What is Medical Malpractice?

The untimely death of music legend Michael Jackson has brought a considerable amount of attention to the practices of physicians. The conviction of Dr. Conrad Murray for the criminal negligence that resulted in the death of the pop icon is a prime illustration of what can happen if our faith in them is misplaced. Despite the media attention, many people do not fully understand what medical malpractice is, how it is proved and what makes these cases so challenging.

Medical malpractice itself encompasses a wide variety of claims, which include:

  • Wrongful death
  • Failure to diagnose cancer or another illness
  • Medication errors
  • Anesthesia errors
  • Birth injuries
  • Orthopedic mismanagement
  • Emergency room errors
  • Hospital mismanagement
  • Wrong site or wrong side surgery as well as other surgical errors

Pursuing a medical malpractice claim requires a thorough understanding of the standard of care as well as the experience to navigate the roadblocks presented by insurance companies and physicians.

The Medical Standard of Care

Medical malpractice is a form of negligence that applies to physicians, nurses and others people in the medical profession. Due to their training and expertise, these professionals are expected to have the same knowledge, skill and care as other professionals doing the same job. They are held to a higher legal standard than the average person. It is their duty to make sure they are up to the task at hand.

When one of these professionals breaches that duty and makes a mistake that results in an injury to someone, they may be found negligent. It is not enough to simply be unhappy with the results or for the procedure itself to be unsuccessful. The error must be the kind of mistake that no medical professional of the same knowledge, specialty and background would make.

In the case of Dr. Murray, medical experts testified that he breached several standards of care by administering propofol - a surgical anesthetic not designed for the treatment of insomnia - in a home setting, without proper monitoring equipment or a "crash cart" in the event of respiratory arrest and failing to call 911 immediately upon learning of Jackson's condition.

When investigating these types claims, New York medical malpractice attorneys not only look for deviation from the standard of care, but also harm that was caused it. The nature and severity of the injuries may determine whether a claim is actionable.

Sometimes the nature of damages is obvious, as in the case of Michael Jackson's death. Other times the damages are more difficult to comprehend. When the negligence of a doctor results in a life-altering birth injury, such as cerebral palsy, it can be difficult to fully appreciate the physical, emotional and financial impact on the family.

The damages that are awarded in a medical malpractice case are based on the injury that results from the medical professional's deviation from their standard of care. Calculating the appropriate damages is only one of the obstacles in a medical malpractice case.

Challenges of Medical Malpractice Claims

According to the Wall Street Journal, approximately 4,000 medical malpractice claims are filed each year. To recover, most people must overcome a series of hurdles before they receive compensation.

The first challenge for many, however, is figuring out whether their care was substandard. There is no law requiring physicians or other health care providers to disclose to their patient that they made a mistake. If a person was treated by multiple parties, it can be difficult to parse out whom, among them, was responsible for the injury.

Individuals must discover that action within a specified period of time. This is known as the statute of limitations. In New York, a person initiating a medical malpractice lawsuit must file their case within two and a half years of the triggering event, whether it originated from a medical error or a failure to diagnose.

One of the most important elements of a medical malpractice case is the expert witness. The determination of whether or not a physician breached or fell short of the standard of care is often dependent on the credibility of an expert witness.

Any expert witness called to testify in a medical malpractice case must have sufficient knowledge, education, training, experience and skill in order to qualify as a necessary party. Frequently, most of the expert witnesses used in medical malpractice cases are doctors. In the past, it was difficult to find a physician who was willing to testify against a colleague. Now, since witnesses may come from other areas, it is not difficult to find a doctor who can testify to the appropriate standard of care. The real challenge is to find an expert that will be considered credible and believable.

A strong case is build upon the skill of attorneys who have extensive experience litigating medical malpractice claims. If you or a family member has been injured as a result of the negligence of a physician or other medical professional, you should speak with a top-rated New York medical malpractice law firm who can review your options with you.