What is Medical Malpractice
Medical malpractice occurs when a hospital, doctor or other health care professional, through a negligent act or omission, causes an injury to a patient. The negligence might be the result of errors in diagnosis, treatment, aftercare or health management.
To be considered medical malpractice under the law, the claim must have the following characteristics:
A violation of the standard of care – The law acknowledges that there are certain medical standards that are recognized by the profession as being acceptable medical treatment by reasonably prudent health care professionals under like or similar circumstances. This is known as the standard of care. A patient has the right to expect that health care professionals will deliver care that is consistent with these standards. If it is determined that the standard of care has not been met, then negligence may be established. An injury was caused by the negligence – For a medical malpractice claim to be valid, it is not sufficient that a health care professional simply violated the standard of care. The patient must also prove he or she sustained an injury that would not have occurred in the absence of negligence. An unfavorable outcome by itself is not malpractice. The patient must prove that the negligence caused the injury. If there is an injury without negligence or negligence that did not cause an injury, there is no case. The injury resulted in significant damages – Medical malpractice lawsuits are extremely expensive to litigate, frequently requiring testimony of numerous medical experts and countless hours of deposition testimony. For a case to be viable, the patient must show that significant damages resulted from an injury received due to the medical negligence. If the damages are small, the cost of pursuing the case might be greater than the eventual recovery. To pursue a medical malpractice claim, the patient must show that the injury resulted in disability, loss of income, unusual pain, suffering and hardship, or significant past and future medical bills.
Frequency and cost of medical errors
Back in 1984, the extrapolated statistics from relatively few records in only several states of the United States estimated that between 44, 000-98, 000 people annually die in hospitals because of medical errors. Much work has been done since then, including work by the author of that study who moved on from those low estimates back in the 1990s. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently says that 75, 000 patients die annually, in hospitals alone, from infections alone – just one cause of harm in just one kind of care setting. From all causes there have been numerous other studies, including “A New, Evidence-based Estimate of Patient Harms Associated with Hospital Care” by John T. James, PhD that estimates 400, 000 unnecessary deaths annually in hospitals alone. Using these numbers, medical malpractice is the third leading cause of death in the United States, only behind heart disease and cancer. Less than one quarter of care takes place in hospitals. Across all care settings the numbers are higher.
Another study notes that about 1.14 million patient-safety incidents occurred among the 37 million hospitalizations in the Medicare population over the years 2000-2002. Hospital costs associated with such medical errors were estimated at $324 million in October 2008 alone.
Approximately 17, 000 malpractice cases are filed in the U.S. each year.