period of time because the doctor failed to properly evaluate tests or run tests that should have reasonably notified him or her of the potential diagnosis. Other examples of medical malpractice include misdiagnosing a medical condition, failing to provide appropriate treatment, causing an unreasonable delay in treating a diagnosed condition, violating HIPAA laws, performing wrong-site surgery and performing surgery on the wrong patient.
There is a cap on non-economic damages for medical malpractice arising out of acts or omissions on or after April 11, 2003. The basic cap is the larger of $250,000 or three times economic damages, subject to a maximum of $350,000 per plaintiff and a maximum of $500,000 per occurrence. These maximum amounts increase to $500,000 per plaintiff and $1 million per occurrence if the plaintiff has suffered permanent and substantial physical deformity, loss of use of a limb, loss of a bodily organ system, or permanent physical injury that prevents self-care. Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 2323.43. The cap does not apply to cases brought under the wrongful death statute, Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 2323.43(G)(3), but it does limit recovery by a decedent’s estate for such non-economic damages as conscious pain and suffering experienced prior to death.
Though the Workers’ Compensation Act protects employers from being sued for medical malpractice, it does not provide any such protection to workers’ comp doctors. In Fauver v. Bell, 192 Va. 518 (1951), the court stated that there is no legal provision that relieves a third-party wrongdoer, including a physician, of liability for negligence. As such, an injured employee with a workers’ compensation claim in Virginia can also file a medical malpractice lawsuit against the negligent doctor.

As can be seen from the above, the Canadian system is more accurately described as a “single-payer” system than a “socialized” one.  However, even this description needs to be qualified.  Canadian physicians are not required to submit bills for their fees to the provincial health insurance plans.  They can “opt out” of the systems and bill their patients directly.  However, physicians who do decline to participate in a provincial plan must operate entirely outside it as they are generally prohibited from billing the insurance plan for some of their services and patients for others.  In other words, physicians cannot be partial participants.  For this reason, the vast majority of Canada’s physicians are enrolled in the provincial health insurance plans and earn virtually all of their income from the bills they submit to them.


A study by Michelle M. Mello and others published in the journal Health Affairs in 2010 estimated that the total annual cost of the medical liability system, including "defensive medicine," was about 2.4 percent of total U.S. health care spending.[53] The authors noted that "this is less than some imaginative estimates put forward in the health reform debate, and it represents a small fraction of total health care spending," although it was not "trivial" in absolute terms.[53]
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In response to rising malpractice suits, many states pushed for "tort reform" measures. Such measures limit the amount of damages a patient can recover for noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering, and Punitive Damages. For example, in 1975, California enacted the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act, which limits recovery of noneconomic damages at $250,000 and restricts the amount of fees that may be recovered by lawyers. Several other states adopted similar measures based on the California model.
The doctor's negligence caused the injury. Because many malpractice cases involve patients that were already sick or injured, there is often a question of whether what the doctor did, negligent or not, actually caused the harm. For example, if a patient dies after treatment for lung cancer, and the doctor did do something negligent, it could be hard to prove that the doctor's negligence caused the death rather than the cancer. The patient must show that it is "more likely than not" that the doctor's incompetence directly caused the injury. Usually, the patient must have a medical expert testify that the doctor's negligence caused the injury.
While both doctors in the above example should be able to diagnose the flu or pneumonia with relative ease, it would be more difficult to argue that the rural doctor was negligent for missing a diagnosis of some type of exotic disease usually only seen in people from foreign countries. On the other hand, the big city infectious disease expert would likely be negligent in not making the same diagnosis.
Causation may also be a vigorously litigated issue because a physician may allege that the injuries were caused by physical factors unrelated to the allegedly negligent medical treatment. For example, assume that a physician is sued for the negligent prescription of a drug to a patient with coronary artery disease and that the patient died of a heart attack. The plaintiff's estate cannot recover damages for the heart attack unless there is sufficient proof to show that the medication was a contributing cause.The critical element is standard of care, which is concerned with the type of medical care that a physician is expected to provide. Until the 1960s the standard of care was traditionally regarded as the customary or usual practice of members of the profession. This standard was referred to as the "locality rule," because it recognized the custom within a particular geographic area. This rule was criticized for its potential to protect a low standard of care as long as the local medical community embraced it. The locality rule also was seen as a disincentive for the medical community to adopt better practices.
Your lawyer will decide whether or not to pursue your case against the hospital.  If the lawyer takes the case, he will then need to retain an expert medical doctor to submit an affidavit detailing how the treatment was below the standard of care, and how that departure from the standard of care led to an injury.   The case will then go through the pre suit process, which is a 90 day period during which the hospital investigates the claim.  At the conclusion of the presuit period the hospital can deny the claim, or accept responsibility.  Often times the parties will agree to mediate the case during the presuit period, and this often results in a settlement.  If the case does not settle during presuit, the lawyer will then file a complaint of medical negligence against the hospital. This is where the work really begins.
A 2004 study of medical malpractice claims in the United States examining primary care malpractice found that though incidence of negligence in hospitals produced a greater proportion of severe outcomes, the total number of errors and deaths due to errors were greater for outpatient settings. No single medical condition was associated with more than five percent of all negligence claims, and one-third of all claims were the result of misdiagnosis.[25]
There’s no way to tell how often doctors to lie to protect their colleagues, but ProPublica has found that patients are frequently not told the truth when they are harmed. Studies also show that many physicians do not have a favorable view of informing patients about mistakes and that health care workers are afraid to speak up if things don’t seem right. Many doctors and nurses have told ProPublica that they fear retaliation if they speak out about patient safety problems.

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Although this may sound like “tough love”, if you feel that you need or want to bring suit against your doctor because he or she injured you or a loved one, and your family or friends are giving your grief about it, maybe it’s time to think about whether they really have your best interests at heart. If bringing suit is something you feel that you need to do to pay for lost wages, medical bills, pain and suffering, or just to regain some sense of control over the situation, your good friends and family will eventually come to understand and stick by your side.
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