In any given year, more than 17,000 medical malpractice lawsuits are filed across the United States. In fact, so many malpractice suits are filed in this country that the average physician can expect to be sued for malpractice about once every seven years of their career. These suits result in billions of dollars in settlements and verdicts, not even counting the expense of litigating these types of cases.
What Is Medical Malpractice?
Medical malpractice may be popularly thought of as a mistake made by a healthcare provider, but medical malpractice often requires more than that. Not only does a provider need to make a mistake, but that mistake must also result in some sort of injury to the patient that they can be financially compensated for. Common examples of mistakes that lead to malpractice include:
- Surgical errors
- Medication errors
- Not obtaining informed consent prior to a procedure
- Failing to provide follow up care or to provide post-procedure instructions
- Prematurely discharging a patient
- Misdiagnosing or not timely diagnosing a patient’s condition
- Misinterpreting or failing to read diagnostic test results
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When Is an Adverse Outcome Considered Malpractice?
A mistake that injures a patient is usually considered medical malpractice only when the healthcare provider’s actions and decisions failed to meet the accepted standard of care. This standard is typically defined as the actions and decisions that other reasonable medical providers of similar training and experience would have made under identical circumstances. In other words, even if a patient had an adverse outcome to their care, malpractice may not have been involved if other providers would have made the same decision and taken the same actions in the patient’s case.
Who Can Be Held Liable for Medical Malpractice
Medical malpractice lawsuits are frequently brought against doctors, but other healthcare professions that may be subject to a malpractice suit include:
- Physical therapists
- Radiology technicians
- Lab technicians
Hospitals and other healthcare facilities that employ these professionals may also be held liable in a malpractice suit.
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What Happens in a Malpractice Lawsuit?
A malpractice lawsuit is begun by filing a legal complaint in court. Once the complaint is answered by the defendants in the case, it begins the process of discovery, during which the parties exchange relevant information and evidence to better understand the scope and strength of each side’s case and to narrow down issues for which there is a genuine factual dispute for trial. Discovery may include sharing documents as well as taking depositions or testimony of relevant individuals.
The vast majority of medical malpractice lawsuits are settled long before reaching trial, many even before a lawsuit is filed in court. Only a small percentage of cases end up going to trial.
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Criticisms of Current Medical Malpractice Lawsuits
Legal and medical experts criticize the current state of the medical malpractice system for several important reasons, including:
- The process takes too long — if a malpractice case goes all the way to trial, it can often take several years before an injured patient or their family will actually recover any financial compensation.
- It is expensive — Litigation is already an expensive endeavor, with medical malpractice suits being particularly expensive due to the need to retain knowledgeable (and expensive) medical experts to help review the evidence and provide testimony in support of each side’s case.
- Too few patients injured by genuine acts of negligence do not recover compensation, while too many patients whose cases did not involve any negligence end up recovering some compensation.
Proposed Changes to Medical Malpractice Lawsuits
Several proposals to help improve the medical malpractice system include:
- A more defined guideline system in place of the more broad “standard of care” — if a provider complies with a defined guidelines system, they can be presumed not negligent.
- Required alternative dispute resolution, where parties are sent to mediation or arbitration rather than litigating in court, which can help speed up the resolution of cases and potentially lower costs.
- Requiring hospitals to bear part of the cost of malpractice liability insurance for doctors, which might incentivize facilities to better monitor practitioners’ performance.
- Replacing the current fault-based malpractice system with an administrative compensation system similar to workers’ compensation, where experts in healthcare can compensate injured patients without the need to find negligence or other legal fault.
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.