On this page you can learn about:
|What is Medical Malpractice?||Pennsylvania & New Jersey Laws|
|How Do I Know If My Injury Is Due To Malpractice?||Who is to Blame for Medical Malpractice?|
|Common Errors||Frequently Asked Questions|
Physicians and medical professionals hold positions of trust and patients should be able to rely on the quality of care they receive. At the very least, medical professionals should not cause preventable harm to their patients.
And yet, medical malpractice, also known as medical negligence is a leading cause of death in the US. According to Diederich Healthcare in its 2013 Medical Malpractice Payout Analysis, in 2012, there were 12,142 payouts in the U.S. totaling $3.9 billion. In a breakdown of the severity of injuries for which payouts were made, it was determined that:
These injuries and deaths can occur in a variety of contexts. We’ll discuss the different types of medical malpractice, and how to file a medical malpractice lawsuit if you or a loved one is a victim.
Health care providers in Pennsylvania and New Jersey have a legal duty to follow the accepted standard of care in delivering medical care to patients. Most physicians want to help patients, but even the best doctors and hospitals can make a preventable error. When the doctor, nurse or hospital fails to follow the recognized standard of care and harms a patient as a result, the provider may be liable for medical malpractice.
How do you know if you have been the victim of medical malpractice? Medicine is complex and specialized, and you may not know whether a doctor or other medical provider deviated from the standard of care without an independent investigation by a qualified medical malpractice attorney. Doctors and hospitals typically will not admit to you that they have committed a serious error. Many patients receive unsatisfactory explanations and are left wondering whether something went wrong.
The medical malpractice attorneys at The Colleran Firm are here to help. We will obtain and review your medical records. If we believe your claim has merit, we will have the medical records reviewed by an appropriate licensed medical professional who can attest that a breach of the standard of medical care occurred.
You are unlikely to know what really happened unless you hire a qualified medical malpractice attorney to help you. If you know what happened, then you can make an informed decision about how to proceed.
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Generally speaking, you have a medical malpractice claim if your health care provider committed medical negligence. In other words, if he or she violated the accepted standard of care, causing you or a loved one injury, a claim may be present. It’s important to have evidence that your health care provider’s actions directly caused harm. In Pennsylvania, there is also a statute of limitations of two years, meaning you cannot sue for malpractice that happened many years ago. If you are unsure, you should consult with an experienced philadelphia medical malpractice attorney.
When considering medical malpractice, many people envision a surgeon having a slip of the knife and committing a preventable error during an operation. Many different health care providers including individuals and institutions may be responsible for medical malpractice.
The list includes but is not limited to surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurse anesthetists, oncologists, dentists, emergency room teams, hospitals, surgery centers, laboratories, birthing centers, personal care homes, nurse midwives and podiatrists.
Many medical errors result from systemic problems such as emergency rooms being too thinly staffed to allow a doctor sufficient time to assess a patient and make an accurate diagnosis, medications being stored in a way that makes medication errors more likely and hospitals failing to enforce a time out safety procedure in operating rooms because each surgery. In other words, faulty systems cause errors too.
The general rule in Pennsylvania is that medical malpractice lawsuits must be filed within two years of the date of the alleged negligent conduct. However, if the negligent conduct is not immediately knowable in the exercise of reasonable diligence, one may be able to argue that the two-year clock does not start the plaintiff becomes aware of the injury occurred or that conduct occurred that caused a medical injury.
In any event, no medical malpractice claim may be filed after seven years from the date of the alleged harm, with two primary exceptions: (1) there is no time limit on filing claims related to foreign objects left inside a patient.; and (same paragraph) (2) a child who is injured by medical malpractice has until their 20th birthday to file a medical malpractice claim.
A medical lawyer representing a victim of medical harm in Pennsylvania must certify that a medical expert has given a written statement stating there is a reasonable probability that the heath care provider violated the standard of care or supervised a person who violated the standard of care. This is known as the certificate of merit.
In Pennsylvania, victims of medical malpractice may be eligible to receive compensatory damages to cover the costs of medical expenses and lost income as well as non-economic damages for pain and suffering and other categorical losses. Pennsylvania does not limit the amounts of compensation that a court may award for compensatory and non-economic damages.
