Determining whether or not a case of medical malpractice is meritorious requires breaking down the details of the case to find out if certain required elements are present. Generally speaking, it must be shown that:
Without question, the most difficult and complicated question to answer is whether or not the medical profession was negligent.
Of course, in the real world, proving that all these elements are present is a difficult proposition. In order to get a better understanding of what is needed to bring a medical malpractice lawsuit, a few examples are listed below.
A patient undergoing surgery is given an anesthetic which, due to a previous treatment, poses an increased risk of use. As a result of using the anesthetic, the patient suffers liver damage and dies.
In this case all three elements are present - injury, negligence and cause. Had the patient not died and perhaps recovered quickly, there would be no damages for which to sue, despite the fact that the doctor negligently administered anesthesia.
During her delivery, a patient suffers umbilical cord prolapse, which poses a serious threat to the life of the baby if a C-section is not performed immediately. The doctor fails to act in a timely manner, delaying the C-section. As a result of the delay, the baby suffers brain damage.
If the doctor had acted in a timely fashion as is standard, the baby would not have been harmed.
Negligence during childbirth is a common medical malpractice claim. To read up on these types of cases, see Medical Malpractice During Childbirth: A Legal Overview.
A patient suffering chest pain due to coronary artery disease is evaluated in the emergency room, where a doctor fails to diagnose his condition. As a result, the patient is sent home and suffers a massive heart attack and dies.
In this case, the doctor’s failure to correctly treat the patient resulted in his death. Even so, proving that the doctor acted negligently would be difficult. These types of misdiagnosis cases deal with complex medical standards. For more, see Malpractice Liability for Misdiagnosis.
A woman with early stages of breast cancer goes to see her doctor for a checkup, during which she mentions a small lump in her breast. The doctor fails to properly test for cancer. One year later, the cancer had spread significantly; she is forced to go through many months of chemotherapy and ends up losing a breast.
In this case, the first doctor may be held liable for a failure to diagnose cancer, and would be responsible for paying for all the medical expenses, loss of chance of survival, loss time from work, emotional distress, and the pain and suffering involved.
A patient suffering deep vein thrombosis (a blood clot in the deep vein of the leg) goes to see his doctor about some pain and swelling in his leg. The doctor misdiagnoses the symptoms as a simple leg cramp. One week later, the blood clot is dislodged leading to a pulmonary embolism and death of the patient.
Again, the doctor’s failure to diagnose the patient’s illness correctly led to an otherwise avoidable death, for which the doctor can be held accountable.
A patient suffering abdominal pain is taken to the emergency room. The doctor fails to diagnose appendicitis and sends the patient home. After several hours, the patient goes into shock and dies.
The doctors failure to recognize the signs of appendicitis and act appropriately was a direct cause of the patient’s death, and could lead to a medical malpractice lawsuit.
There are an infinite number of situations where a doctor’s error in diagnosis, failure to act, or other medical error can lead to severe injury to his or her patient. This is negligence and can lead to severe, life altering injury or death.
Medical malpractice laws are in place to ensure victims have an opportunity to receive compensation for the wrongs done to them. However, the laws are complicated, they vary by state, and cases require an attorney with experience in the complex medical questions at issue. Most medical malpractice attorneys will offer a free consultation, where victims, or loved ones of victims can discuss the details of their case and get the answers and advice they need.