Question: Should I consider a medical malpractice lawsuit if I have had a bad result?
Susan: It depends; a bad result may or may not indicate medical malpractice. Simply because a patient experiences a complication, that does not necessarily mean that there has been malpractice. A bad outcome may be what prompts the client to contact an attorney, but further investigation needs to be done to determine if in fact there was malpractice. The only way to truly know if a bad result or a complication is due to medical malpractice is to consult an attorney with experience in this area. The attorney will then do an investigation and have the matter reviewed by a competent expert. And that truly is the only way to know if you have a medical malpractice action. Another point that I would like to make is there has to be some level of serious of permanent injury in these cases because these cases are very hard to prosecute and very expensive to prosecute. So the injury must merit going forward with the suit. For example, a doctor can prescribe a wrong medication and you can take that medication and maybe feel dizzy for a couple days, but there is no serious permanent injury. In that case, we would advise against filing that suit. While the doctor may have not complied with the standard of care, there is not a damage of a sufficient quantity there to merit a lawsuit.
Question: How do I know if I have been the victim of a medical malpractice and to proceed in contacting an attorney?
Susan: You may not know. It’s very, very rare for a doctor or a healthcare provider in a hospital to come forward and admit an error. That has not happened often in my experience. I know that there is a movement now among some healthcare institutions where they are encouraging doctors to admit errors and to actually say I’m sorry to the patient. And I think that’s a good thing. While saying I’m sorry and acknowledging an error may not prevent a lawsuit, I think it takes some of the emotion and anger out of the situation. But very rarely will the patient be told that malpractice has been committed. Sometimes a nurse or therapist will make a comment to a patient. We’ve had clients at Clifford Law Offices who have actually gotten an anonymous phone call from nurses at the hospital where they have been told to consult an attorney, something happened. Sometimes a treating physician you will see after the malpractice, a new doctor will make a comment. We have had situations where subsequent treating physicians have told our clients, you should consult a lawyer. Sometimes it just doesn’t feel right and needs to be investigated. But again, the only way to really know if you have an action for medical malpractice is to talk to an experienced medical malpractice attorney and have the case evaluated. The way it would be evaluated is through an expert who will decide if the case is meritorious.
Question: What are some examples of medical malpractice?
Susan: There are many examples. Certainly more than we can talk about here, but a real common type of malpractice case is a failure to diagnose. Think of a cancer case. A woman will go to a doctor with a breast lump and the doctor will diagnose a cyst and it turns out in retrospect that truly was a breast cancer. And the delay in diagnosing the breast cancer has a negative impact on the patient’s prognosis. Now, sometimes a misdiagnosis can result in a medical malpractice lawsuit. Think of the example of a patient who goes to a doctor with cold symptoms. The doctor may think well, this is bronchitis and it turns out that it was truly pneumonia and a chest x-ray was not done and the patient subsequently dies. Another type of malpractice is a surgical error. We have had cases where the wrong side of the patient’s body was operated on or a blood vessel is injured during surgery or a nerve is injured during surgery. Getting an infection in the hospital can be malpractice if proper sterile techniques were not followed in the hospital. In an infection case, often times infections are not promptly diagnosed and treated. Another common type of medical malpractice case deals with medication errors. Sometimes you will get the wrong medication or the wrong dose. Those are the big areas of medical malpractice.
Susan Capra, a partner at Clifford Law Offices in Chicago; is here to discuss medical malpractice. Susan is also a registered nurse and has combined her medical knowledge with her legal education to help those who have been injured by healthcare professionals. She understands all that it takes to put together a successful medical malpractice case because these matters are highly complex.