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What is Medical Malpractice?

Product Liability

While studies vary, there is no doubt that medical malpractice results in negative consequences for patients in large numbers. Depending on which study is cited, up to 100,000 patients per year in the United States alone will die because of the actions of a medical professional. Others may sustain injuries or live with worsened conditions for years because of the actions taken by one or more professionals. Along with seeking legal counsel when there is the suspicion of malpractice, it pays to know a few additional facts. Here are a few examples.

A Legal Definition of Medical Malpractice

From a legal standpoint, medical malpractice in the United States is the improper or negligent actions taken by any type of medical professional while caring for a patient. Professionals who may be charged with malpractice include family doctors, emergency room physicians, specialists, nurses, pharmacists, and caregivers in assisted living facilities. As long as the action resulted in a course of treatment that was not in line with the needs of the patient and the results are a worsened condition, permanent injury, or death, there are grounds for taking legal action.

What Must Be Proven During the Case?

There are essentially two issues that an attorney pursuing a medical malpractice case must settle to the satisfaction of a court. The first has to do with the performance of the medical professional who is charged. There must be evidence that the professional made some type of mistake. That evidence forms the basis for the suit.

The second issue has to do with the impact on the patient. Is it possible to confirm that the person receiving the treatment did in fact suffer or was harmed in some way as the result of the mistake? Unless there is proof of some type of damage, even temporary damage, the chances of a judge deciding in favor of the plaintiff are low.

How About the Standard of Care?

Another factor that must be considered is the standard of care. This term refers to the resources that are readily available and can be used to provide treatment to the patient. In other words, what did the attending physician or other medical professional have on hand to take care of whatever injury or condition the patient was experiencing?

Determining the standard of care does require considering the setting in which the medical professional sought to provide assistance to the patient. Treatments that are possible in a hospital setting are not the same as methods used to stabilize a patient who is in a medical clinic, a doctor’s office, or having a heart attack while dining in a public restaurant. If the medical professional provides aid that is in line with the resources immediately available, the court is likely to determine that malpractice did not occur.

Does Malpractice Only Happen When Mistakes are Made?

Some people believe that malpractice only takes place when the medical professional comes up with a wrong diagnosis, makes a mistake with the dosage on medication, or in some other way actively chooses a course of action that negatively impacts the patient. In fact, not getting around to doing something that needs to be done for the patient is also grounds for seeking legal redress. The latter would be referred to as negligence.

For example, consider the case of a patient who is recovering from surgery. The patient is to be checked every couple of hours and receive some type of drip that will aid in the recovery. If no one checks on the patient and the IV drip is not changed for several hours, the patient could experience additional problems that prolong or impeded the recovery.

In this scenario, negligence was not about doing the wrong thing. It was about failing to do the right thing. Those charged with the responsibility of caring for the patient and making sure the IV drip was replaced on time could find themselves accused of medical malpractice.

Before making any assumptions about negligence or direct actions that led to more issues for the patient, contact a personal injury attorney and go over all the details related to the level of care provided. The attorney is in a position to determine if the course of the events does meet the legal definition of malpractice and can advise the patient of what options for pursuing a case are available.