The state of New Jersey allows patients two years from the date of the alleged medical error to file a medical malpractice lawsuit. If the injury was not immediately obvious, the law gives two years from the date when the patient should have been aware of the injury to file a malpractice lawsuit. It’s important to have a qualified medical negligence lawyer investigate your claim as soon as possible because once the statute of limitations for filing a lawsuit has expired, you no longer have a right to file a claim.
To prevent filing frivolous lawsuits, New Jersey law requires a medical lawyer to file an affidavit of merit from a medical expert within 60 days of filing the lawsuit, spelling out how the health care provider violated the standard of care.
Victims of medical negligence in New Jersey may be eligible to recover compensation for doctor and hospital bills and other direct costs associated with the injury, as well as compensation for pain and suffering. These categories are known as economic and non-economic damages.
In unusual cases, injury victims may also be entitled to seek punitive damages to punish a health care provider if the provider’s actions were malicious, fraudulent or showed extraordinary disregard for a patient’s safety. New Jersey limits the amount of punitive damages an injured patient may collect up to five times the amount of compensatory damages or $350,000, whichever is the higher amount.
If you or a loved one were injured by medical malpractice in Pennsylvania or New Jersey, you should understand your legal options so you can make an informed decision. If you were harmed because of a preventable error on the part of a hospital, doctor, nurse or other medical professional in Pennsylvania or New Jersey, those parties may be held liable.
Of course, no amount of money can compensate you for pain and loss of quality of life or the death of a loved one due to medical malpractice. However, if medical negligence is established as the cause of any injury, illness, health condition or loss of life, you are entitled to damages for pain and suffering, medical costs, lost wages, and more. We seek to hold medical professionals accountable for their actions and to work for justice on your behalf.
When representing victims of medical error and doctor negligence, The Colleran Firm works on a contingency fee basis. As our client, you do not pay any legal fee unless we obtain compensation for you through a settlement or jury award.
Unfortunately, preventable medical errors injure and kill thousands of people each year. Knowing some of the most common types of errors can prepare you to stay alert during all health related conversations and prevent these errors from happening to you or your loved ones.
Read through the following slides to get an idea of the most common types of medical malpractice, click through the links to learn more on each subject.
If you have suffered an injury or have lost a loved one due to the negligence of a medical provider or facility, getting a thorough review of your case by an experienced medical malpractice attorney is a critical first step in seeking the justice that you deserve.
In the operating room, there is no room for error. To be sure, some injuries are the result of the inherent risk involved in any given procedure. Sometimes, however, true surgical errors are committed and the patient suffers (or even dies) as a result. Preventable errors may occur due to fatigue, poor judgement, technical errors, contamination, equipment failures, or delays in operating. Errors in anesthesia administration and dosage are particularly dangerous. Occasionally, surgery results in surgical never events where the surgeon performs the wrong procedure if they mistake the patient for someone else, or leave foreign objects inside the patient’s body. Sometimes, it isn’t only an error on the part of the surgeon. Poor communication or unsafe practices or procedures between nurses and doctors can also be a source of malpractice. There may also be errors during post-operative care, a crucial aspect of patients’ recovery.
There’s a reason hospitals feel so sterile when you walk in the door—they absolutely have to be exceptionally clean in order to keep patients safe. Doctors and nurses must take every possible precaution against these dangerous bacterial infections. When they don’t, infections can lead to permanent damage and even death.
Preventable hospital acquired infections may occur during surgery, either at the site of the incision, or spread to internal organs. The risk isn’t over after the operation; many infections occur in post-care. Urinary tract infections are some of the most common hospital infections, and are often caused by catheters. Other causes include improper use of IV’s which may lead to blood infections, and ventilators, which can cause pneumonia. If not caught early, all these infections can lead to serious harm to a patient, who may already be in a fragile state of health.
Emergency rooms are busy places, even when everyone is doing his or her job carefully and efficiently. Emergency rooms see patients with the most urgent, serious needs. It’s no wonder that emergency room doctors are prone to making errors. Often those mistakes are very costly. When doctors’ mistakes are so grave that they involve deviation from the standard of care and serious emergency room errors, it may be a case of medical malpractice. Errors may be caused by doctors’ fatigue, poor decisions, and overcrowding in emergency rooms. Nurses, too, can make serious missteps. The consequences are serious: delays in treatment, inappropriate diagnostic testing, medication errors, and failure to call in specialists (among other errors) can all lead to a patient’s injury or death.
