We trust doctors and other medical professionals to give us the best possible treatments and best possible recommendations, but even the most qualified and most attentive professionals in the medical industry sometimes make mistakes. If you’re diagnosed with the wrong illness, or if you’re prescribed an inappropriate medication, you could end up in far worse condition—or even end up with new injuries or conditions.
If this is the case, you might consider making a medical malpractice claim. But what exactly is medical malpractice, and when is it appropriate to take legal action?
Medical Malpractice in a Nutshell
Let’s start with a basic definition of medical malpractice. Medical malpractice is an instance where a professional in the medical or healthcare community significantly deviates from the standards of care expected of them. This deviation must then lead to some negative consequence to a patient under their care, such as injury or death.
Because of this broad definition, there are many conceivable cases of medical malpractice. A doctor could misdiagnose you with the wrong illness. They could prescribe you the wrong treatment. They could make an error during surgery. They could use an experimental or obsolete technique.
For the case to be considered, it has to meet a few baseline conditions. First, they must have deviated from an expected duty; this can be hard to establish, since “reasonable care” is somewhat subjective, even in the medical field. Second, this deviation must be directly responsible for some kind of measurable harm to the patient. In some cases, the harm is hard to prove, and in others, the chain of causation is hard to prove.
Variables to Consider
Do you suspect you may have been the victim of medical malpractice? These are the variables you should consider when evaluating whether to move forward with legal action:
- The opinion of your lawyer. A medical malpractice lawyer will be able to understand the situation much better than you can. They’ve likely had experience with cases like yours in the past, and will know what your chances of victory are—as well as what kind of settlement you might receive.
- The doctor’s actions. You and your lawyer will need to consider the actions of your doctor, and whether or not they deviate from what’s expected of a medical professional. This can be tricky to determine. For example, did your doctor miss a key detail that should have led them to a proper conclusion? Was this an error or accident that any doctor could have made, more attributable to chance than the doctor’s actions?
- The extent of the harm caused to you. One of the most important considerations is how much harm this incident caused you directly, both in terms of how much the incident cost you and how much you suffered from it. After this happened, did you walk away with a couple of bruises and no further problems? If so, it’s probably not worth seeking legal compensation for damages. But what if you are forced to undergo subsequent surgeries, and are experiencing ongoing pain? What if you miss work or key life moments because of this incident? In these cases, seeking compensation is practically a must.
- Documentation and evidence. You might have a strong suspicion that medical malpractice took place, but how much evidence can you provide? If you aren’t able to demonstrate that the medical professional made a negligent decision, or you aren’t able to prove the extent of your harm, the case may be hard to make.
- The presence of second opinions. Getting a second opinion is very important, both for your ongoing health and to get an idea of what your original physician might have done differently. You and/or your lawyer can talk to a similar medical professional to the one who diagnosed or treated you, and get an idea of what they might have recommended. If they deviate strongly from what the negligent physician told you, you could have a strong case.
- Your willingness to pursue legal action. Finally, consider how much time or effort you personally want to spend taking legal action. Court cases for medical malpractice can sometimes take months, if not years, and can be stressful to manage. Not everyone is up for the process.
Talking to a Lawyer
The first thing you should do, no matter where you are in the decision-making process, is talk to a lawyer. A lawyer will not only be able to help you determine whether or not you have a strong potential case, but also direct you on which steps to take to maximize your chances of winning a substantial settlement. Initial consultations with lawyers are usually free, so it’s well worth your time to speak with one.