It is a common phrase to say “mistakes happen,” because in all honesty, they do. No one is perfect and we all inevitably fail. However, this does not mean there are no consequences to these failures. There is no greater example of this than in the field of medicine. Patients, often at their most medically-vulnerable, rely on the opinions of their examining and treating medical professionals. But what happens when that professional makes a mistake? Are they, too, able to chalk it up to “mistakes happen” and move on? The short answer is that medical professionals owe you a higher duty of care and “mistakes” they make could very well fall under malpractice.
What is Medical Malpractice?
Generally speaking, medical malpractice is a type of negligence that occurs during the medical care and treatment provided by a healthcare professional, i.e., doctor, nurse, physician assistant, etc. In order to prove malpractice occurred, you need to prove the “Four Ds of Medical Malpractice:” 1) duty, 2) dereliction (failure to meet that duty), 3) damages, and 4) direct cause.
In order for malpractice to be found, all four (4) elements must be proven. It’s not enough that a medical procedure had a poor result. In fact, no surgery is a sure thing. There are many known risks, and sometimes “accidents” do happen, even when a doctor or medical professional does everything correctly.
Types of Medical Malpractice
While any breach of medical duty that harmed you can be malpractice, there are certainly common mistakes that occur. For example, common medical errors include, but are not limited to:
Diagnoses errors ― Failure to diagnose, a delay in that diagnosis, or a misdiagnosis all result in the improper treatment of an underlying condition.
Medication errors ― Incorrect medication type, strength or quantity can result in overdoses and ineffective treatment. Combining medications that should not be taken at the same time.
Surgical errors ― These include failure to recognize or respond to surgical complications, leaving foreign objects inside of the body following surgery, or damaging other body systems during surgery.
Birth injuries ― Injuries including those caused by vacuums or forceps or failure to perform a C-section.
It is important to note that any cause of action (lawsuit) is subject to state law. Each state will have different rules regarding how long after the incident in question you have to file a lawsuit, (“statute of limitations”) and caps on damages. In Massachusetts, the statute of limitations for a medical malpractice claim is three (3) years. This means an injured patient has three (3) years from the date of the inflicted harm to begin the lawsuit. One exception of note is that the three-year timer does not necessarily begin the moment the medical error happened. For example, if the medical error is the type that you were not aware of until a later date, the three-year timer begins as of that later date. However, even these delayed-onset claims are subject to a second statute of limitations, which is seven (7) years.
Massachusetts is also a state that has a statutory cap, or limit, on damages or compensation you can receive from a successful lawsuit. Massachusetts limits damages to $500,000 in medical malpractice cases for what are known as “non-economic damages.” Examples of non-economic damages include mental health issues related to the medical error (e.g., anxiety, depression, lost enjoyment of life); pain and suffering; and other effects of the defendant’s medical negligence.
However, there is no cap on non-economic damages if your injuries include a substantial or permanent loss or impairment of a bodily function, disfigurement, or if some other special circumstance exists which warrants a finding that use of the cap would deprive you of fair compensation for your injuries.
Similarly, there is no cap on “economic damages.” Examples of economic damages include past medical expenses and ongoing medical care; lost income from your inability to work; and any diminished ability to work in the future.
Medical malpractice cases are complicated legal matters that require expertise to navigate. It is in your best interest to contact an experienced attorney in order to help you.