Medical errors are an unfortunate part of the healthcare industry. Medical malpractice occurs when a healthcare provider fails to provide a patient with the accepted standard of care, causing significant harm or death.
Medical malpractice and medical errors are often used interchangeably. However, not all errors in medical care constitute malpractice.
Medical malpractice is a complex area of law. The healthcare industry exists to help sick and injured people. However, creating a system of accountability that does not interfere with medical treatment has been an ongoing challenge.
Presently, the healthcare system aims to correctly identify medical errors, learn from adverse events to reduce medical errors, and compensate injured parties. Medical malpractice is part of the healthcare system designed to recover damages on behalf of an injured party.
It is important to note that adverse events and medical errors are different from acts of malpractice. Since the world of medicine is not an exact science, mistakes and adverse events will happen.
Medical malpractice involves foreseeable and preventable mistakes:
For example, suppose a patient has pneumonia and is given an antibiotic. Later, the patient has an allergic reaction that causes short-term kidney failure. The resulting kidney failure is an adverse event. However, the kidney failure is not an act of negligence and, therefore, is not medical malpractice.
Using the above example, if the patient’s allergy was known and listed on their chart and the physician failed to double-check the chart, the doctor would be considered negligent.
Establishing that a medical professional acted with negligence and did not make a simple error is challenging. To distinguish between medical malpractice and a medical mistake, the healthcare provider must:
The medically accepted standard of care owed to patients will vary by circumstance.
The medically accepted standard of care varies by the expertise of the healthcare provider and the field of practice. Generally, the standard of care is set by looking at how a reasonably competent medical professional would act under similar circumstances.
For example, suppose a patient is prescribed a drug and suffers a stroke. The drug contains an allergen listed in their report. The prescribing doctor failed to provide the accepted standard of medical care by not checking the patient’s chart when other doctors would have.
For a medical professional to be regarded as negligent, the patient must have suffered harm. In addition, the harm must be specific.
For instance, suppose a patient is given the wrong medication by a nurse and experiences a minor side effect. While the nurse made a medical mistake, it is not considered negligence. If the patient files a medical malpractice claim, it will likely be dismissed on the grounds that there are no injuries.
However, if a patient undergoes surgery and suffers brain damage due to an anesthesiologist failing to provide adequate surgical oxygen, there may be grounds for a medical malpractice lawsuit.
Medical malpractice is a problem. A study from Johns Hopkins Medicine suggests that medical errors are the third leading cause of death in America. However, they remain an under-recognized cause of death. Nearly 10% of all US fatalities are attributed to medical mistakes.
According to a 25-year study by BMJ Quality & Safety, medical errors cause significant injury to patients. The most common errors that lead to a malpractice claim involve:
In many cases, a healthcare professional’s negligence can be life-threatening.
Medical malpractice injuries are particularly devastating. Patients rely on physicians, nurses, and other healthcare professionals for help. If a patient has a broken arm or an illness, they need to trust that the doctors and nurses will look after their best interests.
When healthcare professionals fail to provide the medically accepted standard of care, a patient can suffer significant emotional and physical damage.
An estimated 18% of patients suffer permanent injuries from medical negligence. Permanent injuries are also referred to as significant injuries and include:
Severe brain damage may leave a patient in a vegetative state for the rest of their lives. Losing a critical organ often leads to death later in life.
For example, when patients lose their kidneys, they can live for a few decades on a dialysis machine. The average life expectancy is 10 to 20 years for patients on dialysis.
Medical malpractice claims showed that 17% of patients suffered major permanent injuries. Major permanent injuries include:
Major permanent injuries that result in brain damage often see the patient suffer cognitive impairment. Patients can suffer significant memory loss, the inability to make complex decisions, or trouble speaking and communicating.
Negligently losing two limbs is usually caused by the wrong body part being amputated in surgery. Once the error is recognized, the patient must endure having the correct limb amputated.
Life-long care generally involves patients with limited mobility who need professional assistance for the rest of their lives. 13% of malpractice victims require life-long care.
Medical malpractice claims involving minor permanent injuries include:
Minor permanent damage characteristically involves non-disabling injuries. Nearly 9% of claimants reported minor permanent injuries.
Major temporary injuries affect 8% of medical malpractice claimants. A major temporary injury generally includes:
The most common form of temporary brain damage occurs when the brain does not receive enough oxygen for an extended period of time. Symptoms may affect cognitive reasoning, memory, and language skills. Generally, speech and language therapy can help rehabilitate patients.
Delayed recovery refers to patients who regain consciousness much later than expected. In most cases, delayed recovery is due to an anesthesia error.
Under 5% of medical malpractice claims involve emotional injuries alone. Emotional injuries are characteristic of diagnosable mental issues, including:
Severe anxiety can cause frequent panic attacks and sleeplessness. Prolonged stress has been linked to permanent alterations in brain chemistry. In most cases, the mood-regulating hormone serotonin is reduced permanently. Chronic anxiety can lead to severe depression.
Just over 30% of medical malpractice victims suffer fatal injuries. Diagnostic errors are the most common medical mistakes and the deadliest.
Medical malpractice spans numerous disciplines in the healthcare system. Some of the most common instances of medical malpractice involve birth injuries and failure to diagnose.
When healthcare providers give the wrong diagnosis, patients can suffer due to failure to treat the real illness, experience adverse effects from the wrong treatment, or sustain injuries due to delayed treatment. One of the most common misdiagnosis errors medical professional commits is heart attacks in women. Men and women present with different symptoms during a heart attack. Studies show that women have a 50% higher chance than men of being misdiagnosed following a heart attack.
