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What is medical malpractice, legally? Legal encyclopedia and expert site Nolo defines malpractice as a case in which a patient is done harm by a medical professional who “fails to provide proper health care treatment.” Of course, proving that a healthcare professional has failed to provide proper treatment or care can be more complicated than it sounds. Certainly, not all mistakes can be considered malpractice. The key element that makes a case one of legal medical malpractice is that of negligence.
Consider the example of a doctor who prescribes a certain diet to assist with a stomach issue. If the patient finds the diet distasteful or experiences a new problem with the food that makes her unhappy, the doctor hasn’t necessarily committed malpractice. In this case, the doctor will likely be just as surprised as the patient to learn about any new symptoms.
Now, imagine the doctor has treated this patient for multiple severe reactions to foods like almond butter and pecan pie in the past. A physician presented with this patient history should suspect the presence of a nut allergy and order relevant testing. If the doctor prescribes a diet that relies heavily on tree nuts and the patient suffers a life-threatening allergic reaction, this is a case of medical malpractice. The physician had knowledge of things that should have informed her recommendations but neglected to explore them, ultimately resulting in patient harm.
Negligence by a medical professional, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), is actually the third most common cause of death in the United States. The statistic is alarming, and there are many forms this egregious negligence can take:
A very common form of malpractice is the prescription of incorrect medication. Often, this comes in the form of writing/typing the incorrect dosage into the prescription (10 mg becomes 100 mg, for example). In some cases, the wrong medication is prescribed altogether, perhaps due to poor pharmaceutical knowledge or a failure to reference available drug databases.
Another common mistake is when doctors fail to diagnose a patient correctly. In some cases, the patient is diagnosed with something else while, in other cases, the diagnosis is extremely delayed (or not made at all). With the wrong diagnosis comes the wrong treatment, and with no diagnosis comes an absence of treatment. This can lead to further suffering or even death.
One particularly troubling example of an incorrect diagnosis was that of Dr. Farid Fata of Michigan. In an effort to commit billing fraud, Fata knowingly misdiagnosed more than 40 patients with cancer and treated them unnecessarily. The case ended in 2016 with a settlement of $8 million, but many of the patients were left permanently injured from the unnecessary cancer treatments.
The stuff of patients’ nightmares (thanks to news stories and television specials on the topic), surgical mistakes can be especially life-threatening. Distracted or rushing surgeons may accidentally puncture an organ, remove a part that should have remained intact, or even leave tools inside a patient.
Even surgical errors aren’t quite as life threatening as mistakes made with anesthesia. Because anesthesia is used to render a patient unconscious during surgery, errors could have serious repercussions like permanent brain damage or death. Possible mistakes include administering too much anesthesia, ignoring vital signs, or otherwise neglecting to communicate with the patient about his or her history and the requirements for the day of surgery.
Yet another common form of malpractice is the failure to provide careful and appropriate care during a patient’s pregnancy or childbirth. If a doctor is aware of certain risks to the mother or child and fails to address them appropriately, harm might come in the form of birth defects or pregnancy complications. Similarly, a lack of proper care and/or skill during childbirth could lead to injury of the child or the mother (e.g., hemorrhaging or paralysis due to improper birthing assistance techniques).
In 2016, a record amount of damages was awarded to the family of a boy who was afflicted with cerebral palsy as a result of a brain injury that occurred due to negligence during childbirth. The University of Chicago Medical Center was ordered to pay the family $53 million dollars, in part to pay for the boy’s future care.
When major medical mistakes occur, one would hope that other doctors, nurses or healthcare professionals would do the right thing and call out their colleagues for their errors. Unfortunately, there is a somewhat inherent culture of silence in the medical industry. Often, individuals simply avoid clashing with an authority figure (e.g., nurses afraid to report doctors).
There are also subtle relationships between doctors that can prevent disclosure out of self-preservation. After all, doctors often refer patients to one another, and a negative relationship could stop a lucrative flow of referrals.
Needless to say, the potential repercussions of these and other kinds of medical malpractice are vast. Whether you’ve been taking the wrong dosage of medication for a long time or have had an organ damaged during surgery, the physical, mental and emotional results can be devastating.
Not only can such negligence cause further physical health problems, it can also be exhausting, painful, and incredibly frustrating. In some cases, patients are left with disabilities that can even keep them from returning to work. In such cases, dealing with the results of the malpractice can be financially draining.
As a patient in the state of Texas, you have the right to receive professional, ethical medical care from practitioners of your choosing. If you or a loved one have been a victim of medical malpractice at the hands of a negligent healthcare professional, you also have a legal right to be compensated for the emotional, mental and/or physical damage caused. At the law offices of Schechter, Shaffer & Harris, we take issues of personal injury and medical malpractice very seriously. Our top personal injury lawyers have been representing injured victims for more than 50 years.
We know that dealing with physical, mental and emotional health conditions can be stressful and tiring. Our law office will set you up with an expert personal injury lawyer to make things easy and help you navigate the unfamiliar legal terrain of your malpractice case. We’ll help you determine whether you have a good case for malpractice, identify the source of negligence, determine appropriate damages, and more. When it comes to the courtroom, we’ll fight for your rights as a patient, victim, and U.S. citizen.
As a victim of medical malpractice, it’s important to act quickly; in the state of Texas, there is a statute of limitations of two years (starting with the date you were injured). To schedule a free consultation as soon as possible with one of our expert malpractice lawyers, contact us today!