When you visit a healthcare provider, you do so with trust, trust that you will be well-cared for in a secure, well-equipped medical setting with experienced, educated, and highly competent professionals. You trust that you'll be treated with the care, respect, and confidentiality that you deserve. Unfortunately, patients do not always receive this normal standard of care. As a result, patients suffer death, injury, and other harm more often than you might expect.

Medical errors have become the third leading cause of death in the United States, accounting for an estimated 251,000 deaths each year, according to studies from the National Library of Medicine. These estimates only account for preventable hospital deaths, meaning that the number of medical errors occurring outside of hospitals and causing injury or harm other than death is much higher. 

When medical care results in harm, injury, or death, these instances can sometimes be considered medical malpractice. In cases of medical malpractice, patients or their loved ones can sue for damages. 

What Is Medical Malpractice?

According to the American Board of Professional Liability Attorneys, medical malpractice is defined as harm or injury to a patient that occurs through an omission or negligent act by a hospital, doctor or another type of healthcare professional. 

Medical malpractice can be applied to a wide array of situations. For example, the following instances of negligence could lead to a medical malpractice lawsuit:

  • Misdiagnosis or failure to diagnose
  • Failure to recognize symptoms
  • Failure to obtain the patient's medical history
  • Disregarding the patient's medical history
  • Unnecessary surgery
  • Surgical mistakes or errors
  • Wrong surgical sites
  • Premature patient discharge
  • Failure to order proper diagnostic testing
  • Failure to obtain test results
  • Misread or ignored laboratory results
  • Improper medication dosage or administration
  • Negligent aftercare or follow-up treatment

Malpractice can apply to several different situations. However, there are risks associated with all types of medical care and treatment, and undesirable, negative or unfavorable treatment outcomes are not always medical malpractice. Cases must be considered on an individual basis and include the following elements to qualify as medical malpractice under the law:

A Violation of the Standard of Care

The term "standard of care" refers to certain medical standards that are acknowledged by the law and recognized by the healthcare field. In similar or like circumstances, certain medical standards are deemed acceptable in the profession. These standards are regarded as being satisfactory medical care provided by reasonably competent and prudent healthcare providers. 

Patients have the right to assume that the care they receive from medical professionals adheres to these standards. Negligence can be established in instances when the standard of care was not met. 

The Negligence Caused an Injury

Simply violating the accepted standard of care does not legitimize a medical malpractice claim. The injured party also be able to demonstrate that the injury or harm they suffered would not have occurred without negligence. If negligence is not the cause of the injury, then there is no medical malpractice case. 

The Injury Resulted in Significant Damages

In order to file a viable medical malpractice claim, the injury or harm must have caused extensive damages. The patient or their loved one must be able to demonstrate that significant losses arose as a result of medical malpractice. Losses can be in the form of loss of income (lost work or the lost ability to work), disability, unusual pain, unusual hardship, unusual suffering or considerable medical costs (past, present, and future). 

If losses are not substantial, then the expense of filing the claim and the costs of litigation (i.e. hours of deposition and testimony from several medical experts) might be greater than the recovery. 

Medical Malpractice Case Examples

Surgical Error

In 2016, an anesthesiologist raised serious concerns about the risks of undergoing surgery in an infant patient, referred to as Z.R., due to serious existing medical issues. The proposed surgery would remove the infant's adenoids and place tubes in the infant's ears to address chronic ear infections.

Despite the anesthesiologist's warnings and urges to delay the surgery, the primary surgeon pushed for the procedure to go forward. During the surgery, Z.R. suffered a cardiac arrest which caused significant brain damage, leaving him with permanent global neurological impairment. 

In 2022, the parents of the now six-year-old boy were awarded $14.2 million by a federal judge in a malpractice case against doctors at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. 

Organ Transplant Negligence

In 2003, Duke University Hospital failed to verify that the blood types of her organ donor matched that of Jesica Santillan prior to performing heart and lung transplant procedures. 

Following the transplants, Jesica suffered serious brain damage before her body went into shock and shut down. After this adverse reaction, the medical professionals learned that Jesica and her organ donor had different blood types. The hospital attempted to cover up the mistake for 11 days before going public in search of a new donor. By then, however, Jesica had already sadly suffered fatal brain damage. 

Negligence With a Famous Voice

Julie Andrews, made famous by her musical roles as Maria in The Sound of Music and the title character in Mary Poppins, underwent surgery in 1997 to treat non-cancerous nodules that had formed in her throat. She left the operation with vocal chord damage, hoarseness, and additional complications. 

With her iconic singing voice forever changed, Andrews filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against two doctors from New York City's Mt. Sinai Hospital in 1999. The suit was settled with undisclosed terms in 2000.

Why You Need a Medical Malpractice Attorney

Most medical malpractice laws exist to protect doctors, nurses and hospitals, leaving patients to protect themselves. For example, many states cap the total damages that medical malpractice victims can recover, and state-based statutes of limitations place time short limits on filing lawsuits for medical malpractice claims. Medical malpractice laws favor the healthcare industry, and they're also complex. 

