While doctors are supposed to heal patients instead of hurting them, a hurt patient does not automatically point to wrongdoing by a doctor. Instead, for a doctor to have committed malpractice, s/he must have done something that another reasonable professional would not have done in the same situation. For example, a doctor may accidentally bruise a patient’s body while performing a surgery. This type of injury was likely unintentional, and it will cause the patient additional pain and could possibly prolong the healing process after the surgery. However, this injury is only malpractice if the doctor breached his/her duty of care to the patient. It can be difficult to determine whether a doctor’s actions rise to the level of malpractice. Similarly, patients may have trouble determining if they have a medical malpractice claim because malpractice laws are different in every state.
There are four main criteria that patients must meet to have a claim for medical malpractice:
The Doctor-Patient Relationship: For successful malpractice claims, the patient must prove s/he hired the doctor and the doctor agreed to provide treatment. Typically, medical paperwork such as a copy of the doctor’s bill will prove the existence of this doctor-patient relationship.
The Doctor Breached His/Her Duty of Care: Malpractice claims require proof that the doctor was negligent in some way. This means proving the doctor acted unreasonably or unsafely by breaching the standard of care. All doctors must follow certain accepted practices when providing medical treatment. If a doctor fails to abide by the proper standard of care that is a breach.
Some of the most common examples of medical negligence that serve as the basis for medical malpractice claims include:
- Misdiagnosis or failure to diagnose
- Improper treatment
- Improper surgery procedures (e.g., wrong-site surgery)
- Failure to warn patient of known risks
Ultimately, determining whether a doctor breached the duty of care is up to the jury. At trial, medical experts will testify as to what the proper standard of care for this particular medical treatment is. If the doctor on trial took an action that a competent doctor would not have done in the same circumstance the jury will most likely say there was a breach.
Causation: Medical malpractice claims also require that the doctor’s negligence actually caused the patient harm. For example, if the doctor made a mistake during surgery that did not actually injure a patient, the patient would not have a valid case. However, a doctor failing to diagnose the patient’s cancer and letting it metastasize would satisfy this element.
Damages: Finally, to succeed in a medical malpractice claim, patients must prove that they suffered real, measurable harm. This could be physical pain and suffering, injuries that require more medical attention, mental anguish, and even lost wages from an extended healing time.
And it is also important to remember that it is not only doctors that can be guilty of medical malpractice, but also nurses, technicians, and other medical professionals.
Once a patient decides to file a medical malpractice claim, s/he must work quickly. In Virginia, patients must file a claim within two years of the date the malpractice occurred. In some cases, such as when patients do not discover the injury until later, injured victims have more time; however, all malpractice victims must file a claim within 10 years.
For help filing a medical malpractice claim or for advice about whether to accept an out-of-court settlement, medical malpractice victims can contact the Richmond malpractice attorneys of Tronfeld West & Durrett today at 804-358-6741.