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Medical errors are the third-leading cause of death in the U.S., just behind heart disease and cancer. And many of these medical errors are the direct result of a doctor or another medical provider’s incompetence. What legal recourse does an injured patient have in these situations? Below, learn when you can sue for medical incompetence—otherwise known as medical malpractice.
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Doctors Have a Duty to Report Incompetent Behavior
Physicians have an ethical duty to report conduct that violates ethical or legal standards or threatens patient welfare and well-being. When a physician encounters this type of incompetence, they’re required to:
- Report the conduct to the appropriate clinical authorities
- Report the conduct to the state medical licensing board
- If the conduct continues unchanged, report it to an even higher authority
Physicians who receive reports of medical incompetence must evaluate the information reported, treat the matter as confidential until it has been resolved, and notify the physician who reported the conduct once it has been resolved.
What is Medical Incompetence?
Medical providers have a duty of care to their patients. This requires them to perform procedures and provide medical care that meets the standard expected of all doctors and medical professionals.
Medical incompetence or malpractice occurs when a medical provider’s actions fall below the industry standard of care, injuring a patient. To prove medical malpractice, a patient will need to show:
- Duty (a doctor-patient relationship)
- A breach of this duty (actions falling below the standard of care)
- Damages (injuries caused by the breach of care)
All three of these elements must be proven in order for a plaintiff to recover damages.
What Happens in a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit?
When a patient files a medical malpractice lawsuit, they’ll need to begin building their claim. To prove each of the three necessary elements, a plaintiff may need to gather:
- Medical records detailing the circumstances that led up to the injury
- Occupational reports, explaining how the medical error has impacted the plaintiff’s ability to work
- Medical bills and insurance billing statements
A plaintiff will also need to arrange to have an expert witness testify about the standard of care and what the defendant did to breach it. This testimony can be in person (at a trial or deposition) or through an affidavit.
Often, the health care provider or their malpractice insurer may try to settle a claim to avoid a trial. There are pros and cons when it comes to pre-trial settlement. Settling too early could mean leaving money on the table if the full extent of the patient’s injuries isn’t yet known. On the other hand, going to the mat with a less-than-airtight case could risk a loss at trial. Your medical malpractice attorney will review the evidence to assess your odds of success at trial; you’ll then be able to make an educated decision on when and whether to accept a pre-trial settlement.
What Damages Are Available in a Malpractice Lawsuit?
If a medical malpractice claim is successful, a patient can recover both economic and non-economic damages.
Economic damages are out-of-pocket damages, like:
- Medical expenses
- Future medical expenses
- The cost of rehabilitation, physical therapy, and other therapeutic care
- Lost wages
- Loss of future earnings or earning capacity
Non-economic damages are those that are harder to quantify. They can include:
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Emotional distress
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of companionship
Under Florida law, a patient can be awarded a maximum of $500,000 in non-economic damages from a medical practitioner and $750,000 in non-economic damages from a non-practitioner. However, there’s no cap on the amount of economic damages that can be awarded to a patient.
If you or a loved one has been injured as a result of a medical provider’s negligence, you may be entitled to compensation. At The Ferraro Law Firm, we’re focused on each client’s case and will use all our resources to ensure you have the most robust representation possible. To schedule your free consultation, call 888-554-2030 or just fill out our free case consultation form and a member of our team will soon be in touch.
Frequently Asked Questions: Medical Malpractice
What components make up a medical malpractice claim?
What is the most common lawsuit in healthcare?
What is the definition of medical malpractice?
What is the distinction between medical malpractice and negligence?