Medical malpractice takes place when a doctor makes a negligent error that causes unnecessary harm to a patient. Not every error constitutes negligence—if fact, doctors can make plenty of mistakes that do not. When a doctor’s error breaches the medical standard of care, however, that doctor may face liability for medical malpractice.
Patients may bring medical malpractice claims to seek compensation for the losses they incurred as a result of that malpractice. While losses can vary from case to case, the costs of medical malpractice have the potential to overwhelm anyone. A negligent error by a doctor can completely disrupt a patient’s life and may even prove fatal.
The following information deals with the different types of medical malpractice claims and the potential costs stemming from a patient’s injuries.
Common Types of Medical Malpractice
Like any unintentional injury, medical injuries due to malpractice can take place in many different ways and in many different settings. Medical malpractice claims commonly arise from:
- Failure to diagnose – A medical professional should look at your symptoms, ask the right questions, perform the right tests to accurately diagnose your condition, and prescribe the needed treatment. When a doctor negligently fails to diagnose a condition or provides a misdiagnosis, you can miss out on important treatments and your condition may worsen quickly.
- Surgical errors – Surgeons are highly trained medical professionals who work under risky situations on a regular basis. While any surgery presents some danger, errors by the surgeon or surgical staff can expose a patient to harmful complications or death. Some surgical errors include anesthesia mistakes, operating while fatigued or impaired, improperly sanitizing hands or equipment, performing the wrong procedure, and leaving items inside a patient.
- Birth injuries – Pregnancy, labor, and delivery all create stress on the body. Doctors should take every possible step to ensure the health and safety of both the mother and the child throughout the process. When a doctor makes a negligent mistake during prenatal care or during delivery, many injuries can result. Such injuries include preterm birth, cerebral palsy, anoxic brain injuries, and hemorrhaging of the mother.
- Medication errors – Hospitals hand out many types of medications each day, and doctors write millions of prescriptions for drugs each year. When a patient ends up taking the wrong medication or the incorrect dosage, many adverse events can result. A patient may lose the benefits of the medication they needed, they may experience allergic reactions, the medication may interact dangerously with other drugs they are taking, and the patient may overdose.
- Hospital malpractice – Hospitals exist to care for ill or injured patients, but the hospital environment can inherently elevate the risk for infections and injuries. For this reason, hospital staff members must take precautions to prevent additional complications or injuries to patients whenever possible. A patient can suffer injuries from falls, infections, medication errors, and other types of preventable events in a negligent hospital.
The above examples of common medical malpractice claims can often result in the following costs to injured patients.
Additional Medical Expenses
Medical treatment is expensive enough without having to incur unnecessary costs. Injuries from medical malpractice often require a significant amount of medical treatment, and patients may face expenses for:
- Emergency room visits
- Doctor and specialist visits
- Medical equipment
All of these can result in thousands of dollars in bills in a short period of time. In addition, some patients may need ongoing medical care for months or years. Always consider these future expenses as part of any medical malpractice claim.
Illness or injury can already cause you to miss work and lose income. If you experience unexpected complications due to medical malpractice, you could lose work for much longer than you anticipated. Most households rely on regular income to pay their bills, so any amount of work missed because of medical malpractice can seriously damage your finances. Calculate both past and future lost earnings and include them in your claim.
Pain and Suffering
Health problems are difficult enough without unnecessarily exacerbating them. When an injury or illness worsens, often so does the physical and mental pain and suffering that comes with it. In addition, knowing that a trusted medical professional caused or worsened your injury in a preventable accident can only add to the suffering you experience. Pain and suffering are considered noneconomic damages, because this compensation is not based on any concrete financial losses—you don’t, for example, get a hospital bill for pain and suffering the way you might for a surgery. Some states may place caps on the amount of noneconomic damages that a patient can receive in a medical malpractice case, but even then, consider these damages as part of your overall losses.
In some tragic cases, a patient may not survive the injuries and complications caused by medical malpractice. For example, commonly misdiagnosed conditions include cancer and heart attacks. In some situations, an early cancer diagnosis can allow the patient to recover with proper treatment. If cancer goes undiagnosed, it may escalate to stage IV, spread throughout the body, and become untreatable. Many patients with misdiagnosed cancer may not survive when a doctor’s timely diagnosis may have prevented their deaths. Similarly, when doctors misdiagnose heart attacks as indigestion, their patients will not receive the cardiac treatments they need to prevent subsequent heart attacks. The next heart attacks they suffer may prove fatal.
In such situations, devastated family members may have the right to seek compensation for the many costs of the untimely and preventable deaths. The specific damages available in wrongful death cases are often dictated by state law, so speak with a knowledgeable medical malpractice attorney regarding the specific costs in your case.