What should you know about medical malpractice?

How widespread is medical malpractice in the U.S.? In the state of New York? Could you be at risk? What are your rights if you are harmed as the result of medical malpractice?

WHAT DO THE STATISTICS TELL US ABOUT MEDICAL MALPRACTICE?

You are about to learn some answers that everyone needs to know because the truth is that anyone could be a victim of medical malpractice. The numbers, in fact, are disturbing:

1. The Institute of Medicine found in 1999 that as many as 98,000 people were dying each year in the U.S. due to medical malpractice.

2. The Office of Inspector General for Health and Human Services found in 2010 that medical malpractice was contributing to about 180,000 deaths annually.

3. The Journal of Patient Safety reported in 2013 that as many as 440,000 patients every year may experience an incident of medical malpractice that contributes to death.

HOW IS MEDICAL MALPRACTICE DEFINED AND WHAT DOES IT INCLUDE?

Medical malpractice is any professional negligence by a healthcare professional that results in the decline of a patient’s medical condition, additional injury to a patient, or wrongful death.

Medical malpractice may include not only the negligence of medical doctors, but it also applies to negligent behavior by nurses, dentists, anesthesiologists, hospitals and clinics, pharmacists, pharmaceutical companies, and others providing healthcare services.

WHAT IS REQUIRED TO WIN A MEDICAL MALPRACTICE LAWSUIT?

To prevail with a medical malpractice lawsuit, the victim’s medical malpractice attorney will have to prove that a healthcare provider violated the professional standard of care to the patient.

But along with negligence, a medical malpractice lawyer will also have to prove causation. In other words, the victim’s attorney must prove that the healthcare provider’s negligence was a substantial factor in the cause of the victim’s injury.

And finally, a medical malpractice lawyer must prove that the injury resulted in quantifiable, economic and/or non-economic damages.

A healthcare professional cannot be held liable for malpractice unless the victim paid additional medical bills, lost wages, suffered damage to his or her future earning capacity, or endured injury, pain, and/or suffering.

WHEN CAN DOCTORS BE SUED FOR MEDICAL MALPRACTICE?

Most doctors in the State of New York are dedicated professionals who take all of the appropriate measures to reduce the risks to patients. A very few doctors are less dedicated and do not always take all of those measures.

When a doctor amputates the wrong leg or removes the wrong kidney, it is clearly malpractice, but most of the medical malpractice incidents that involve doctors take place outside of the operating room.

Every year, for example, the medical conditions of about twelve million adults in the U.S. are misdiagnosed in doctors’ offices and medical clinics. If a doctor recommends an inappropriate treatment or prescribes an inappropriate medication, that may also be medical malpractice.

WHEN CAN HOSPITALS BE SUED FOR MEDICAL MALPRACTICE?

Hospitals may be held directly liable for negligence in some cases of medical malpractice. In other cases, a hospital may be held “vicariously” liable for the negligence of its employees.

“Vicarious liability” is the legal principle whereby an employer may be held vicariously liable for an employee’s negligence provided that the incident of negligence happened within the “course and scope” of the employee’s job duties.

A hospital could also be held negligent for failing to research the backgrounds of employees adequately or failing to verify the credentials of an attending physician before granting hospital privileges to that physician.

Additionally, a hospital that fails to ensure patient care by not having enough on-duty registered nurses – at all times – may be held liable for any injuries resulting from that failure.

In some cases, a hospital may be found directly or vicariously liable for the negligent acts (or the negligent omissions) of the contractors retained to manage outpatient facilities and emergency rooms.

However, if a doctor or another healthcare professional is an independent contractor rather than a hospital employee, and that person commits medical malpractice while treating a patient at a hospital, the hospital typically cannot be held liable for the independent contractor’s negligence.

CAN NURSES BE SUED FOR MALPRACTICE?

If a nurse fails to perform his or her professional duties in the manner that a reasonably competent nurse in the same situation would perform those duties, and when that failure leads to negligence that injures a patient, who is liable?

The hospital might be liable for a nurse’s negligence if the nurse was a hospital employee who was acting within the course and scope of the job’s duties when the alleged medical malpractice incident occurred.

WHEN CAN DRUG COMPANIES BE SUED?

The “professional duty of care” of a pharmaceutical manufacturer is primarily a duty to physicians.

Therefore, if a drug prescribed by a physician causes harm to a patient, the pharmaceutical company is liable for product liability only if it did not warn the physician adequately regarding the drug’s potential dangers and side effects.

A drug’s manufacturer only owes patients the duty to make sure that the company’s drugs are reasonably safe when they are prescribed and used as intended.

The law presumes that a prescribing physician is a trained professional who can make the best determination regarding whether a particular drug is appropriate for a patient.

Therefore, it is the physician – not the drug’s manufacturer – who has the primary duty to advise patients regarding the intended use, the potential risks, and the potential side effects of any particular medication.

HOW WILL A MEDICAL MALPRACTICE ATTORNEY HELP YOU?

Obviously, every case of medical malpractice is unique, so if you believe that you have been the victim of medical malpractice in Western New York, you should discuss your legal rights and options at once with an experienced Rochester medical malpractice attorney.

In this state, a lawsuit for medical malpractice generally must be launched within thirty months of the alleged malpractice incident. If the malpractice happened as a part of ongoing treatment, the thirty-month statute of limitations does not begin until that course of treatment is completed.

WHEN SHOULD YOU SPEAK TO A MEDICAL MALPRACTICE ATTORNEY?

Do not wait two-and-a-half years to speak to an attorney if you believe that you’ve been harmed or injured by medical malpractice. It is imperative to put a medical malpractice lawyer on your case at once.

Your attorney will review the details of your claim, examine the evidence, and explain your legal options.

If you take legal action, an experienced Rochester medical malpractice attorney can defend your rights and fight aggressively for the compensation – and for the justice – you need and deserve.

Nothing is more important than your health and your future. If you are a victim of medical malpractice, get the help you need, and put the law to work for you – right away.