Doctors, nurses, and all other health care professionals have a legal duty to treat their patients using safe and effective methods and procedures. When health care providers fail in this duty and inflict harm on their patients due to negligence, this is medical malpractice. More than one million people suffer the ill effects of medical malpractice each year in the United States, and it’s important for Arizona citizens to know how to identify malpractice and what they can do after experiencing it.
Bode & Collins is proud to represent clients in all manner of civil actions throughout Arizona, and we believe that injured citizens have the best chances of recovering compensation for their medical malpractice damages if they know what to do when malpractice occurs. It’s important to understand the difference between actual malpractice and honest mistakes due to the medical field’s inherently uncertain nature.
Defining Medical Malpractice
An incident must meet several criteria to qualify as medical malpractice. Just because a patient is unhappy with the results of a course of treatment does not mean malpractice actually occurred. Additionally, a doctor making a mistake does not automatically constitute malpractice. When a doctor or other health care professional harms a patient, the incident qualifies as medical malpractice if it meets the following four criteria:
- An official doctor-patient relationship existed. You cannot sue for offhanded remarks made by doctors or other health care professionals outside a clinical setting. For example, meeting a doctor at a party and taking a joke or offhanded comment as legitimate medical advice would not constitute an official doctor-patient relationship. An official doctor-patient relationship only exists when a doctor agrees to treat a patient and that patient agrees to receive the doctor’s treatment.
- The doctor or health care professional was negligent. Doctors use the standards set forth by the medical community to treat their patients and must do so using accepted methods and treatment options. If a doctor or other health care professional acts in a way that another reasonable, similarly skilled individual would not in the same situation, malpractice has likely occurred.
- The doctor or health care professional’s negligence caused the plaintiff’s injuries. Most medical malpractice cases involve patients who were already sick or injured before the malpractice occurred, so it’s important for plaintiffs to demonstrate the effects of the malpractice as different from their original illness or injury. When the cause of injury could be either negligence or a medical condition, the plaintiff must prove that the damages were “more likely than not” caused by negligence.
- The plaintiff suffered “actual harm”. If you did not suffer any measurable loss or actual injury, you have no claim – even if the doctor in question definitely made a mistake. For example, during the course of a surgery, the surgeon accidentally damages tissue near the operating site. If the doctor corrects the mistake immediately and the patient suffers no harm, malpractice has not occurred. Plaintiffs can only sue for medical bills, lost income, physical pain, and mental anguish directly resulting from negligence.
If there is any uncertainty as to whether medical malpractice occurred, it’s best to speak with an experienced medical malpractice attorney. By understanding the different types of medical malpractice and how to identify them, injured patients are more likely to succeed in their retaliatory lawsuits.
Types of Medical Malpractice
Medical malpractice takes many forms, but the most common include misdiagnoses, informed consent violations, surgical errors, anesthesia errors, improper treatments, and gross negligence.
Misdiagnosis describes a doctor’s failure to diagnose a patient’s condition but can also apply to a doctor’s failure to correctly diagnose a patient. Doctors use a process of elimination to determine a patient’s medical status and must refer to accepted standards of the medical community to reach accurate diagnoses.
Additionally, doctors must provide their diagnoses in a timely manner to prevent a patient’s condition from worsening. Unnecessary delays in diagnosing patients or failing to accurately diagnose patients constitute medical malpractice. However, it’s important to note that the symptoms of many medical conditions mimic the symptoms of others, and instances like this can complicate and prolong the diagnosis process.
The concept of “informed consent” is an important one in the medical field. Patients have the right to make informed decisions about their health care, so doctors have an obligation to fully explain all of the risks associated with any treatment plan. If a doctor fails to disclose a particular side effect or risk of a course of treatment and patients suffer because of it or if they would not have agreed to the treatment had they been aware, medical malpractice has occurred.
Surgical errors are another common cause of medical malpractice claims. If a surgeon makes an error during a procedure but immediately corrects it to no detriment to the patient, it is not malpractice. However, mistakes such as operating on the wrong side of the body or on the wrong body part, leaving surgical tools inside a patient, or failing to properly sterilize surgical equipment are negligent acts that would count as medical malpractice.
