What Constitutes Medical Malpractice?
The core principle that distinguishes malpractice from human error is “deviation from the standard of care.” This means that a medical professional could have avoided his error had he adhered to commonly accepted practices and principles. For example, a doctor that prescribes a medication to which you have a negative reaction has not necessarily committed malpractice; however, if you had a long history of being allergic to such medications, but the doctor failed to read your form where you noted this, he could be considered negligent and subject to a malpractice suit. To qualify as malpractice, an incident must meet all of these qualifications:
The medical professional owed you a duty
A formal doctor-patient relationship must exist in order for you to claim malpractice. If you simply ask a physician for advice in passing and such advice proves to be ill suited for your situation, you cannot file a malpractice suit (even if the doctor was negligent) because you were not the doctor’s patient. A legal duty must exist for malpractice to occur, such a duty being created by a formal doctor-patient relationship.
The professional failed to follow the standard of care
Simply experiencing negative results from an operation, medication, procedure, or advice you received from a medical professional does not mean the doctor was negligent. To support a malpractice case, you must prove that the situation could have been reasonably avoided if the doctor had followed commonly established and accepted procedures. For example, a misdiagnosis of an illness that closely mimics another malady is seldom sufficient grounds for a malpractice suit. However, if the doctor failed to diagnose cancer because he failed to order an MRI when such a procedure would have been common practice, he may have failed in his duty to protect your health.
The breach of duty was the direct cause of an injury
“Might-have-beens” and “almost-happeneds” can be abundant, but until an actual injury occurs as a direct result of negligence, it does not qualify as malpractice. Furthermore, the negligence must be the direct cause of the injury. For example, if a doctor prescribes an incorrect dose of medication, causing the patient to go into cardiac arrest, the patient could legitimately bring a malpractice suit. However, if the same incorrect dose caused disorientation and the disoriented patient independently decided to drive without consulting his physician and ended up in a car accident, the fault would not lie directly with the overdose and would not support a malpractice claim.
The injury caused damages
An injury must cause specific damages, which may be physical, mental, emotional, or fiduciary. Some examples include hospital bills, income lost from time off work, emotional pain and suffering, and ongoing medical care.
Who Is Subject to a Malpractice Suit?
Any medical professional or institution can commit medical malpractice, including: doctors, nurses, surgeons, dentists, counselors, psychiatrists, doctor’s offices, and hospitals. If the individual is a professional working in the medical field and has direct responsibility for your care, they can also be negligent with such a duty.
However, according to the Missouri Statute of Limitations, such individuals are only subject to a malpractice suit for two years after the injury takes place. This is one reason why we recommend calling an attorney right away if you suspect malpractice. Medical situations can be difficult to navigate and by the time you try to do so on your own and realize you need help, the statute of limitations may already be up.
Damages in Malpractice Cases
Damages in malpractice cases can be divided into three main categories: special damages, general damages, and punitive damages.
Special damages include any injuries that are specific and of measurable worth. For example, income lost as a result of time off work because of the injury and past and future medical bills fall into this category.
General damages are harder to define and quantify and often require a professional witness to help assign a value. Damages for intangibles like pain and suffering, emotional trauma and loss of enjoyment of life are difficult to measure, but nevertheless should be part of your recovery.
Punitive damages are only awarded when the negligence was especially egregious. As its name implies, this kind of damage not only seeks to compensate the victim, but to punish the doctor.
Until 2012, the state limit on general damages was set at $350,000. However, in 2012, the Missouri Supreme Court overturned the ruling on the basis of the right to trial by jury. There is currently no limit to the amount of special or general damages you can be awarded by the court.
Call The G. Gray Law Firm and Speak With Experienced Medical Malpractice Attorneys in Kansas City, MO
Because medical malpractice is a highly-specialized and technical field, we encourage you to only hire attorneys who specialize in such cases. The attorneys at The G. Gray Firm are such lawyers, with over 100 years of combined legal experience and hundreds of successful jury trials giving testament to our ability. Call us today.
From implements left inside a person’s body during surgery, to having the wrong limb removed, medical malpractice stories can read like a horror novel. But your doctor doesn’t have to operate on the wrong side of your brain to have committed medical malpractice. Less headline-worthy, but no less devastating mistakes, such as infection due to non-sterile equipment, organ damage done by over-medication, failing to diagnose a disease, or misdiagnosis of a condition can all be examples of malpractice if they were due to the doctor’s negligence.