It’s impossible to treat a condition without the correct diagnosis. A Johns Hopkins study found that diagnostic errors cause the most severe patient harm, and lead to the highest total medical malpractice payouts. It is not always easy to pinpoint the precise cause of a patient’s illness, but doctors are trained to do just that. In some cases, doctors may fail to reach a diagnosis or give an incorrect one, when other doctors would reasonably have been able to correctly identify the illness or condition. When that happens, a missed or delayed diagnosis may be a case of medical malpractice. In this section you will learn about the consequences of a missed or delayed diagnosis as well as what causes these errors.
Misdiagnosis is difficult to measure and track, but researchers have recently begun taking more serious note of the dangers it presents. Another study found that between 10 and 20 percent of all diagnoses are incorrect, and of those, around 28 percent are life-threatening, or result in permanent disability. One reason diagnostic errors cause so much damage is that they are often difficult to uncover. Making diagnoses can be a complicated and sometimes long process; sometimes patients and doctors only realize the error once a patient is in treatment for the wrong condition. By that time, it may be hard to effectively treat for the actual condition. In addition, doctors are often unsurprisingly reluctant to report diagnostic errors, harming both individual treatment and broader tracking efforts. Common causes of diagnostic errors include a failure to order proper testing, poor interpretation of test results, and failure to thoroughly evaluate a patient’s medical history.
Radiologists perform and interpret diagnostic tests such as MRIs, CAT scans, mammograms and X-rays to help patients to treat health conditions. Most often, radiology errors claims involve a “failure to diagnose.” In these cases, a radiologist performs the test correctly, but then misinterprets the images or misses an abnormality. Mammograms are very often misinterpreted, as are cardiac scans.
Other errors may also occur, including administering the test incorrectly, failing to recommend an appropriate follow-up test to confirm a diagnosis, failing to communicate test results to a patient’s other physicians, leading to inappropriate care, or failing to adequately communicate test results to patients, leaving them left in the dark as to their best treatment options. Communication is vital to all areas of medicine, and especially so in any diagnosis.
Adverse drug events account for over 770,000 injuries and deaths every year in the U.S., often caused by medication errors. Between 11 and 14 percent of errors occurs at the pharmaceutical counter. Pharmacists often suffer from fatigue, are uninformed on certain medications, or pass their work off onto clerks and can make these mistakes:
-Giving you the wrong medication or mislabeling your drugs
-Giving you the wrong dosage or form of a medicine
-Giving you someone else’s prescription
-Giving you the wrong instructions for taking your drug
-Failing to warn you about adverse drug reactions
-Failing to warn you about dangerous drug combinations
A fundamental responsibility of a prescribing physician — and a pharmacist — is to screen a patient for other medications that he or she may be taking, including over-the-counter medications. It isn’t your fault for taking medications together. Your doctor should know the facts, and ensure there are no potential dangers from drug interactions.
Beyond being alert for known drug interaction hazards, doctors should also be aware of unexpected poor reactions for individual patients to various combinations of prescription drugs. Everyone’s physiology is unique, and allergic reactions to medications, or combinations of medications, are always a possibility. Thorough documentation is essential so that other healthcare providers can be aware of what to look out for when prescribing added medications and pharmacists have a responsibility to check for possible harmful drug interactions when dispensing the medications.
Obstetrics and gynecology encompasses a wide spectrum of medical services, from cancer screening to delivery. Beyond affecting a patient’s reproductive health, OB/GYN malpractice can affect the urinary system, the digestive system, and the health of the patient’s child.
Many OB/GYN errors, are associated with medication. Medication errors can have huge implications when a woman is pregnant, including birth defects or even a loss of the fetus. Doctors should be aware of a woman’s medical history, sensitivities, and risk factors when prescribing medications. Diagnostic errors are also common, OB/GYN doctors must perform the appropriate tests and screenings for (among other conditions) cervical cancer, ovarian cancer, sexually transmitted diseases, and ectopic pregnancies. They must also interpret the results of tests carefully, and offer appropriate treatment. When they fail to do so, they can cause lifelong harm to their patients.