Labor and delivery are inherently dangerous. If a medical professional fails to provide the accepted standard of care during birth, the results are often deadly or lead to permanent disability. The most common negligent birth injury arises when a newborn is deprived of oxygen for a significant amount of time during delivery resulting in cerebral palsy.
Brain injuries can be particularly devastating in medical malpractice. Intubation mistakes, airway management, and anesthesia errors can result in brain damage due to a lack of oxygen. Healthcare providers may fail to administer the correct medication or misdiagnose a stroke, leading to permanent brain damage. Victims of brain injury medical malpractice can suffer a wide range of effects from mild cognitive impairments to coma or death.
There are over 100,000 medication errors reported to the FDA each year. Patients suffer serious injuries when medical professionals fail to consider potential drug interactions, administer the drug too late, or give the wrong dosage. In some cases, medication errors can be lethal. On average, 8,000 people die from medication errors each year.
Surgical errors can happen while a patient is being prepped for surgery, during the procedure, or throughout post-operative care. Negligent surgical mistakes can range from leaving foreign objects inside a patient to failure to notice complications during follow-up. Patients can suffer infections, internal organ damage, or be given the wrong procedure.
An anesthesiologist must administer the correct kind of anesthesia, the proper dosage, ensure adequate surgical oxygen during the procedure, and maintain the patient’s vitals throughout the procedure. Even a small act of negligence can cause a patient to wake up during surgery. Patients are paralyzed and able to feel everything, suffering extreme pain and mental horror. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is frequent among those who have woken during surgery. If an anesthesiologist fails to maintain the correct levels of oxygen, a patient can suffer permanent brain damage or suffocate.
Healthcare facilities are full of bacteria and other sources of infections. Ensuring that tools and equipment used on patients are sterile is a critical step in patient care. When negligent actions from a medical professional result in a serious infection, patients can suffer life-threatening consequences.
Elderly patients are the most vulnerable to infections. Older patients tend to have compromised immune systems. Infections can quickly become life-threatening when left untreated.
Regardless of age, infections can lead to sepsis shock or cause the soft tissue to die. Necrotic tissue is especially dangerous. Dying muscle tissue releases proteins and toxins in the bloodstream. Toxins can quickly overwhelm the kidneys and heart, causing multiple organ failures.
In some cases, infections may be resistant to traditional antibiotics. Medical professionals may have to use aggressive treatments to eliminate the infection. Aggressive medical treatment often helps one ailment at the expense of damaging other parts of the body.
Medical malpractice can happen in any healthcare setting. However, negligent medical errors are more prone to certain facilities and situations.
Medical malpractice can frequently occur in a nursing home. Elderly residents are highly vulnerable to forms of abuse and neglect. Nursing home abuse becomes medical malpractice in cases involving:
Nursing homes and long-term care facilities have trained medical professionals to assist residents. When they fail to provide the medical standard of care, residents can suffer life-threatening injuries.
Liability can be challenging when a victim is hurt in a negligent car accident and then suffers injuries from medical malpractice while being treated. While the two events are separate, certain factors may pass responsibility for the malpractice onto the negligent driver. The doctrine of successive negligence assumes that the person responsible for the motor vehicle accident can be held liable in some cases.
Medical malpractice can also arise in situations concerning a faulty medical device. Medical devices consist of an array of healthcare equipment, including insulin pumps and pacemakers. When a defective medical device causes significant harm or death, it may be a products liability case or a medical malpractice case. The type of claim depends on whether the healthcare professional acted negligently in using the device or if the medical equipment was manufactured or designed defectively. For example, if a medical provider knowingly uses a faulty device, the liability falls to the physician.
Victims of medical malpractice are entitled to recover damages for the harm they have endured due to negligence. Every situation is different. Some medical errors lead to very little bodily injury or mental turmoil and may not qualify for remedies.
The most common types of damages associated with medical malpractice involve economic damages, including:
However, not every case may qualify to recover non-economic damages. Economic damages can easily be calculated by adding and estimating expenses. Non-economic damages are intangible and opinion-based. It can be challenging to ascertain the worth of someone’s pain against another.
Common non-economic damages include:
In rare situations, a case may qualify for punitive damages. Unlike other compensatory damages, punitive damages are only awarded for acts of gross negligence to punish the liable party.
A medical malpractice claim is a way for injured patients to hold negligent medical personnel responsible for injuries. While medical professionals carry malpractice insurance to cover the costs of medical errors, injury cases may be denied by the insurance companies for various reasons.
Medical malpractice claims fall under personal injury law. There are numerous practice areas under personal injury law. However, not every injury attorney can assist with filing a medical malpractice claim. The best legal advice for injured patients will come from experienced Oklahoma medical malpractice lawyers.
Medical malpractice claims are paid out one of two ways. Settlements or verdicts can be paid in a lump sum or structured annually.
Many factors affect how a claimant will receive their compensation. For example, if the claimant is much older, the settlement is likely to be paid all at once. However, younger claimants tend to have their compensation given to them in an annuity.
Injured patients may file a medical malpractice claim within two years. The statute of limitations on personal injury cases in Oklahoma is 24 months from the date of the injury. In medical malpractice cases, the start date may fall when a patient first discovers their injuries were preventable and a result of negligence.
It is critical that injured patients know that the statute of limitations tends to be very strict. The Tulsa medical malpractice lawyers of Graves McLain have years of experience and can provide legal representation to a victim of medical malpractice in Oklahoma. Schedule a free consultation with our personal injury law firm for assistance with a medical malpractice lawsuit.
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