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Medical Malpractice: What You Need to Know

How much do you know about medical malpractice? The truth is, most people don’t know what it means or what rights they have if they feel the medical system has wronged them in any way. This article will detail everything you need to know about what constitutes medical malpractice, how it affects your health and finances, and who to contact if you believe you’ve been subject to a medical error that has negatively impacted your life.

Defining Medical Malpractice

Medical malpractice is a form of negligence. Negligence means failure to act as a reasonable, prudent person would have acted in similar circumstances. It is defined by law and judged by jury or judge in court cases. When you go to a medical professional (doctor, surgeon, dentist), they are expected to adhere to a certain standard of care based on their area of expertise. This standard is called an informed consent obligation. If that provider fails to meet that standard, they may be sued for medical malpractice.

An example might be if a surgeon operated on your knee with no idea what was wrong with it and caused permanent damage to your knee joint -this would constitute negligent treatment on his part. Therefore, he may be sued for malpractice by you or your family. Another example could be where a physician treats your child for the flu when it’s pneumonia. The physician should not just assume what your child has but instead conduct tests like chest x-rays and blood work to confirm what is going on with them before starting treatment.

Statistics of Medical Malpractice in AU

An Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS) study found that medical malpractice payments have dropped since 2005 from a high of $4.9 billion in that year to just under $3.7 billion in 2012, a decline of 28 per cent. Moreover, death rates resulting from malpractice were meagre (two per 100,000 patients) compared to other industrialized countries, according to a National Academy of Sciences study published earlier in 2014.

What’s more, medical error is by far one of our biggest killers. Based on studies, somewhere between 210,000 and 440,000 people die each year because of preventable hospital mistakes. In AU alone, there are several thousand cases of patients who have died due to doctors’ negligence every year. 

When Can a Patient Sue for Medical Malpractice?

Medical malpractice occurs when a doctor, a nurse, or another healthcare professional fails to provide adequate care in one of several ways that cause injury or death. Depending on how badly they’re hurt, patients have three years from when they discover (or should have discovered) any malpractice that caused their injuries to file suit. If they miss that deadline, they’ll be forever barred from filing a claim against those responsible for their harm.

State laws govern medical malpractice cases, so there are variations in how they’re handled. Some states impose a two-year or three-year time limit on filing suit, while others allow up to ten years for patients injured as minors or become disabled. As with any injury lawsuit, you must hire an experienced medical malpractice attorney as soon as possible if you feel that someone else’s negligence has violated your rights.

In AU, patients have just three years from their initial treatment, diagnosis, or surgery to file medical malpractice claims. If you miss that deadline, even if your injuries weren’t apparent immediately after treatment, your case is likely to be dismissed (though some state laws provide an exception for minors or those who were injured at birth). To determine whether you have a medical malpractice case in Australia, your first step should be contacting a lawyer and discussing what happened during your treatment or diagnosis.

What are the Types of Medical Malpractice Cases?

Physicians, hospitals, nursing homes and other healthcare providers are all held to a higher standard of care than other professionals. Should any of these organizations fail to meet their professional obligations, patients can sue for malpractice. Medical malpractice cases typically fall into one of three categories: negligence, misdiagnosis and improper care. Each scenario is different and requires a specific set of circumstances for you to have grounds for legal action.

1. Negligence (Carelessness)

Negligence is committed when healthcare providers fail to meet reasonable standards of care. This could involve a misdiagnosis, an incorrect diagnosis or a failure to follow up on symptoms or test results. Any medical mistake that should have been caught but wasn’t can be grounds for negligence.

2. Misdiagnosis

A patient might experience misdiagnosis if they are given an improper treatment plan by their doctor. For example, they might be treated for one disease with drugs while they have another more treatable illness entirely.

3. Improper Care

Medical negligence can also occur when healthcare providers refuse or promptly provide necessary treatments such as medications or surgeries. As long as medical professionals have been negligent, failing to provide treatment isn’t considered malpractice on its own but could be used alongside another charge to prove wrongdoing on behalf of your care provider.

4. Failure to Warn

This form of medical malpractice comes into play when patients aren’t informed about their treatment plan’s possible risks and side effects. For example, a patient with cancer might not know that one medication could make their body susceptible to haemorrhaging. It is also possible for healthcare providers to fail to warn patients about existing health conditions or potential side effects in addition to complications involved with surgeries and treatments.

Who is Liable in a Medical Malpractice Case?

In most cases, medical malpractice lawsuits involve one or more parties held liable for injuries sustained due to a medical error. Typically, these parties are:

1. The Doctor (or Healthcare Provider)

Suppose a doctor or healthcare provider is found liable in a medical malpractice case. In that case, they will typically have their license suspended or revoked, be ordered to pay damages and cover expenses related to their injuries. Additionally, they may be personally sued for compensation if they are found liable in a court of law.

2. The Doctor’s Employer

Typically, hospitals and other private medical facilities employ doctors on staff with specific skill sets. These institutions can be held liable for a doctor’s conduct if they negligently hire or retain a physician who later injures you during treatment. For example, let’s say your family physician (employed by a hospital) makes an error that leads to severe injuries or even death; in that case, both parties could be held responsible for damages sustained in such a scenario.

3. A Medical Facility

While most medical malpractice lawsuits are filed against health care providers, there are instances where a facility may be named a defendant in a lawsuit. This typically occurs when healthcare providers make negligent errors related to the safety conditions of their offices or clinics. For example, let’s say you go into surgery at one clinic, but your doctor uses instruments previously used on another patient; in that case, both parties could be held liable for damages sustained by your injuries.

4. Other Parties

In some instances, third parties may be held liable for medical malpractice. This typically occurs when there is a failure on their part to exercise reasonable care and maintain an acceptable level of safety during your treatment.

Conclusion

It’s important to note that not all injuries during treatment are considered medical malpractice. For an injury to be considered medical malpractice, it must involve negligence from a professional who was supposed to provide adequate care. The majority of victims of medical malpractice find themselves as patients at one point or another; however, there may be instances when non-patients can seek legal action after being affected by medical negligence. We hope this article has helped you understand how you can identify and pursue a claim if you were injured due to medical malpractice.

FAQs

1. What is medical malpractice?

Medical malpractice occurs when a doctor or other healthcare provider deviates from accepted standards of care while treating a patient and causes damage or injury as a result.

2. What are examples of medical malpractice?

Examples of medical malpractice can include misdiagnosis, an error in administering medication, surgical mistakes and failure to diagnose cancer.

3. What do I do if I think I have been a victim of medical malpractice?

If you believe that a healthcare professional’s negligence has injured you, speak with an attorney about your case.

4. What is my time limit for filing a claim for medical malpractice?

In Australia (and in most parts of the world), victims of medical malpractice must file a lawsuit within two years after discovering that they were harmed due to another person’s negligent actions.

5. How much will it cost me to hire a lawyer?

How much it costs you to hire a lawyer depends on various factors, including how complicated your case is and whether or not it goes before a jury.

References

https://www.solicitoradvice.com/medicalnegligence.htm#:~:text=A%20plaintiff%20must%20show%20that,no%20damage%20has%20been%20caused.

https://www.ausmed.com/cpd/articles/what-is-negligence

https://www.clydeco.com/en/insights/2021/01/top-10-medical-malpractice-precedents-australia

https://www1.racgp.org.au/newsgp/clinical/more-than-80-of-diagnostic-errors-deemed-preventab

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