Medical malpractice is an unfortunately all-too-common occurrence in our healthcare system. But it is important for people to remember that not every adverse or unsuccessful outcome of medical treatment means that malpractice has occurred. Instead, the law only recognizes that medical malpractice occurs under certain circumstances.
What is Medical Malpractice?
Under Pennsylvania law, medical malpractice occurs when a healthcare provider’s treatment of a patient falls below the applicable standard of care, and the patient is injured as a result of that substandard treatment.
Most cases of medical malpractice arise from the negligence of a healthcare provider. Medical negligence occurs when a provider fails to act in accordance with the applicable standard of care, which is usually defined as the treatment actions and decisions that another reasonably prudent provider of similar training and experience would make in identical circumstances. This standard recognizes that medicine is a sometimes-imprecise, ever-evolving science. Just because a patient suffered a negative outcome does not mean that the patient has been the victim of medical malpractice, especially when the patient’s provider acted in accordance with the standard of care. If the patient would have likely experienced the same outcome in the hands of other providers, the law typically will not find that medical malpractice has occurred.
In rare cases, a provider’s actions may rise to the level of recklessness. Recklessness occurs when a provider consciously disregards a substantial risk that their actions or decisions will lead to a patient’s injury. For example, a surgeon may be considered reckless if they choose to perform a procedure while intoxicated, as they’ve consciously disregarded the risk that their intoxication may lead them to injure their patient.
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When Are Negative Outcomes Not Malpractice?
There are many common negative outcomes or scenarios that, on their own, will not give rise to a viable claim of medical malpractice, including:
- The patient’s condition worsens — Just because a patient’s condition gets worse does not mean that their health care provider has been negligent in their care. There is never any guarantee that a treatment will be successful in improving a patient’s condition. Sometimes a patient will not favorably respond to a course of treatment for reasons that are difficult to scientifically explain. So long as the treatment provided to a patient complied with the applicable standard of care, the provider will not be held responsible if the patient’s condition gets worse. However, if other providers would have selected an alternative course of treatment that might have led to a more favorable outcome for the patient, then there may be a claim for medical malpractice.
- The patient has a terminal condition — Unfortunately, not all medical conditions can be successfully treated. If a patient’s conditions worsen or they pass away from a condition that does not have any viable treatment options, the patient’s providers will not be held responsible. The exception to this occurs when a patient’s condition becomes terminal due to their health care provider’s failure to timely or correctly diagnose the condition. For example, if a patient has cancer that their doctor should have diagnosed when it was at an earlier, more treatable stage, but the doctor fails to diagnose it and the cancer progresses to a terminal stage before it is ultimately diagnosed, the doctor might be held responsible.
- The patient fails to follow treatment instructions or recommendations — A health care provider will not be held liable for injuries or harm suffered by a patient for their failure to follow treatment instructions and recommendations. As an example, if a patient is requested to come in for testing but fails to do so, and a serious or potentially fatal medical condition goes undiagnosed, the provider will generally not be held responsible if they made reasonable efforts to get the patient to come in for care.
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Contact A Medical Malpractice Attorney for a Consultation About Your Case in Pennsylvania
Were you or a loved one injured due to medical malpractice in Pennsylvania? Then you need to talk to an experienced medical malpractice lawyer as soon as possible for guidance on how to proceed. The Pittsburgh medical malpractice attorneys at Berger & Lagnese, LLC are prepared to assist you with your legal claim. We represent victims of negligent surgeons, doctors, nurses, and pharmacists throughout Pennsylvania, including Butler, Erie, Indiana, and Uniontown. Call us today at (412) 471-4300 or fill out our online contact form to schedule a consultation. Our main office is located at 310 Grant St., Suite 720, Pittsburgh, PA 15219.
The articles on this blog are for informative purposes only and are no substitute for legal advice or an attorney-client relationship. If you are seeking legal advice, please contact our law firm directly.