In the months leading up to giving birth, a woman trusts her obstetrician to screen according to risk factors, and keep a close eye on the progression of the pregnancy. This includes performing blood tests, taking ultrasounds, prescribing medications as needed, and ensuring that any other medication that the patient is taking is safe for the fetus. If a mother or child is harmed as the result of prenatal care, it’s possible that the obstetrician could be held liable.
With proper prenatal care, a woman can stay healthy, and give birth to a healthy child. If obstetricians are negligent, however, complications can lead to serious damage. Some common errors include failing to screen for gestational diabetes, ectopic pregnancies, possible birth defects, hypertension, and atypical growth of the fetus. Medication errors and improper use of medical equipment are also possibilities.
For months, future mothers and fathers prepare for the arrival of their baby. A woman chooses her hospital carefully, takes great care of her own health, and on the big day, must trust the obstetrician to do the absolute best in delivering the baby. Of course, there are many possible complications, and some are out of the doctors’ control. However, obstetricians occasionally make serious childbirth errors that harm mother or child during delivery, sometimes even fatally.
Common labor and delivery errors include a failure to recognize toxicity, that the fetus is in distress, eclampsia, pre-eclampsia, or uterine rupture. During the actual birth, obstetricians may leave the fetus in the birth canal for too long, which can deprive it of oxygen, or inflict injury by the improper use of forceps. Sometimes, a midwife may also be responsible for not referring a patient to the hospital. These may be due to a doctor’s fatigue, poor judgment, or a technical slip.
If a loved one has died as the result of medical malpractice, you are going through a difficult time. Discovering that a loved one’s death was entirely preventable only sharpens the sense of grief. It’s unfortunately true that malpractice by doctors, nurses, pharmacists and hospitals can indeed lead to the death of their patients.
In a medical malpractice wrongful death case, attorneys must show that negligence on the part of a healthcare provider directly caused the death of a patient. This generally means that the healthcare provider did something that others would not reasonably do, and that because of this deviation, the patient died. It does not necessarily mean that the doctor was malicious; only that he or she was negligent. The family of the deceased may sue for damages based on the loss of a loved one, and for costs related to the death.
Answer: There are many factors, both economic and non-economic, to consider when deciding whether or not to pursue a claim. The damages you might recover are certainly an important one. If you don’t need them in order to cover medical costs, and don’t feel the need to be compensated monetarily for your suffering, you may indeed choose not to sue. Consider, however, costs that aren’t so immediately tangible, like the long-term medical consequences you may eventually suffer, and the lifetime loss in earning capacity. You will also want to weigh carefully the question of pursuing accountability, and preventing a doctor or a hospital from being similarly negligent again. The decision of whether or not to pursue a claim is a deeply personal one.
Answer: Possibly. Certainly, early diagnosis is crucial to the successful treatment of most types of cancer. If your doctor provided a late diagnosis because of his or her negligence, you might have a case. This could mean that your doctor did not order the proper standard diagnostic tests, misinterpreted the results of those tests, or failed to refer you to an appropriate specialist.
Answer: First, you should consult an experienced medical negligence lawyer who will help you decide whether or not you have a case. For example, at the Colleran Firm, we offer free initial consultations. We will discuss your facts, and advise you of your options. If we do take on your case, it’s because we believe we can win significant damages on your behalf, and we’ll work as a team to pursue those damages. We work on a contingency-fee basis, which means that you actually pay no fees until we recover a settlement. We believe you are entitled to compensation for medical malpractice.
Answer: Medical malpractice cases are often challenging, drawn-out affairs. You need a good deal of patience and resilience. You need powerful and convincing evidence that a healthcare provider violated the standard of care, and that by doing so, he or she directly caused you or a loved one harm. This may involve bringing in expert witnesses and detailed medical records. Above all, you need a strong medical malpractice lawyer on your side who can compile all the evidence, and present the most compelling case possible.
Answer: This depends largely on the nature of the case. Out-of-court settlements can be reached relatively quickly, if a fair agreement can be reached. If the case goes to trial, it’s likely to take much longer. Some take many months, and some serious cases may even take a few years. Settlement negotiations often continue throughout the process. In general, the more complicated the case, and the more serious the injuries to the patient, the longer it will take to resolve.