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Medical negligence is a major cause of death in the United States, and it’s something that can happen to anyone at any time. However, many people don’t realize that a situation they have encountered might qualify as medical negligence. Understanding what constitutes malpractice and negligence can help you protect yourself and your loved ones.

Once you believe medical malpractice has been committed, attorneys filing a case must show the doctor’s negligence, proving the care didn’t meet acceptable standards for what would be expected. Attorneys must also prove the care directly caused harm. Expert witnesses are generally required unless the case is very straightforward. Find out more about 10 key topics surrounding medical malpractice lawsuits.

medical scissors on a table

Image via Flickr by Nursing Schools Near Me

Legal Definition of Medical Malpractice

The legal definition of medical malpractice is when a medical provider deviates from the standard of care that is recognized in their field. Standard of care refers to what a prudent medical provider would or would not have done in a similar circumstance. The deviation from the standard of care can occur through a negligent act or an omission.

Reasonable actions by a doctor, or actions that did not directly cause harm, aren’t considered malpractice. Those who believe malpractice was committed are required to prove it. Doctors are compared against other doctors by using the average characteristics and expectations in the doctor’s field or specialty. If this level of care is below expectations, there may be a malpractice case. 

To qualify as medical malpractice under current law, a situation must meet certain characteristics: 

  • The healthcare provider violated the standard of care in a particular situation.
  • The violation of the standard of care, or resulting malpractice, caused an injury to the patient in the situation.
  • The injury resulted in significant damages, such as disability, suffering and hardship, major medical bills, unusual pain, and/or loss of income.

How Do You Know When You’re the Victim of Medical Negligence?

If you have experienced medical care from a healthcare provider that resulted in a major injury, you might be a victim of medical malpractice or negligence. However, a poor outcome from a treatment or procedure isn’t immediate proof of negligence. You must be able to show that through the provider’s actions, a violation of the standard of care caused your injury.

Consider several factors and be prepared to answer critical questions when meeting with an attorney. These include the condition treated, date and location of the treatment, who provided the treatment, details about the treatment, and how the treatment has caused physical and emotional damage and financial damage. Any available documentation, such as medical records, bills, and insurance statements, are helpful, but attorneys are skilled at acquiring necessary documentation.

Common Reasons Legitimate Medical Malpractice Claims Go Unexplored

It can be challenging to prove medical malpractice, but that’s not the only reason claims go unexplored and unresolved. You might elect not to pursue legal action against a healthcare provider you have a personal relationship with or who apologized to you following the adverse action.

Another reason a medical malpractice claim might go unexplored is the statute of limitations — patients must take action within a certain amount of time. The statute for a claim varies depending on the state in which the situation occurred, but if the time limit has expired, you can no longer file a legal claim against the medical provider.

Victims must also meet certain procedural and filing requirements when bringing medical malpractice claims against their providers. If you aren’t familiar with these legal requirements, you might file a case that has no merit, resulting in it being tossed out or sent back for additional information. To avoid this situation, work with an experienced medical malpractice attorney in the state where the situation occurred.

What Are the Odds of Winning a Malpractice Case?

The odds of winning your malpractice case depend on the extent of the injuries incurred due to the malpractice, as well as your ability to prove that the healthcare provider who treated you violated the standard of care in that situation. The lawyer you work with on your case can also impact the outcome. Some lawyers have more experience with medical malpractice claims and know what the courts look for when it comes to a successful ruling.

Cases finalized through settlements or a jury decision provide compensation for medical bills and related costs and past and current loss of income, pain and suffering, loss of quality of life, and emotional distress. Future costs for treatment and lost income should also be included in recovery. Malpractice victims must justify the cost of the damages.

Malpractice cases may also be wrongful death lawsuits filed by a victim’s family. The burden of proof is similar — showing that negligence caused the death — but the lawsuit must be filed by a close family member who can prove financial loss due to the death. Filers of wrongful death cases may seek payment of the deceased person’s medical bills and funeral costs, as well as loss of companionship and financial losses from missing income or support.

Has the Handling of Medical Malpractice Claims Shifted in the Past Few Decades?

While some people mistakenly believe the number of medical malpractice claims has increased recently, the actual number of claims is declining nationwide. However, the belief that claim numbers are rising has resulted in some states enacting limits on damage awards in malpractice cases. Individuals affected by malpractice and living in these states suffer the consequences of such legal actions, as they might not receive what they need to cover current and future healthcare costs to treat their injuries.

What Is Breach of Duty?

You might hear the term “breach of duty” when discussing medical malpractice. This term refers to a healthcare provider’s breach of their duty to care for and treat a patient properly. The term has a similar definition to medical negligence or deviation from the standard of care.

