Medical malpractice law exists to assist people who have suffered a healthcare-related injury continue to progress in their lives, as well as to hold medical professionals and health care facilities legally responsible for the quality of care they provide. If you feel that you have suffered from medical malpractice, contact an experienced San Diego medical malpractice lawyer immediately.
What Classifies as Medical Negligence?
To adequately support a medical malpractice claim in California, your attorney must substantively prove that, as a result of your doctor’s action or inaction, you received substandard diagnosis or medical treatment that resulted in direct harm to your health.
What Is the Most Common Type of Malpractice?
While every case is unique and comes with its own set of particular demands, most claims of medical malpractice fall into one of the following groups:
- Misdiagnosis, failure to diagnose, or delay of diagnosis
In some cases, a doctor fails to properly or timely diagnose a condition when a competent doctor with the same education and skill could be expected to do so, leading to a more advantageous outcome than what was achieved by the doctor in question. Due to this diagnostic failure, the illness can advance to a more severe stage, making it necessary to seek stronger treatment that can cause more significant pain and suffering.
- Failure to treat or improper treatment
If a doctor coordinates care for the patient in an approach that would not be taken by a competent doctor or selects the appropriate treatment but improperly executes it, this can constitute medical malpractice. Some of the more obvious examples of improper treatment occur in the form of errors made during surgical procedures. A surgeon may mistakenly complete surgery on the wrong limb or the wrong patient altogether, or they can recklessly injure the patient’s body or neglect to remove surgical equipment or dressing. Improper care after surgery can cause infections and other dangerous complications.
The anesthesiologist can also make harmful errors, such as failing to evaluate the medical records of a patient for potential risks, not providing proper instructions to the patient before surgery, administering an incorrect dosage of anesthesia, or neglecting to carefully monitor the vital signs of the patient during surgery. An anesthesiologist’s negligence can cause asphyxia, brain damage, spinal cord injury, heart attack, stroke, paralysis, coma, or death.
- Prescription drug errors
Prescription drug errors can be made during both the prescription process and the administration process. What classifies as medical negligence? A doctor can prescribe the wrong dosage of a medication or prescribe the wrong medication altogether due to an inaccurate diagnosis. When a nurse administers the medication, they may deliver the wrong amount or even mix up patients, giving medication to one patient that was meant for another.
- Childbirth injuries
By failing to adhere to the duty of care, obstetricians, gynecologists, and other health care providers involved in the process of childbirth can produce lifelong damage to newborn infants. In some situations, inadequate care during pregnancy can cause harm. Other times, a doctor’s failure to identify and diagnose an existing medical condition or a birth defect can result in a childbirth injury. Errors can occur during the delivery process, as well, such as neglecting to initiate a cesarean section in a timely manner, failure to properly deal with complications or misuse of medical equipment.
Are Medical Malpractice Cases Hard to Win?
Compared to regular civil cases, medical malpractice cases feature an abundance of detail and require more comprehensive preparation, meaning they can be extremely difficult to win. If you file a medical malpractice claim, the insurance company representing your doctor or other medical professional will first try to settle the case without going to court by negotiating with your attorney. If these negotiations do not result in fair compensation for your injury or illness, your claim will advance to a trial in civil court and become a civil case. In a civil case, the goal is to seek compensation to cover any losses, expenses, or suffering that took place as a result of medical malpractice.
Medical malpractice cases involve both economic damages and non-economic damages. Economic damages include medical expenses for recovery from the damage, future treatment needed to return the body to a healthy state, such as medication, surgery, or physical therapy, loss of current income, loss of future earning potential, and, if the patient is unable to return to their previous industry, any expenses incurred in the patient’s pursuit of a new career, including job searches, retraining, or vocational rehabilitation. Non-economic damages consist of physical pain and suffering, mental anguish, physical impairments, diminished quality of life, and loss of companionship due to the medical malpractice.
Every state includes specific guidelines for medical malpractice claims, so it is crucial to consult an experienced San Diego medical malpractice lawyer to ensure you are properly completing this process. Medical malpractice cases differ from ordinary civil cases in the following ways:
- Statute of limitations
You have a certain period of time after the suspected medical malpractice incident to file your claim against a medical provider or health care facility, referred to as a statute of limitations. If you fail to file your claim within this period, your case will be dismissed even if it features overwhelming evidence.
In the state of California, the statute of limitations on personal injury claims associated with medical malpractice is three years after the date of illness or injury. This provides enough time to hire an experienced lawyer, gather appropriate evidence, and thoroughly prepare a case. If you later discover damage from a previously completed procedure or treatment, rather than immediately afterward, the statute begins one year after the discovery of this damage.
