TO SUE OR NOT TO SUE – THAT IS THE MEDICAL MALPRACTICE QUESTION
Medical malpractice occurs when a patient is harmed by a medical professional who fails to competently perform his or her medical duties. Does that happen a lot? Apparently, quite a number of patients think so. In a recent survey conducted by Medscape, 49% of family physicians reported being sued for malpractice!
Unfortunately for the patients, very few of these lawsuits resulted in a win, probably because the claim did not meet the following basic requirements:
- There was a doctor-patient relationship.
- The doctor caused harm in a way that a competent doctor would not have, given the same circumstances.
- The doctor’s negligence is what caused the injury.
- The injury led to specific harm (physical pain, mental anguish, additional medical bills, lost earnings).
- The claim is brought soon after the injury (In Indiana, the statute of limitations for medical malpractice lawsuits is two years, except if the patient was under age 6, in which case the deadline is extended until the child’s eighth birthday
In other words, simply because you’re unhappy with the results of your treatment does not mean the doctor is liable for malpractice…
On the other hand, assuming those basic requirements can all be checked off, of what sorts of mistakes or omissions are medical professionals typically accused? There are 3 main accusations:
- The practitioner failed to properly diagnose the patient’s condition.
- The condition was correctly diagnosed, but the patient was improperly treated.
- The patient was not warned of known risks of the course of treatment.
“Compared with other injury-related legal claims, a medical malpractice lawsuit is usually a fairly complex undertaking, David Goguen writes in nolo.com, explaining that, in Indiana, before a lawsuit can be filed in court, a complaint must first be filed with a medical review panel. At Ramey & Hailey, we agree – “complex” is certainly the right word to describe the medical malpractice lawsuit process. The provision of medical care is obviously a highly technical and specialized field. Establishing a connection between the actions of a doctor and the injury suffered by the patient often requires locating expert witnesses and researching and interpreting complex data. Victims of malpractice are often physically and mentally incapable of managing the process, and family members are often struggling financially because the patient is no longer a source of support.
How does this complex process work? It begins with the Indiana medical review panel:
The panel typically consists of one attorney and three healthcare providers. Those panelists review all the records to see if the medical provider, in fact, failed to comply with the “appropriate standard of care.” If that is their conclusion, then and only then, can the case be taken to court.
Once a lawsuit is filed, are there limits on the damages that can be paid to the injured patient or to the survivors?
In Indiana, doctors found guilty of medical malpractice pay a maximum of $500,000 per claim. Any amounts awarded above that (subject to a maximum total settlement of $1,800,000) are covered by the Patient’s Compensation Fund. (The money in the PCF comes from insurance surcharges paid by physicians and hospitals.)
Based on more than forty years representing patients and their families who have suffered as a result of medical malpractice, I know that the process is not only complex, but intensely personal and emotional. Our function is to listen, to assist throughout the process, and to ensure that the malpractice you suffered is not repeated on other victims.
To sue or not to sue? If you are facing that medical malpractice question, start with a call to (317) – 582 0000.