Common Types of Medical Malpractice & Patients' Legal Rights
Errors by medical professionals can arise in virtually any setting, but some types of mistakes are more common than others. Just showing that a mistake occurred, however, is not enough to establish liability. The patient must show that the mistake fell below the appropriate standard of care for the doctor’s specialty and that they were injured as a direct result. In other words, disappointment with the results of a procedure does not form a basis for a medical malpractice claim, nor does a mistake that caused no real harm to the patient.
Sometimes a doctor fails to recognize and diagnose a condition when a competent doctor would have spotted it. This misdiagnosis may result in the condition progressing to a more advanced stage, which may require more significant treatment and cause the patient greater pain and suffering. In the case of a serious condition like cancer, an inaccurate or late diagnosis may result in the patient’s death. A plaintiff bringing this type of claim would need to introduce expert testimony from a doctor who can explain why a competent doctor treating a similar patient would have correctly diagnosed the condition or diagnosed it sooner. An expert also would need to explain the effect of the error or delay on the patient’s health.
Surgical Errors and Anesthesia Errors
Many of the most obvious incidents of malpractice occur during surgical procedures. Some types of surgical errors are known as “never events,” which means that the medical profession acknowledges that these errors should never occur. A patient may not need expert testimony in these cases because the negligence is obvious. Perhaps the most common example of a never event is leaving a sponge or another surgical instrument in the patient’s body. A doctor also may operate on the wrong patient or the wrong body part, or they may carelessly injure another part of the patient’s body during the procedure. Infections and complications after surgery also can cause significant harm if they are not competently treated.
Anesthesia is a key part of the surgical process that is often taken for granted but should not be. Mistakes by an anesthesiologist can cause devastating consequences, including brain injuries and death. An anesthesiologist may fail to review a patient’s records for possible risk factors, fail to provide the patient with proper instructions before the procedure, provide the wrong amount of anesthesia, or fail to monitor the patient’s vital signs while administering anesthesia. In some cases, the equipment used to administer anesthesia is defective, which may mean that the patient can bring a claim against the manufacturer of the equipment.
Doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals can be held accountable for an error in prescribing or providing medication. The doctor probably will be liable if a mistake happens during the prescription process, while the nurse and the hospital that employs them likely will be liable for a mistake during administration. Sometimes prescription mistakes are connected to a misdiagnosis, since a doctor may prescribe medication for an incorrectly diagnosed condition. In other cases, a doctor may prescribe the wrong amount of medication, or a nurse may administer the wrong amount. A nurse also may confuse patients and give medication to one patient that was intended for another patient. Or the equipment in the hospital may be defective and administer an improper dose.
Gynecologists, obstetricians, and other medical professionals involved in the childbirth process can cause lifelong harm to newborns by failing to meet the professional standard of care. Conditions that may result from malpractice (but often have innocent causes) include cerebral palsy, paralysis, nerve damage, developmental disorders, and fractures, among others. Sometimes inadequate treatment or care prior to childbirth can cause harm to the mother and the child. For example, a birth injury might involve a failure to diagnose a medical condition or a birth defect. In other situations, birth injuries might arise from errors during the delivery process. A physician might fail to order a cesarean section when it is necessary, fail to handle complications in a competent manner, or fail to properly use equipment like forceps.
Medical Malpractice Law Contents