Other circumstances can impact the statute of limitations. If fraud is suspected in the malpractice, this can result in a longer filing period. Some instances of malpractice include doctors unintentionally leaving foreign objects inside the patient’s body during a procedure, such as forgetting forceps inside the body cavity during surgery. These cases require more time as the patient will need to schedule and undergo additional surgery to remove the item, recover from surgery, then prepare to file the claim.
- Giving notice to sue
According to California law, the plaintiff in a medical malpractice claim must provide the defendant with notice of the intention to file the claim. The defendant has 90 days before the claim is filed to respond appropriately by contacting the insurance company and preparing a defense. As part of the notice of the intention, the plaintiff should include the legal grounds for the litigation, the injury or illness sustained, and the types of loss or expenses that occurred as a result of this injury or illness.
- Medical malpractice review panel
Before a medical malpractice case can be heard in court, a malpractice review panel of medical experts is assembled. Their aim is to hear the legal arguments, evaluate evidence and expert witness testimony, and determine whether malpractice has been effectively proven by the plaintiff’s San Diego medical malpractice lawyer.
Multiple forms of evidence can be examined, the first of which is typically visual or video documentation of the incident. Witnesses can provide statements, as well. If any staff members noticed unusual actions outside of the standard guidelines for performing specific procedures or treatment, they can be called to offer testimony. Finally, the injury itself is considered evidence of malpractice, whether because the doctor did not correctly follow the appropriate steps, did not adhere to the medical community’s code of ethics or the facility’s standards, or acted to intentionally harm the patient. Specific documentation of the injury must support the malpractice claim.
This panel does not serve as a substitute for the actual trial and does not have the authority to award compensation. However, the findings of this panel may be shared with the court, and if a review panel finds no compelling evidence of malpractice, the court can dismiss a case before it reaches the trial stage.
- Expert testimony requirements
One of the most integral parts of a medical malpractice case, expert testimony can serve as the primary deciding factor in the case. Medical experts must demonstrate specific, comprehensive, up-to-date knowledge in their field to ensure the information given in their testimonies is broad, accurate, and reliable. Different states have different guidelines for what qualifies someone as an expert. To be considered an expert, the individual must display experience in the particular field involved in the case. Expert testimony is often necessary during the malpractice review panel before the trial and is almost always required at the trial itself.
Proper selection of experts is necessary because the testimony must be virtually irrefutable. Often choosing experts for the trial requires payment so they can conduct a preliminary screening, an expense that varies depending on the extent of the damage, the complexity of the claim, and the field of expertise. A malpractice claim holds much more weight when several medical professionals develop the same reviews after consulting the patient’s medical records.
- Non-economic damage award cap
In a successful medical malpractice claim, the state of California enforces a maximum cap, or limit, of $250,000 for non-economic damages. Even if these damages account for substantially more than what is covered by this cap, the plaintiff cannot be awarded more than $250,000 in compensation. However, this cap does not impact compensation for economic damages.
- Limits on lawyer fees
When a San Diego medical malpractice lawyer is hired by a plaintiff, they usually charge based on contingency fees, allowing the plaintiff to move quickly in the process of their claim without needing to pay the full amount for the lawyer’s services right away. The plaintiff may also ask the court to order the defendant to cover the lawyer fees. If the court determines that the defendant is not responsible for this expense, a sliding scale limits the percentage that a lawyer can charge for their services. In California, the limits are as follows:
- If the compensation amount equals $50,000, a maximum of 40% of this amount can be charged by the malpractice attorney.
- Amounts from $50,001 to $100,000 have a limit of 33%.
- Between $100,001 and $500,000, the maximum is 25%.
- Amounts over $600,000 feature a limit of 15%.
How Do You Know If You Have a Case for Medical Malpractice?
Every health care professional is legally obligated to meet a specific set of ethical and procedural standards developed by the medical community to ensure the best outcome for the patient. This is a standard referred to as a “duty of care.” To prove medical malpractice, your lawyer must demonstrate that your doctor breached this duty of care. This entails providing evidence that you could have received the proper form and level of care from another doctor practicing in the same area with the same educational credentials and skill. The difference between the care you can reasonably expect and the substandard care you received indicates a breach in duty of care on the part of your doctor.
Along with the duty of care, medical professionals are obligated to adhere to the duty of informed consent, which means providing patients with a thorough explanation of all potential risks that have been recognized by the medical community as possible outcomes of the specific procedure or treatment. After a patient is properly informed, if they would have refused this procedure or treatment as a result of this information and ended up suffering from the illness or injury they should have been notified of, this can be considered medical malpractice.
Achieve Justice and Restitution with Sigelman & Associates
To ensure the best possible outcome in your medical malpractice claim, contact the experts from Sigelman & Associates today. With decades of experience resolving these complex, challenging cases, our team has the perfect combination of medical knowledge and legal proficiency to provide you with the highest quality of representation. Call us at (866) 249-8176 or send us an email at [email protected] to schedule your free consultation.