Medical Malpractice: The Basics


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We put our health and well-being into the hands of skilled professionals who we trust to provide quality care. Unfortunately, there are instances in which medical professionals deviate from what is known as the standard of care and compromise the safety of their patients. Medical malpractice is a reality many people face, and the rules regarding it vary from state to state. Fortunately, there are some general rules that are similar across the board.

The four basic elements necessary to sue for medical malpractice:

  1. Doctor Patient Relationship
  2. Proof of Negligence
  3. Connection between Negligence and Injury
  4. Proof of Harm

Proof of Doctor Patient Relationship is the simplest to establish. This relationship is formed when a doctor takes a patient into his care in a professional setting. The setting is key because a person cannot sue over casual advice given in a nonprofessional setting; for example, over dinner.

In order to establish Proof of Negligence the patient must prove that they suffered an injury due to an unreasonable deviation from what is known as the “standard of care.” Although the definition of standard of care can vary, it is generally known as care that is considered reasonable to physicians across the board. For example, if one doctor treats a condition in a certain way, it should be the same way in which another doctor, under similar circumstances, would treat that condition. If it is not, that care can likely be considered negligent.

In some instances, it can be difficult to prove a Connection between Negligence and Injury. If a patient with a degenerative condition that often leads to loss of eyesight did indeed lose their eyesight, how could it be determined if this was the result of disease, or negligence? In cases such as this, there is often not a definitive answer. It is up to a medical professional to testify that it is very likely that the latter is true.

Even if there is established proof of medical malpractice, a patient cannot sue unless there is also Proof of Harm. An example of such an instance could be a doctor prescribing an incorrect antibiotic for an infection, but the infection going away anyways. The mistake itself is not enough to sue. There must be resulting damages.

What are some of the most common forms of medical malpractice?

  • Breach of Care: Occurs when the doctor does not uphold an acceptable standard of care
  • Misdiagnosis: Failure to diagnose the correct illness, often resulting in incorrect treatment
  • Delayed Diagnosis: Occurs when the doctor fails to see signs of an illness, which prevents adequate treatment and allows that illness to progress
  • Surgical Negligence: Negligence during surgical procedures, which affect the patient’s quality of life
  • Pregnancy and Childbirth Negligence: Occurs when a doctor’s failure to adhere to the standard of care results in harm to the mother and/or baby
  • Medication Error: The prescribing or administering of the incorrect medication or incorrect dose of a medication

How long do you have to sue for medical malpractice?

Every state has its own law, known as a statute of limitations, which restricts the amount of time you have to file a lawsuit for medical malpractice. In Pennsylvania, the statute of limitations to sue for medical malpractice is two years. It is important to be aware of this time restriction because even if you have a case that might easily be won, you cannot file suit outside of those two years. There are a few exceptions to these limitations that allow for delays in the process. Some of the most common forms of these exceptions include, the Continuous Treatment Doctrine, the Infancy Toll, and the Foreign Object Rule.

  • Continuous Treatment Doctrine: The limitations period is extended to allow the patient to continue to receive care related to the doctor’s negligence
  • Infancy Toll: If the patient is an infant or minor when the negligence occurred the limitations period can be extended for several years, or in some cases until that patient comes of age
  • Foreign Object Rule: The limitations period is extended when a foreign object is negligently left inside a patient

If you believe you may be a victim of medical malpractice, now what?

Unfortunately, there are instances in which doctors deviate from the standard of care and compromise the safety of their patients. These medical errors are not to be taken lightly as they often result in both physical and psychological consequences for those victims. When a physician’s negligence affects a patient’s quality of life they should be held accountable.

The attorneys at Ross Feller Casey show extraordinary skill and compassion in every case they take on, and their record of success in medical malpractice lawsuits is unmatched. If you believe you have been a victim of medical malpractice, it is important to get the help you need, and fast. For a free consultation contact our offices today.

Disclaimer: Ross Feller Casey, LLP provides legal advice only after an attorney-client relationship is formed. Our website is an introduction to the firm and does not create a relationship between our attorneys and clients. An attorney-client relationship is formed only after a written agreement is signed by the client and the firm. Because every case is unique, the description of awards and summary of cases successfully handled are not intended to imply or guarantee that same success in other cases. Ross Feller Casey, LLP represents catastrophically injured persons and their families in injury and wrongful death cases, providing legal representation in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.