When Is It the Right Time to Hire a Medical Malpractice Lawyer?
Every relationship with a physician, nurse practitioner or other medical care provider is rooted in trust and confidence. Patients depend on them for accurate diagnoses, effective treatment of illnesses and injuries, and even emotional support during some of the most trying moments of their lives. But as most of us are aware, this is only the ideal – and there are many times where providers fall far short of such a standard.
In the most serious cases, irresponsible or reckless conduct by clinicians can inflict psychological distress, serious injury or death on patients.
A 2016 study by Johns Hopkins University named medical errors as the third leading cause of death in the U.S., after heart disease and cancer, amounting to almost 10% of fatalities in the country as a whole each year. And unlike deaths caused by physical conditions, medical errors are nearly always preventable.
The aftermath of negative medical experiences can leave people confused and hurt. It is very common to have trouble making sense of an incident, which makes consulting a skilled medical malpractice attorney especially important.
But is there a “right” time to reach out. And how do you know if something reaches the level of malpractice?
Defining Medical Malpractice
Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute defines malpractice as “a professional [failure] to properly execute their duty to a client,” with the duty in turn defined as “[following] generally accepted professional standards.”
Above this base, medical malpractice cases depend on four key factors to succeed:
- The existence of a provider-patient relationship. You must have sought out the provider’s care, and the provider must have agreed to see you. Proving this relationship is sometimes complicated when a consulting physician did not treat you directly, and an error occurs afterward.
- Demonstrated negligence on the part of the provider. You must prove that the provider deviated from accepted standards of practice and/or caused you harm in a way that another provider under the same circumstances would not have.
- A connection between the provider’s negligence and your injury. A common defense to a malpractice claim, particularly if the patient was already very sick, is that the outcome was not the provider’s fault and/or would have happened anyway.
- The injury leading to specific damages and causing a specific negative outcome.
Unfortunately, “acceptable” care does not have to mean quality care. Dissatisfaction with the way a doctor, nurse or paramedic carried out their duties is, in itself, not grounds for malpractice. However, a provider deciding to cut corners or change normal methods of care could be.
Types of Medical Malpractice
With these four standards for medical malpractice in mind, the following are common, though certainly not exhaustive examples:
- A provider ordering unnecessary tests or procedures, including surgery.
- Errors occurring during surgery, which can include anesthesia errors, carelessly carrying out a procedure and causing internal injury, or leaving equipment behind in the body after a procedure.
- Improper diagnosis, including a delayed diagnosis that results in treatment being received too late, or failure to diagnose a condition at all.
- Infections acquired in the hospital or clinic, including staph (also called MRSA), urinary tract infections (UTIs), surgical site infections or ventilator-associated pneumonia (VAP). All are considered preventable with robust hygiene standards.
- Childbirth injuries, including hemorrhaging, oxygen deprivation to the newborn baby (also called HIE, or hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy), broken bones and bruising, or skin and soft tissue injuries.
Malpractice injuries often require time-consuming and expensive additional treatment to be rectified, with additional distress and burden to the patient.
Is There a “Right” Time to Hire a Malpractice Lawyer?
A skilled medical malpractice lawyer is an invaluable ally when a provider’s negligence or wrongdoing leaves you physically or emotionally scarred, with steep medical bills or corrective procedures needed.
Your attorney can help you gather evidence, including deposing physicians, interviewing witnesses and developing a robust case that anticipates possible defenses the provider and their legal team will use. Remember that medical malpractice is a complex and highly regulated area of the law, so it is not advisable to try to go it alone in seeking redress.
In Kentucky, Tennessee Ohio and many other states, the statute of limitations is one year from the time the malpractice occurred. In this sense, there is no right or wrong time to get in touch with a lawyer – the sooner a winning strategy can be developed, the better.
The team at Circeo Law Firm are a free consultation away if you want to explore your options in the wake of a provider’s negligence.