Medical malpractice is professional negligence in the medical field. According to a study by Johns Hopkins, a highly-regarded medical university, medical errors lead to over 250,000 deaths a year in the United States. Another study put the number of “preventable adverse events” leading to deaths in American hospitals at approximately 440,000 deaths per year. If that’s the case, then medical errors kill more Americans every year than we lost in the entirety of World War 2.
However we try to estimate the number of Americans who die unnecessarily every year because of errors and systemic shortcomings in the health care industry, it’s of staggering concern. When something like this happens, you have to know where you stand and what your rights are.
What is Medical Malpractice?
What is medical malpractice? It’s when a medical professional (a doctor, nurse, technician or any other provider) commits an error that a normal, ordinary, average professional in their same field would not be expected to commit. It’s a matter of professional negligence similar to the sorts of cases that are advanced against attorneys, real-estate professionals, accountants, and people in any other professional space every day in America. There are a number of definitions of negligence out there, and some are closer to kitchen-table language than others, but this is the basic upshot. There is supposed to be a “standard of care” in each profession, which is basically the degree of care, skill, and diligence that the average health care provider in a particular specialty would apply in a given situation. When a medical provider’s performance falls below the standard of care, and when a person suffers damages as a result, there may be a case for medical malpractice.
What Should I do if I Suspect Medical Malpractice?
What should you do if you think that you, a friend, or a loved one has suffered damages due to medical malpractice? There are a number of things to look into and a number of steps to take, and a number of traps for the unwary along the way that you should be aware of.
First, you should go to the hospital, facility or group where you think the subpar treatment occurred, and get absolutely all of the relevant medical records in their possession that you’re entitled to. Under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), you are entitled to all of your own medical records, and the medical records of others if you’re legally entitled to them (for example if the patient is your child or if you are a designated or personal representative for a person or their estate.
With records in hand, the next step is that you need to see an attorney. The ordinary person, for reasons to be explained below, is not in a position to bring a successful medical malpractice case on their own. Another reason to see an attorney quickly if you think you have a medical malpractice case is because in Florida medical malpractice has a two-year statute of limitations, which elapses twice as fast as the statute of limitations in most cases. If you are a veteran or otherwise receive service at the VA, and medical malpractice occurs there, you have an even harder road to walk: in addition to the shortened two-year statute of limitations still applying, you have to submit your claim subject to the strict rules and limitations of the Federal Tort Claims Act.
How Lawyers Evaluate Medical Malpractice Claims
Most attorneys who operate in this space will sit down with you for a free consultation, and, if they’re going to take the case, will take the case on a contingency-fee basis. But be warned that just because you or a loved one were injured at the hospital does not mean that any attorney will take your case. In Florida, before someone has can have access to the courts for a medical malpractice case, there is a rigorous and expensive pre-suit process that you have to go through. One of the features of this process is that you have to get your own medical expert to review the records and render an opinion that there are reasonable grounds forming the basis for your case of medical negligence. Basically, before you even have access to courts, you have to pay one doctor for his or her time and efforts in deeming another doctor potentially liable for negligence. In addition to being arduous, this is expensive. This is the only area of law that I’m aware of where you have to spend the amount of money it would cost to conduct an entire trial just to have the right to file suit.
Think about how much time a law firm is going to put into one of these cases. Let’s estimate 100-200 hours at an absolute minimum. Then think about the costs of hiring one doctor to point the finger at another (they typically charge up to $1,000 an hour without blinking an eye). And think of the other costs that are going to have to get paid back out of any settlement (for example, the potential cost of a corrective surgery to fix the botched one). By the time the dust settles, the medical industry’s lobbying efforts have made it such that no attorney will take any medical malpractice case unless the damages are so incredibly catastrophic that either someone died or their life is catastrophically and unalterably changed for the worse.
In any event, an attorney can guide you through the pre-suit process and can prepare your case for suit, if the case is viable. If you, a friend, or a loved one has suffered damages as a result of medical malpractice or medical negligence, you can feel free to contact The Weisman Law Firm for a free and confidential consultation as to your case and your options.