When hospitals publish value statements, they often cite “accountability, integrity, and personal responsibility” as fundamental assets and positive qualities of their facility and professionals. In some cases, these values don’t match the actual experience and interactions with healthcare providers at the hospitals.
The public expects healthcare providers and medical staff to be trustworthy, ethical, and well-trained. They do not expect to suffer great harm and injury but when injury occurs, a medical malpractice lawsuit may be required to seek compensation for the victim
The Medical Malpractice System
The medical malpractice system of justice has two primary goals:
- to compensate injured patients
- to deter physicians from careless behavior
Patients who are injured by substandard healthcare may be entitled to compensation. Medical malpractice occurs when a healthcare provider assumes or undertakes care of a patient and then breaches their duty to the patient by failing to maintain a relevant standard of healthcare resulting in injury.
Medical malpractice will not automatically cover all patients who experience a bad outcome from accident or honest mistakes, if no negligence has occurred but compensation may be available for people who were injured.
Four Elements Needed to Prove Medical Malpractice
A “tort” is a wrongful act that is committed by someone or an organization that causes injury to another person or property. Tort Law is the area of legal practice that encompasses negligence, personal injury, and medical malpractice claims.
Negligence is a failure to act as an ordinary, prudent person or reasonable person would under similar circumstances. Personal injury is a physical injury that occurs to a person’s body as opposed to property or reputation. Medical malpractice occurs when a healthcare professional fails to provide appropriate care, resulting in injury.
The following four elements are needed to prove negligence in a medical malpractice case:
- Duty: Initiated when the healthcare provider accepts responsibility for the healthcare and treatment of a patient.
- Breach of duty: The act of omission or commission causing injuries or damages to the patient.
- Proximate cause: Evidence between the breach of duty and the damages that occurred.
- Injuries or damages: What the patient suffered.
Despite a bad outcome, not all injuries or damages are a result of medical malpractice.
Finding a Physician Guilty of Medical Malpractice
Although a physician may not have acted with “evil intent”, his or her actions may result in a criminal prosecution and conviction if those actions appear to be those of a healthcare provider who was careless, irresponsible, or indifferent to the patient’s well-being.
A factor that seems to figure most prominently in the decision to bring a criminal prosecution of medical malpractice forward is the failure of a healthcare provider to follow-up and respond appropriately to patients who have suffered injury.
Whether a physician is guilty or innocent in criminal law, is based on what a reasonable physician would have done under the same circumstances. Evidence of past conduct can also be introduced to establish a pattern of criminal malpractice.
Establishment of criminal wrongdoing is not necessary but may also help patients who have been injured to obtain compensation for injuries that occur due to medical malpractice.
Examples of Medical Malpractice:
- A court found a culpable state of mind existed and convicted a physician because he had ignored repetitions of the same problem with the same or different patients.
- A legal action proved a physician had sufficient knowledge based on his previous experience of the problem to have known the problem would cause danger, but he ignored the danger.
- A ruling concluded the physician possessed a guilty state of mind because he had sufficient facts to know that the patient was in danger but did nothing to mitigate the danger.
Medical Malpractice Lawsuits
People who seek medical care in the U.S., expect to be given adequate treatment and treated according to the standard of care of the medical practice area they are seeking assistance for. They do not expect to be treated inappropriately, neglected or to suffer from substandard care. They also do not expect to have to sue for medical malpractice in order to get compensation for their care and injuries. People who have been injured due to neglect or inappropriate care should seek legal advice.
In some cases, insurance companies or representatives will attempt to offer settlements directly to the patient or family members. Those victims should seek legal expertise and advice from malpractice lawyers before signing anything. In some cases, an adequate medical malpractice settlement can be negotiated but in other cases, a lawsuit may be needed.