Medical Malpractice Law

Liability in Medical Malpractice

Liability is the responsibility for damages or injuries. In a medical malpractice case, the party liable for the patient’s injuries may have to pay the patient’s damages to compensate the victim. A doctor can be liable for failing to provide proper medical treatment for a patient, which leads to the patient suffering unnecessary harm.

Liability in a medical malpractice lawsuit can be complicated. There may be multiple parties liable for causing medical errors. The laws also very state to state. If you have questions about liability in a malpractice case, talk to a medical malpractice lawyer in a city near you for legal advice.

What Is Liability in a Medical Malpractice Case?

Liability is accountability for something. In a personal injury action, liability for causing the injury occurs when someone is found responsible for causing the injury. Most personal injury and medical malpractice cases are based on negligence.

Negligence is a breach of duty of care that causes injury and harm. There are four elements of a negligence claim:

  1. Duty
  2. Breach
  3. Causation
  4. Harm

In a medical malpractice case, which is a type of negligence case, the elements can be frame more narrowly, and are sometimes known as the “four Ds”:

  1. Duty
  2. Deviation from the standard of care
  3. Damages
  4. Direct cause

A doctor has a duty of care owed to the patient. Doctors are held to a certain standard of care based on their education, training, and experience. When a doctor deviates from the standard of care by doing something another reasonable doctor would not have done under the circumstances, it can be considered a breach of their duty. If their actions or inactions caused the patient to suffer an injury, the doctor might be liable for medical negligence.

Strict Liability for Defective Medical Devices

In some cases, a party may be liable for injuries even if they were not negligent. This is known as strict liability. Injuries caused by product defects generally fall under strict liability. If a patient suffers an injury caused by a defective implant device, the patient would not have to show the company that produced the device was negligent. Instead, the company could be liable if they put out a defective product.

Product liability generally involves a design defectmanufacturing defect, or failure to warn. For example, consider a drug company in Michigan that makes insulin. The company does not follow proper safety protocols, and some insulin medication is tainted with bacteria. If a patient suffers an infection caused by defective drugs, they could hold the drug company strictly liable for damages.

Can I Be Liable for My Own Injuries?

In some situations, an injury victim may be considered to have been partly to blame for their injuries. This is known as contributory negligence or comparative negligence. Contributory negligence can reduce the amount of damages an injury victim can recover. Contributory negligence laws vary by state, with most states following one of three models:

  • Contributory negligence
  • Pure comparative negligence
  • Modified comparative negligence

In standard contributory negligence states, if the injury victim is responsible for their injuries, even just 1% responsible, they cannot get compensation.

In pure comparative negligence states, the damages are offset by the injury victim’s percent of the liability. For example, if an emergency room accident caused the victim $10,000 in damages, if the patient was 20% responsible and the hospital was 80% responsible, the patient could recover $8,000.

Modified comparative negligence will reduce the patient’s compensation by the percentage of fault, but only if the patient is below a certain level of liability, usually 50% or 51%. If the injury victim is more at-fault than over that limit, they cannot recover damages.

Who Is Liable for Causing Medical Injuries?

Medical professionals are held to a certain standard of care in treating patients. When a doctor deviates from the standards of care and causes injury and harm to the patient, the doctor can be liable for damages. The standard of care in a medical malpractice lawsuit can be based on medical experts giving expert witness testimony to the jury to decide whether the doctor deviated from medical standards.

In addition to the doctors who caused a medical injury, other parties could be liable for medical damages, including:

  • The hospital or clinic
  • The drug company or medical device manufacturer
  • Any pharmacist, nurse, or dentist involved

In some malpractice cases, there are multiple causes of the patient’s injuries, and multiple parties may be liable.

For example, consider a patient in California who is undergoing surgery. While under anesthesia, the anesthesiologist fails to monitor the patient correctly, and the patient suffers oxygen deprivation to the brain. The surgeon fails to properly clean and sanitize the surgical equipment, which later causes severe infection. The patient then files a lawsuit for medical malpractice after suffering infection injuries and brain damage.

In this case, the anesthesiologist could be liable for brain damage if they deviated from the standard of care in monitoring the patient. The surgeon could be liable for infection injuries for failing to take standard precautions in sanitizing the equipment. If the hospital employed the anesthesiologist or surgeon, the hospital could also be liable as the employer.

Can the Hospital Be Liable for Injuries?

hospital, clinic, or nursing home could also be liable for medical injuries. Each of these institutions also owe patients a duty of care. When hospital policies create a danger for the patients, a patient may be able to sue a hospital for negligence. For example, a hospital could be liable for the following:

  • Failure to train employees
  • Understaffing facilities
  • Administering the wrong medication
  • Negligent release of medical records

A hospital can also be liable for medical injuries caused by negligent hospital staff. Under vicarious liability, an employer can be responsible for the actions of an employee. Also known as “respondeat superior,” the employer is liable for the actions of an employee engaged in their job duties.

For example, suppose a hospital employee in Albuquerque failed to clean some medical equipment properly, and a patient got a severe infection. In that case, the patient may be able to hold the hospital responsible for their injuries.

How Much Can I Recover in a Medical Malpractice Claim?

An award in a medical malpractice case is supposed to compensate the injury victim for their losses. A money award in a lawsuit covers the injury victim’s damages in a medical malpractice lawsuit. The amount you can recover in a medical malpractice case can depend on many factors, including the extent of the injuries, the victim’s age, the level of disability, and any future care the patient will require. Some of the types of damages can include:

  • Medical bills
  • Loss of income
  • Future medical care
  • Pain and suffering

How Much Does a Medical Malpractice Attorney Cost?

The cost of a malpractice lawyer is usually based on a contingency-fee agreement. Under a contingency fee, the client does not have to pay for a personal injury lawyer or medical malpractice attorney until they recover compensation. The lawyer’s fee is based on a percentage of the settlement or jury award.

There may be a limited time to file a malpractice lawsuit in your state. Contact a medical malpractice lawyer in your area for a free case evaluation to understand your legal rights after a loved one suffers a medical injury.

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