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When to Sue for Medical Malpractice
When a health care provider neglects to provide you or one of your dependents with proper health care, you may wonder whether you should sue for medical malpractice--in other words, file a medical negligence lawsuit. Medical malpractice means, in layman's terms, that a health care provider - such as a doctor, nurse, occupational therapist, clinical psychologist, or hospital - has failed to issue standard care to a patient. Instead, the provider has provided substandard care, whether because of negligence, errors, or other abuses. Here are some tips to keep in mind when deciding whether it's worth it to call a lawyer in your state who specializes in medical malpractice litigation and bring action against a doctor, hospital, or other healthcare provider.
If You Sue for Medical Malpractice, You Will Need
- Excellent documentation of medical records and medical treatments. Call the medical records department and ask for copies of all pertinent medical records.
- Medical malpractice or negligence lawyer located in your state. Check with your state's Bar to find counsel in your state that is reputable and in good standing.
Difference Between Medical Malpractice and Negligence
Medical malpractice and medical negligence are treated much the same way in court. The difference between medical malpractice and medical negligence is simply that medical malpractice suits are brought only against professionals (such as a doctor or occupational therapist), while medical negligence suits are brought against anyone, including non-professonals.
The Costs of Filing
Evaluate how much money you have to devote to the lawsuit. Medical negligence claims are expensive.
In some cases, legal fees can outstrip any money awarded in the lawsuit. Although some medical malpractice lawyers charge only after you are awarded money, others expect the money up front. Consider consulting your lawyer or call some medical malpractice law firms to get a sense of the costs of pursuing medical malpractice litigation.
Ask Yourself "Do I Have a Case for Medical Malpractice Litigation?"
To figure out if this is truly a case of medical negligence and/or malpractice, first ask yourself if your doctor or other health care provider has done any of the following:
- misdiagnosed the patient's illness or condition or neglected to diagnose anything wrong when a diagnosis should have been made
- failed to treat the patient's illness or condition in a reasonable amount of time
- failed to inform the patient of risks
- made errors in using equipment or with prescriptions
These are not the only infractions a health care provider might make, but they are what many cases of medical malpractice involve.
Determine if real harm came of the health care provider's treatment or actions. If an error was made but no harm was done, then this isn't a strong case for medical malpractice. For example, if the nurse failed to take your blood pressure at an office visit, but no harm came of it, then you don't have a strong case.
Think about whether the following criteria will be able to be established in a court of law:
- The health care provider should have provided the patient with better care, but did not.
- That failure caused medical harm that led to emotional or monetary or other long-term damages.
Each of these assertions will have to be backed up by hard evidence.
Remember that the standard of care and what's considered reasonable care are not determined by you and your opinions. Although you may be right that the care was not up to par, what the courts are looking at in a medical malpractice case are the legal definitions of what's standard and reasonable in medical care.
In an ideal world, every case of medical negligence would lead to a medical malpractice suit. In the real world, it's not always advisable.
How Strong is Your Case for a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit?
Lastly, take a good, objective look at the case and decide if it's strong. Are you likely to win the lawsuit? Do you have a solid case here? Do you have access to excellent documentation?
Though a lot of money may be awarded, the downside of this is that a medical malpractice lawsuit can be hard to win. If your case is weak, you may have a hard time getting a medical malpractice lawyer to even take on the case. Consult with a reputable law firm located in your state that specializes in cases of medical negligence if you are not sure.
Note: I am not a medical negligence lawyer, just someone who researched United States medical negligence law. This article is definitely not intended as legal advice. Check with a medical malpractice lawyer or a medical negligence attorney if you think you have a case and are wondering if you should sue for medical malpractice.