Common Causes of Negligence

A healthcare provider’s mental state can lead to medical negligence. If the provider is thinking about something else or distracted due to a personal or professional issue, they might not focus completely on their patient’s treatment. Another cause of negligence is tunnel vision, or a failure to look at the bigger picture due to a narrowed focus on a specific need or circumstance.

Medical malpractice can take many forms. Missed or delayed diagnoses include having a diagnosis for the wrong condition or a diagnosis postponed until it is more severe or incurable. Pregnancy malpractice, medication errors, anesthesia errors, and surgical errors are examples of treatment errors. Infections acquired while hospitalized may also be considered medical malpractice if safety protocol and monitoring aren’t followed. Emergency room visits can become malpractice in cases of misdiagnosis or staffing issues. Radiology errors such as the misinterpretation of scans and tests are also possible factors. Failure to monitor or obtain informed consent before a procedure may also result in a malpractice case.

Factors Affecting Medical Malpractice

Some of the factors that can impact a medical malpractice case include your gender, age, and medical history. If you receive treatment from multiple providers or for multiple conditions, for instance, it might be more challenging to prove which provider was negligent in their actions.

How to Prove Medical Malpractice

doctor putting on surgical gloves

Image via Flickr by focusonmore.com

To prove you are a victim of malpractice, you will need to collect and provide certain key information, including:

  • Test results, medical records, and treatment records.
  • A timeline of the events as they occurred and all parties involved.
  • Expert testimony from medical professionals. (Your lawyer will typically assist with this.)

The courts will often refer to previous malpractice complaints and claims filed against the provider, as well as providers in the same medical field as a basis for making a determination and what qualifies as a deviation from the standard of care. 

Attorneys will generally seek all medical records related to the treatment that is thought to be medical malpractice. Attorneys may also subpoena and interview witnesses to the medical treatment in question. Medical records and witness interviews need to be reviewed by experts who can discern if the treatment was appropriate or negligent. Victims of suspected medical malpractice may require a medical examination to show their current health status and the effects of the prior medical treatment in question.

Evidence gathering, known as discovery, may be challenging since it depends on the other side providing information and answering questions. The other side may be unwilling to admit fault and agree to a settlement. Attorneys will be able to handle all circumstances, including resolution and trial. In cases where the fault is admitted, a trial may be required to determine an appropriate settlement.

Steps to File a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit in Indiana 

If you suspect that you or a family member is a victim of medical malpractice, protect your health and your ability to recover a settlement. Seek treatment for the health issue, gather possible evidence, consult with an attorney, and refer the responsible party or parties to your attorney. It’s important to protect your health as well as your rights.

Medical malpractice cases may be made against multiple parties to increase the chances of a full settlement recovery as well as uncover additional proof of fault. Doctors or care providers are the primary defendants in malpractice cases, but their employers or their employers’ practices may have liability and fault. Doctors may not have enough resources or insurance to cover a claim. Hospitals, clinics, and other providers may be legally responsible for their employees’ actions, since the doctors provide services on behalf of the employer. Those businesses may also have negligence in their policies or practices when compared against similar providers.

Filing a medical malpractice claim requires promptly gathering medical records and evidence as well as filing the lawsuit. Those documents may require an affidavit from a medical professional stating that the evidence proves the case has merit. Sometimes negligence isn’t immediately apparent, so the delay in discovering the negligence must be explained.

The lawsuit must prove where the doctor’s actions fell short of acceptable care and that this negligence directly caused harm. Expert witnesses are often needed when the circumstances are more complex than a person without medical training can easily comprehend.

Negotiations for the settlement of cases are common and require careful consideration, as acceptance of the terms of the agreement prevents injured parties from suing even if circumstances change. For cases that go to trial, injured parties must prove medical malpractice to a jury. Both circumstances require skilled and aggressive negotiators who work on your behalf. Attorneys can also help with post-judgment issues or appeals, wrap up final details such as claims connected to the recovery amount, cover legal fees, and disburse the amount due to the plaintiff.

Knowledgeable attorneys will help you overcome challenges such as ensuring that the best expert witnesses provide testimony in the case and refute assertions from the other side. Established attorneys will have a reliable network of experts who can determine the steps that led to negligence and who is responsible, leading the case to an appropriate settlement.

If you believe you are a victim of medical malpractice in Indiana, our team at Alvarez Law can become your trusted resource and ally. We serve the seriously injured throughout the state and bring more than 200 years of combined experience to every case. The first step is contacting us for a no-obligation consultation. We’ll review your claim and determine whether you might have a case.

The statute of limitations for medical malpractice lawsuits in Indiana is two years, so act quickly if you believe you have been impacted by negligence. We’ll treat you like a member of our family as we work diligently to present your case and get you the money you need and deserve to manage your injury following an instance of medical negligence.