Medical Malpractice Overview

Most of the time, when someone is sick or injured and requires medical attention, everything goes well. The doctors, nurses and staff all handle their jobs competently — that is their duty towards a patient.

Medical malpractice occurs when health care providers fail in their duty towards a patient and their failure causes harm to the patient. This situation can happen through a failure to act, incompetence or negligence. Medical malpractice can cause complications, serious injury, and, in some cases, death.

Malpractice most often takes the form of negligence. For example, perhaps the doctor forgets a crucial task, mishandles a task or delegates a task to an unqualified subordinate. As a direct result of these actions or a lack of action, the patient suffers harm that would not have occurred otherwise. In a malpractice case, the patient must prove that harm did occur and establish the doctor’s failure as the cause of the harm. Malpractice laws also hold nurses, physician’s assistants, and other types of medical professionals to standards of care and various professionals can be charged with malpractice if they fail to adhere to those standards.

The law determines malpractice by comparing the doctor’s actions or lack of action to the acceptable standard of care. The standard of care is a subjective value that varies with the situation and conditions. The law will compare a doctor’s actions with the actions and decisions of other doctors who have similar training, experience, and resources, and who are practicing in or near the same geographic area. This way, a country doctor located 50 miles from the nearest hospital isn’t expected to perform with efficiency equal to that of a specialist in Chicago. Even so, the country doctor and the specialist both have the same duty to treat their patients with the highest degree of care available to himself or herself as a medical professional.

Although many of the headlines involving medical malpractice lament egregious errors before or during a procedure, malpractice isn’t always caused by incompetence or willful neglect. For example, a doctor may misread an X-ray or make a surgical error because of fatigue. A recent study showed that physician exhaustion is much more common than previously realized. At present, doctors often need to work on fewer than six hours of sleep. Policy makers and interest groups have suggested, but those reforms are not yet in place.

Malpractice is a tort, a wrongful act that results in injury to another person. If you or a family member have suffered an injury because medical negligence, or you have lost a loved one due to medical negligence, you have the right to file a civil action against the person or persons who mishandled the case. If you suspect that you or a family member have suffered injuries because of medical negligence, you may wish to consult with a malpractice attorney as soon as possible. Because patients and family members may be unfamiliar with medical procedures, standards of care, and types of medical errors, an attorney may be able to help. A lawyer may be familiar with similar cases or may be able to identify problems and alleviate concerns. Additionally, the filing of malpractice lawsuits often involves procedural time limits. An attorney can give you more information about medical malpractice legal procedures and help to guide you from there.