Anesthesia plays a critical role in many medical procedures as well. General anesthesia will render a patient completely unconscious while regional or local anesthetics only affect specific areas of the body. Failing to account for patient allergies or harmful drug interactions can lead to malpractice charges. Additionally, failing to properly monitor patients under anesthesia or administering the wrong dosages can have drastic consequences.
One of the most disturbing possibilities that can arise from an anesthesia error is “anesthesia awareness.” During an episode of anesthesia awareness, the patient on the surgical table wakes up during a procedure and can feel everything happening, but the anesthesia prevents them from crying out or getting the presiding doctor’s attention. Anesthesia awareness is incredibly traumatic, and victims often experience post-traumatic stress disorder because of it.
Finally, doctors must adhere to the accepted standards set forth by the medical community to treat patients. This means that once they positively identify a patient’s condition, they must treat the patient using the accepted methods and treatments usually used for handling the condition. When doctors take unnecessary risks, pursue alternative treatments without justification, or otherwise stray from accepted medical community standards, they are guilty of malpractice.
In some cases, doctors make egregious errors that even untrained individuals would catch. This is gross negligence and constitutes medical malpractice. An example would be a surgeon amputating the wrong limb after reading an x-ray backwards.
Filing a Malpractice Lawsuit
The state of Arizona places a two-year statute of limitations on medical malpractice claims. The two years starts counting down either on the date of the incident (or the date the damage from the incident becomes noticeable). Some medical conditions caused by medical malpractice may take time to manifest noticeable symptoms or impact victims’ health. It’s very important for injured claimants to act quickly once they notice the damage from an incident of medical malpractice.
Hire a reliable, experienced medical malpractice attorney to handle your claim in Arizona. Once you retain legal representation, your attorney will advise you to submit a claim to the appropriate medical review board. Before you can file a civil action for medical malpractice, a medical board must review the details of your claim and investigate whether the claim is valid. After a review board approves a claim, the plaintiff may proceed to filing civil action against the defendant. It’s important to hire an experienced attorney to handle medical malpractice cases. Arizona law does not place any caps or limits on damages in civil actions, and an inexperienced or inattentive attorney may overlook valuable potential avenues for compensation.
Damages in Medical Malpractice Cases
The damages in a medical malpractice suit cover the tangible losses and expenses the plaintiff incurred as a result of the negligence as well as compensation for the physical and emotional toll the situation took. Typically, damages in medical malpractice lawsuits include:
- Pain and suffering. Expert witness testimony is a requirement for medical malpractice claims. Your attorney will work with experts in the medical field to testify in court concerning the physical pain and emotional anguish caused by the defendant. The judge will consider this expert witness testimony and the other facts of the case to determine an appropriate amount of compensation.
- Medical expenses. If a doctor’s negligence caused enough damage to warrant a longer hospital stay, additional procedures, more intensive recovery, or anything else leading to increased medical expenses, the plaintiff may sue for compensation for these costs.
- Lost income or earning capacity. When negligence causes a plaintiff to miss time from work, he or she may sue for the wages he or she would have reasonably expected to earn in that time. However, if a doctor’s negligence permanently damages the plaintiff in such a way that he or she cannot return to work, the plaintiff may sue for compensation for his or her lost earning capacity in the future.
The expert witnesses involved in your case will provide the court with medically accurate explanations and interpretations of what you endured as a result of the malpractice. One of the most important distinctions to make in medical malpractice cases is whether a defendant’s actions were justified or medically acceptable. Expert witnesses testify as to whether another reasonable and equally skilled doctor may have taken the same action in the same situation.
Finding the Right Attorney
Medical malpractice claims are serious legal matters that can easily take months or even years to resolve in some cases, but an accomplished medical malpractice attorney may help his or her client reach an acceptable settlement or case outcome quickly.
The Bode & Collins team has a decorated record of successful cases throughout Arizona in all manner of practice areas, including medical malpractice. Medical malpractice plaintiffs are almost always patients already dealing with medical issues, so find an attorney to handle the legal complications so you can focus on recovery.
Contact Bode & Collins today to schedule a case evaluation for your Arizona medical malpractice claim. We can assess your situation, let you know what the claims process will be like, and what to expect from a settlement or case award.