Who Can You Sue For Medical Malpractice?
Situations where a lawsuit is appropriateBy Kimberly Lekman, Esq. | Reviewed by Canaan Suitt, J.D. | Last updated on May 9, 2023
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- Healthcare Facilities
- What’s Next To File a Medical Malpractice Claim?
If you or a loved one has suffered an injury due to negligent medical treatment, you may be considering filing a medical malpractice lawsuit. Medical malpractice is a specialty within the field of personal injury law. Through medical malpractice lawsuits, patients can recover for injuries due to negligent medical care.
State laws on medical malpractice vary. However, the elements of a medical malpractice case are generally the same across state lines. To prove medical malpractice, you usually must show the following:
- First, you had a provider-patient relationship with your health care provider.
- Next, you need to show that your medical provider caused you actual harm by treating you in a way that falls below the accepted standard of care. You will usually demonstrate this through expert testimony.
- Finally, you must demonstrate that the provider’s negligent act directly caused the injury you suffered.
A common misunderstanding among injured patients is that they can only file malpractice suits against doctors. However, other health care providers such as nurses and pharmacists may have injured you. Depending on your state’s laws, it might be possible to sue those parties too.
Further, you may be able to sue the hospital or health care facility where your medical provider worked.
When people think of medical malpractice, they usually think of suing negligent doctors. Doctors can commit malpractice in a variety of ways. These can include misdiagnosis, surgical errors, prescribing errors, and other preventable medical errors. Most of the well-known cases of medical malpractice have been between patients and doctors.
If your doctor has harmed you through negligent medical care, you may be able to sue both the doctor and the healthcare facility that employs them. This could help you to financially recover for the increased medical bills and lost earnings that the medical negligence caused. Further, you may be able to recover for non-economic damages such as mental anguish, pain, and suffering. In rare cases, punitive damages may be possible too. Punitive damages are generally only available in cases where a doctor injured a patient through willful acts or omissions.
To sue a doctor for medical malpractice, you will need to show that a doctor-patient relationship existed. In other words, you sought your doctor’s care and they agreed to treat you. To illustrate, suppose that you overhear a doctor’s advice to someone else. This does not establish a doctor-patient relationship because the doctor never agreed to treat you. In most situations, it will be obvious whether a doctor-patient relationship existed. In some cases, you may be able to sue the hospital that employed your doctor too.
A hospital can be responsible for the actions of its employees under the legal doctrine of vicarious liability. Hospital employees may include doctors, nurses, phlebotomists, and other members of support staff. When an employee is acting within the scope of their duties, their employer can be held liable for their actions. To illustrate, imagine that you were the victim of medical negligence at the hands of your surgeon, who was an employee of a hospital. If they were acting within the scope of their employment when they treated you negligently, the hospital might be liable for these actions.
However, many hospitals employ their doctors as independent contractors. This may shield the hospitals from their doctors’ negligence. However, a hospital can be liable for a doctor’s malpractice if it fails to inform the patient that the doctor is an independent contractor. Hospitals are more likely to be liable for malpractice by emergency room doctors than others. In an emergency room setting, a patient is unlikely to be able to appreciate whether a doctor is an independent contractor. Further, emergency room patients do not typically choose their doctor.
Other health care professionals, such as nurses and phlebotomists, are more likely to be employees of the hospital. Therefore, you can typically sue their employing hospital or health care facility for their malpractice. The exception would be if the nurse or phlebotomist is acting outside of the scope of their employment.
It may also be possible to sue a healthcare facility due to the facility’s own negligence. Hospitals, clinics, and urgent care centers have a responsibility to run reasonably clean facilities. If they negligently expose patients to pathogens, they can be liable. Further, medical facilities should not employ members of staff who they know have behavioral issues. An example of a known behavioral issue would be substance abuse.
Nursing Home Negligence and Abuse
Unfortunately, patients often suffer injuries due to neglect in nursing home facilities. Nursing home staff should check on residents, change their clothes and bedding, and reasonably care for them. When they fail to do so, they could be guilty of nursing home neglect.
In some cases, nursing home residents have even suffered from abuse at the hands of their caretakers. If you or a loved one has experienced neglect or abuse in a nursing home, you may wish to take legal action. As a first step, you should contact an attorney to find out if you may be entitled to compensation.
Pharmacists have a duty to fill prescriptions correctly. If they distribute the wrong medication or dosage, this can cause serious injury to patients. Pharmacists can be liable for causing harm through preventable prescription drug errors.
In some states, pharmacists have additional legal duties. These duties include checking for drug interactions, warning of drug side effects, and evaluating the appropriateness of the drug. If you received improper medication due to a pharmacist’s negligence, you might be able to recover financially for your damages.
Nurses are often the medical professionals that patients interact with most in a hospital setting. So, nurses have a duty to inform a doctor if something goes wrong with the patient. If a nurse fails to alert a doctor to a problem with a patient and the patient is harmed as a result, the nurse might be liable for medical malpractice. It will depend on the facts and whether a competent nurse in the same situation would have raised the issue with a doctor.
Nurses may also harm patients by incorrectly administering pharmaceutical drugs. If a nurse administers the wrong drug to a patient, this can cause dangerous side effects and drug interactions. Further, they can cause harm if they improperly inject a drug or harm a patient with equipment. When nurses commit preventable errors, they may be liable for medical malpractice.
When a phlebotomist draws blood or inserts an IV, they must be cautious not to strike a nerve. Certain locations on the body are generally considered safer for blood draws. If a phlebotomist draws blood from a different location and causes harm, there may be a case for medical malpractice. As with all medical malpractice cases, it will depend on the facts of the case. You will need to show that the phlebotomist caused harm by providing treatment that falls outside of the expected medical standard of care.
What’s Next To File a Medical Malpractice Claim?
If you believe that you may have a valid claim for medical malpractice, the first step is to contact a medical malpractice attorney. Medical malpractice law is a highly complex and specialized area of the law. So, you will find it helpful to have a skilled attorney by your side.
Your attorney can help you to present a strong case against your medical provider’s legal professionals and insurance company. Further, your attorney or their law firm’s support staff can help you to request the documents and medical records that you will need for your case. Also, an experienced attorney can help you find a knowledgeable expert witness to testify in your case.
Your state may put a time limit (a statute of limitation) on your ability to file a medical malpractice claim. So, you should contact an experienced medical malpractice lawyer as soon as you realize that you were the victim of medical malpractice. Most lawyers offer a free consultation to help you decide whether they are the right fit for you. At this initial consultation, you should ask whether the attorney thinks you have a solid case. You might also want to ask the attorney for an estimate of your case’s value. You should choose an attorney who you like and trust. You will need to work closely with them as your case progresses. So, it’s important that you establish a good working relationship with them.
To learn more about this area of law, see our overview on medical malpractice.
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