Other challenges faced in medical malpractice lawsuits include:

  • Medical malpractice cases are complicated and expensive.
  • Medical malpractice cases require special knowledge and expertise to handle. 
  • There are complexities regarding the statute of limitations that differ in each state. 
  • Medical malpractice laws require patients to use expert medical testimony to prove they suffered medical malpractice.
  • Hiring medical experts who are qualified to testify is extremely expensive.
  • Qualified medical experts are often reluctant to testify against other healthcare providers.
  • Most medical providers and hospitals do not settle, bringing the case to trial. 
  • Two-thirds of medical malpractice cases brought to trial are won by the medical professional or hospital. 

Working with an experienced lawyer can help you determine from the start whether or not your situation meets the legal requirements of a medical malpractice case. Additionally, an experienced, board-certified medical malpractice attorney and/or legal team will help you navigate the laws, learn from previous successful medical malpractice lawsuits, and gather all of the supporting evidence, witnesses, testimonies and materials needed to build a case around your complaint. 

How to Choose a Medical Malpractice Attorney

Picking a lawyer is always a big, potentially life-changing decision. When you need a lawyer for a particular field, such as medical malpractice, finding an experienced one with the right credentials can be even more challenging. When selecting a lawyer to handle your medical malpractice case, consider the following:

  • Verify Credentials and Certification - Look for an attorney who has board certification in medical malpractice law. 
  • Consider Their Experience, Track Record, and Resources - Ask about their experience in medical malpractice law, the types of cases they have handled in the past, and their track record in winning cases. Will your attorney be working on your case by themselves or will they have a knowledgeable team at their disposal to assist and advise?
  • Check Their Rating - Look up your lawyer's official stats such as their Martindale Hubble rating and their ranking with the International Society of Primerus Lawyers.

What to Do If Medical Malpractice Has Impacted You or a Loved One

Don't Wait Too Long

If you or a loved one has suffered harm as a result of medical negligence, the most important thing you can do is to take action now. Yes, the statute of limitations for filing medical malpractice lawsuits varies from state to state. However, the statute of limitations in every state has one thing in common – it's short. Barring certain extenuating circumstances, the statute of limitations varies from one to just four years across the country. This means that waiting too long to contact an experienced medical malpractice lawyer could result in you missing your opportunity to recover any damages through a lawsuit. 

Seek Professional Assistance

Medical malpractice is a complex legal field. Navigating it successfully and building a strong case in your lawsuit require access to a variety of resources that can be both costly and difficult (if not impossible) for the average person to access. By working with a board-certified medical malpractice attorney at The Cochran Firm, you'll have access to our vast pool of resources including an extensive list of medical professionals who are qualified to provide expert testimony in addition to our ability to gain access to medical records, information, and additional evidence through the legal system. 

Don't Discuss Malpractice With Your Doctor

If you have not yet contacted a medical malpractice lawyer, then you should not discuss anything regarding malpractice or suspicions of negligence with your doctor. Do not discuss these topics with your doctor outside of the legal plan you have developed while working with an experienced attorney. Speaking with your doctor about your legal concerns could hurt your chances for success in a lawsuit. 

Additionally, you should avoid posting any complaints or negative reviews regarding malpractice online or on social media. This could not only harm your case but could also put you at risk of being sued for defamation. 

Document as Much as You Can

Keep a written record to document your experience and create a timeline. Record your symptoms, what happened at your doctor's appointments, the treatment you received or did not receive, and how your doctor's negligence has impacted your life. If you've had to miss any work as a result of inadequate treatment or if you had to seek additional treatment as a result of negligence, document the losses incurred (i.e. missed workdays and pay or additional medical bills). 

Remember that the documentation you provide will help to build your medical malpractice case and also can assist a jury in determining the damages you will be awarded if you win the case. 

See Another Doctor

Your health should always be your first priority. If you suspect your doctor, clinic or hospital is being negligent, or if you are dissatisfied with the healthcare you are receiving, schedule an appointment to see another doctor as soon as possible. You want to be sure you are getting the medical care you need to safeguard your health. Plus, seeing another medical professional can garner you a second opinion on your health. An opinion from another doctor could demonstrate a previous misdiagnosis or the administration of inappropriate treatments, thus providing proof of negligence. 

Obtain a Copy of Your Medical Records

Now that you are under another doctor's care, have that doctor's office request a comprehensive copy of your medical records from your previous provider. You can request that they provide you with a copy of these records in addition to any new records that they have created for you at their office. 

These records can provide proof of negligence in a malpractice suit in a variety of ways. For example, medical records could be proof of having received a misdiagnosis or inappropriate medical treatment. 

When you request a copy of your medical records, ask for the whole file including copies of your medical history, charts, notes, appointments and lab results. 

Find an Expert Medical Malpractice Lawyer: The Cochran Firm Can Handle Your Lawsuit

If you believe you or a loved one has been the victim of medical malpractice, contact us today to speak with an intake specialist or attorney with The Cochran Firm. Our medical malpractice section is comprised of experienced legal professionals and board-certified medical malpractice lawyers with the expertise to screen, prosecute, and guide you through your medical malpractice case.

At The Cochran Firm, we pride ourselves in following the great footsteps of our founder, Johnnie Cochran. So, when you contact us for a complimentary consultation, we'll discuss your legal matter with the professionalism, confidentiality, understanding and respect you deserve. 

The call center at The Cochran Firm is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Contact us at 1-800-THE-FIRM or email us for a free consultation