Is it Medical Malpractice or Just a Bad Outcome?

Friday, August 25, 2017

Is it Medical Malpractice or Just a Bad Outcome?

Written by Malman Law, reviewed by Steve J. Malman.

An illness or injury is traumatic even when you receive care in a state-of-the-art hospital, with highly regarded physicians. Sadly, the problems you have might be compounded if a doctor or nurse makes a mistake and your condition becomes worse.

While it can be difficult to determine if your complications are the result of malpractice, or just an unsuccessful treatment, you do have legal options that help you determine the difference.

What is Medical Malpractice?

Medical malpractice is an area of personal injury law that holds doctors and healthcare professionals accountable when they make a mistake with a diagnosis, treatment, or surgical procedure. When a physician’s actions negatively impact a patient’s well-being, medical malpractice statutes allow the victim to seek compensation for their injuries and damages.

However, identifying what constitutes malpractice is not easy. That is why it is critical that you speak with a malpractice attorney in the area to discuss your case and determine if you have a genuine malpractice claim.

Types of Malpractice Cases

Despite the push for patient safety in hospitals and clinics around the United States, hundreds to thousands of patients are injured or killed by medical professionals each year. Sadly, many of these cases go unreported.

In fact, one study by the Journal of Patient Safety found that anywhere from 220,000 to 400,000 people who receive treatment suffered a medical mistake of some sort. These medical errors include:

  • Nursing Home or Hospital Negligence – This type of error comes in many forms and can even be the result of abuse. Also, omissions, such as preventing falls and injuries in the hospital or nursing home setting could be an act of malpractice.
  • Failure to Receive Informed Consent – Patients should be presented with all treatment and procedure options, then make an informed decision for their healthcare. Informed consent requires that the patient is first educated about all benefits and risks associated with potential treatments, and doctors should not perform procedures until they receive such consent.
  • Failure to Diagnose or Medical Misdiagnoses – Not all misdiagnosis, or inability to diagnose situations are considered malpractice. Instead, it is a matter of proving that the physician had the ability to come to the correct conclusion, but failed to perform the acceptable standard of care; therefore, their duty was breached and led to a misdiagnosis or failure to diagnose.
  • Surgical Errors – Medical facilities around the country have surgical errors happen each year. These mistakes can include operations on the wrong patient, operating on the wrong site, medical equipment contamination, and additional damage caused by the surgery itself.
  • Medication Errors – Medication errors are quickly becoming one of the most common causes of severe injuries in the medical field. From prescribing the wrong medication to giving incorrect dosages and even prescribing drugs with dangerous interactions, these injuries often are catastrophic.

Regardless of the type of outcome, it is important to note that there must be a breach in the acceptable standard of care for a person to have a valid malpractice claim.

A Bad Outcome, Not Always Malpractice

Not all bad results are a matter of medical malpractice. Sometimes, a doctor must use his or her professional judgment when deciding what is best for a patient, especially if that patient is unconscious or there is an emergency. If a physician must rely on his or her expertise, and the outcome is not favorable, that does not automatically mean they were negligent.

Sometimes, a bad outcome is common with a certain procedure. Or a situation would have had a similarly bad result with any other physician.  If this is the case, then there is no negligence from which to form the basis of a lawsuit.

The Standard of Deviation from the Acceptable Medical Standard of Care

Doctors, as well as other healthcare professionals, are all held to a higher medical standard.

The medical standard of care is defined as the type of care that another competent and skilled professional would have given. However, that other professional being compared to your physician must come from a similar background, community, and have the same circumstances presented to him or her for the sake of comparison.

What is the Physician’s Area of Practice?

To determine if the physician breached the acceptable medical standard of care, your attorney would first consider the area of practice. General practitioners or family practitioners can only be compared to other GPs in the area.

Similarly, a cardiac thoracic surgeon’s actions cannot be compared to that of a GP. Instead, your physician must find another professional with similar training and expertise to compare the actions of your doctor to the “standard.”

What Would Other Physicians in Similar Practice Areas Do?

Next, your attorney would ask these comparable doctors how they would have reacted in the same situation.

For example, you were misdiagnosed with a case of heartburn when you were suffering a heart attack. Your attorney would ask comparable physicians if they would have used the same diagnostic procedures and treatment plan that your doctor did. If your doctor deviated from the protocol, then he or she would be negligent.

Was the Treatment or Outcome the Result of Pressing or Emergency Circumstances?

Another area that your attorney must explore are the mitigating factors. If your treatment was administered in an emergency, how much control did the physician have over the outcome? Would other physicians have similar results in an emergency or pressing situations like yours?

Sometimes procedures become more dangerous when they are required on an emergency basis, but it is a known and acceptable risk.

How Equipped and Staffed Was the Facility at the Time?

Your physician might have done everything right, but instead, it is the hospital that led to your poor outcome. Perhaps they did not have enough nursing staff on hand to improperly monitor you, or the equipment was unmaintained or outdated. In this case, the malpractice is not the result of your physician, but the hospital itself.

The Elements of a True Malpractice Case

To have a legitimate medical malpractice case, you must establish four elements. These items are what your attorney would look for when deciding if you had a valid case.

Doctor-Patient Relationship Existed

First, you must have a doctor-patient relationship with the physician you are accusing of causing your injuries.

To have a true relationship, you must prove that you sought out that physician for treatment and that the doctor agreed to treat you.

Doctor Was Negligent

Using the factors discussed above, your attorney would then need to show that it was a matter of negligence, not ineffective treatment, that led to your injuries. To sue for medical malpractice, you must prove that the treatment you received caused direct harm and that a competent doctor would not have caused the same injury.

The doctor’s care does not have to be the best, but they must use reasonable skills and caution when caring for their patients. Therefore, you must enlist the help of other professionals to testify to the medical standard of care, and how the physician deviated from that standard in your case.

Doctor’s Negligence Caused the Injury

The doctor’s negligence must be the direct cause of your injury. Therefore, you must show that the poor treatment or the deviation from the standard of care is what caused your injury.

You do not have to show obvious evidence. But you must at least establish that it is more likely than not that the doctor’s actions caused your injury.

Injury Led to Specific Damages

Even if these three elements are met, you do not have a malpractice claim if you cannot prove that the injury itself caused losses. Damages must include physical pain, emotional anguish, medical costs, lost earnings, or even the costs of wrongful death.

Injured and Not Sure if You Have a Malpractice Case? Contact an Attorney

If you have suffered an injury or complication, but you are unsure if it is malpractice or just a bad outcome, speak with a lawyer from Malman Law. Our attorneys are here to help you determine if you have a valid case and aggressively fight for your right to compensation.

The law limits how long you have to file a malpractice claim in Chicago; therefore, it is imperative that you meet with an attorney as soon as possible.

To get started, meet with an attorney today for a free consultation. Schedule your consultation at 888-247-2160 or request more information online.

Steve Malman

Malman Law’s founder Attorney Steven Malman has over 30 years of experience handling personal injury, nursing home, medical malpractice, truck accidents, car accidents, premises liability, construction, and workers’ compensation cases in Chicago, IL.

Years of experience: +30 years
Justia Profile: Steve Malman
Illinois Registration Status: Active and authorized to practice law—Last Registered Year: 2024

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This page has been written, edited, and reviewed by a team of legal writers following our comprehensive editorial guidelines. This page was approved by President and Founder, Steven J. Malman who has more than 20 years of legal experience as a personal injury attorney.

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