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Can you sue a doctor for negligence?

Medical malpractice is when a medical professional harms a patient by failing to perform their medical duties consistently. Medical malpractice laws differ depending on the state where you intend to file a lawsuit. Of course, there are also general principles and broad rules that apply to most states.

While you may be able to sue your doctor for negligence, not all cases are clear-cut. Many factors affect the validity of your case. The time that has passed since the alleged negligence can also significantly impact the outcome of your claim.

Medical Negligence vs. Medical Malpractice

Medical negligence and medical malpractice are often used interchangeably. However, the two terms do not mean the same thing.

What Is Medical Negligence?

Medical negligence can be defined as a care provider’s action or inaction that leads to failure to meet acceptable standards of care. 

The medical standard of care is the level and type of treatment a skilled or reasonably competent healthcare professional in the same medical community or with a similar background must provide under the circumstances that led to negligence.

If you are using your doctor for negligence, the main factor to consider would be whether a medical professional with the same skills would have provided the same treatment under the same circumstances.

Common Examples of Negligence

Some common cases of medical negligence include:

  • Misdiagnosis or failure to diagnose
  • Misreading or disregarding lab results
  • Poor aftercare or follow-up
  • The improper dosage or wrong medication
  • Surgical errors
  • Incorrect surgery site
  • Ignoring or neglecting a patient
  • Failing to sterilize medical equipment
  • Poor communication with patients
  • Premature discharge from hospital
  • Failure to warn the patient of known risks

Suppose an unintended mistake occurs but is caught in time, or an unintended mistake goes unnoticed but does not have any lasting or negative effects on the patient. Can it still be termed negligence?

In both of these cases, the doctor performed below the standard of care even if no harm was caused and the patients did not suffer any long-term complications. Even if no harm was sustained, the doctor could still be sued for negligence.

To prove your case, you will need to establish the following:

Causation and Damages

A viable medical malpractice suit must prove causation and damages.

  • Causation: The fault that occurs to cause damages
  • Damages: An injury to the patient

The case becomes medical malpractice when a patient suffers injury due to a doctor’s negligence. Injury to the patient can be:

  • The patient’s condition getting worse
  • Unreasonable or unexpected complications
  • Needing additional medical treatment

A medical malpractice suit is likely to fall short if you did not suffer any damaging effects as a result of negligence. 

For instance, if you have the flu but a doctor prescribes medicine for a common cold that helped with the flu, even though you got improper medication, there was no harm.

For a successful suit, you must prove that you suffered actual damages.

Medical Malpractice

Medical malpractice can be defined as a doctor’s failure to meet medical standards of care due to action or inaction. Malpractice occurs when a medical practitioner is negligent to such a degree that results in serious injury to the patient.

For instance, if a medical practitioner ignores symptoms or signs that may cause serious harm and they result in injury to the patient, you may have a case for malpractice. 

However, if symptoms or signs occur during treatment and the patient’s illness worsens despite prompt treatment by the doctor, you cannot sue for malpractice.

In cases where it is possible to treat an illness but despite the doctor’s best efforts, the patient does not respond to treatment, you cannot sue the healthcare professional for malpractice. 

As long as the doctor upheld the standards of care during treatment and used reasonable care and skills, no malpractice can be claimed.

Medical malpractice claims are usually complex, with many legal and medical questions. However, you do not have to face this process alone. 

Contact a lawyer for a free consultation to find out whether you can sue your doctor for negligence or malpractice.

Basic Requirements to Prove Negligence

To hold a medical professional liable, you must prove negligence. However, negligence on its own is not the only indicator of a successful suit. There are other elements that you must prove to support your claim, such as:

Existence of Doctor-Patient Relationship

You must prove that you had a doctor-patient relationship with the medical professional you intend to sue for negligence. 

This means showing proof that you hired the doctor and the doctor agreed to render their services. This may be challenged if the consulting physician did not directly treat the patient.

Doctor’s Negligence

As discussed earlier, you must prove negligence that caused you harm or injury where a doctor in similar circumstances would have handled treatment differently, causing you no harm. The doctor must be reasonably careful and skillful.

In your lawsuit, you must prove that the doctor deviated from the appropriate standard of care, causing you harm.

Proof of Injury Caused by Negligence

Patients who suffer negligence already have existing illnesses. There is often a question of whether the existing illness caused harm or the doctor’s negligence caused the injury. 

For instance, if a patient dies from cancer after treatment, it may be difficult to prove negligence as the cause of death.

In such a case, you must prove negligence as the cause of death by bringing a medical expert to testify.

Proof of Damages Caused by the Injury

A patient cannot sue for negligence if they have no proof of damages, even if the doctor did not meet the standard of care. You may sue your doctor for negligence if you have proof of damages such as:

  • Mental anguish
  • Physical pain
  • Additional medical expenses
  • Lost wages
  • Inability to work

Time Considerations

Before you can sue your doctor for negligence, you must also consider the statute of limitations. You do not have unlimited time and must ensure that your suit is filed within the deadline prescribed by the law in your state.

The statute of limitations for doctor negligence is typically two years after the injury’s discovery (or reasonable time within which you should have discovered) or within 4 years of the alleged negligence.

Some states have exceptions where you can sue for negligence within seven years. This specifically applies where the patient cannot discover the injury due to a doctor’s fraud, misrepresentation, or concealment. Cases involving children also have special rules.

Why should you hire medical malpractice attorney?

A skilled medical malpractice lawyer offers expert guidance increasing your chances of getting fair compensation. They can also help you compile evidence by collecting medical records, proof that the physician did not uphold the standards of care, evidence of injury, and more.

Hiring an attorney also ensures that you have someone to represent your best interests every step of the way. Even if you are incapacitated, you do not have to worry about missing negotiation dates or getting less than you deserve.

As an added advantage, you do not have to spend any more money than you already have on your medical treatments. Medical malpractice lawyers offer their services on a contingency basis, meaning you only pay if you win.

Medical lawsuits are not always about compensation. They are also about keeping doctors honest. Get in touch with a medical malpractice lawyer to ensure our doctors uphold the standards of care.

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Disclaimer: The information in this article is provided for general education and informational purposes only, without any express or implied warranty of any kind, including warranties of accuracy, completeness or fitness for any particular purpose. It is not intended to be and does not constitute financial, legal, tax or any other advice specific to you the user or anyone else. TurtleVerse does not guarantee the accuracy, completeness, or reliability of the information and shall not be held responsible for any action taken based on the published information.

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