Medical malpractice is a very serious issue for everyone. Doctors are trained professionals and we expect that they will not make mistakes when they treat us. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, medical negligence is the third leading cause of death in the United States behind heart disease and cancer. This is an alarming statistic, and you may be wondering what recourse the victims of these mistakes might have against their doctors and hospitals.
Because medical negligence is so common, medical malpractice suits are also quite common. According to Diederich Healthcare’s “2013 Medical Malpractice Payout Analysis,” there were a total of 12,142 payouts for medical malpractice in 2012, totaling $3.6 billion. 93% of these payouts were the result of a settlement with the hospital, while just 5% were the result of a court judgment.
Below, we will take a look at the elements of a typical medical malpractice claim and go over some of the most common types of hospital malpractice.
Elements of a Malpractice Claim
Medical malpractice almost always boils down to negligence, which requires the showing of (1) a duty, (2) a breach of that duty, (3) causation, and (4) damages.
Duty: Doctors and hospitals owe their patients the duty to act reasonably and appropriately, exercising care that conforms to the duty of care of a reasonably competent doctor in their specialty.
Breach: A breach occurs when a doctor’s behavior falls below the duty the doctor owes to his or her patients. This breach can occur in a number of ways, which we will outline below.
Causation: “Causation” merely means that the doctor’s breach of his or her duty was the actual and proximate cause of the patient’s harm—that is, the harm would not have occurred but for the breach.
Damages: The patient experienced harm because of the doctor’s mistake—this can be either physical or monetary, and is usually both in a medical malpractice case.
Now that we’ve gone over the elements of a basic medical malpractice claim, we’ll take a look at some of the most common ways that doctors breach their duty to their patients.
Common Types of Hospital Malpractice
Misdiagnosis occurs when a doctor fails to correctly identify and treat a patient’s medical condition. The Institute of Medicine reported in 2015 that there were about 12 million diagnostic errors per year and that the vast majority of Americans will suffer from at least one wrong or delayed diagnosis in their lifetimes. Misdiagnosis can have devastating effects and lead to delays in treatment, lack of treatment, inappropriate treatment, or unnecessary treatment. The most common causes of misdiagnosis include inadequate communication between doctors and patients, limited feedback to clinicians about diagnostic performance, and a healthcare system that discourages the reporting and rectifying of diagnostic mistakes.
Delayed diagnosis is similar to misdiagnosis in that the treating physician fails to identify the patient’s medical condition. However, unlike with misdiagnosis, with delayed diagnosis the doctor eventually gets it right. Even though the doctor eventually reaches the correct diagnosis, the delay in getting there can cause the patient’s symptoms to become more severe and make treatment harder, thus lowering the chances that the patient will recover.
Each year, more than 4,000 preventable mistakes occur during surgery, costing the medical system approximately $1.3 billion in medical malpractice payouts. Some surgical errors are relatively minor, such as leaving foreign objects like sponges or towels inside a patient’s body after surgery, but some are potentially much more severe, such as performing the wrong procedure on the patient or performing a procedure on the wrong body site. The effects of surgical errors can range from temporary injuries in most cases to permanent injury and even death in rarer cases.
These types of errors occur when a physician prescribes the wrong medication, prescribes too high or low a dosage of a medication, or prescribes a medication that interacts dangerously with another medication the patient is taking. Known as “adverse drug events” (ADEs) in the medical field, these types of injuries account for nearly 700,000 emergency room visits and 100,000 hospitalizations per year. Patients who are particularly susceptible to ADEs are children, the elderly, and those who take many medications simultaneously. This is known as “polypharmacy” in the medical field.
Anesthesia errors can arise when an anesthesiologist does not provide enough anesthesia, resulting in potentially severe pain for the patient, or provides too much anesthesia, which can result in coma or even death. The most frequent anesthesia-related injuries are death (18.3%), nerve damage (13.5%), and organ damage (12.7%).
There are several different types of childbirth malpractice, the two most common of which are wrongful birth and wrongful pregnancy. Wrongful birth occurs when a doctor fails to diagnose or inform the parents about an infant’s fetal abnormalities, which causes the parents to miss the opportunity to terminate the pregnancy should they desire to do so. Wrongful pregnancy occurs when a woman becomes pregnant after doctors fail to correctly perform sterilization procedures.
We’ve presented a lot of information and statistics above, but sometimes data visualization makes information easier to understand. In their “2013 Medical Malpractice Payout Analysis” cited above, Diederich Healthcare included an overview of the types of allegations made in medical malpractice claims and a breakdown of the severity of medical malpractice injuries. Below are two tables that illustrate these findings.
As shown above, the most commonly alleged basis for medical malpractice claims is related to diagnosis—either misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis, while the most common injury alleged in medical malpractice claims is death.
Contact a New Port Richey FL Hospital Malpractice Attorney for Help
Dolman Law Group
5435 Main Street
New Port Richey, FL 34652