If you or a loved one have been injured while under the care of a healthcare professional, you may have grounds for a medical malpractice case. While medical errors happen for a variety of reasons, there is never an excuse.
If you find yourself seeking legal guidance after a medical malpractice event, it’s likely you’ll realize just how complex these cases can be. At DiPiero Simmons McGinley & Bastress, PLLC, we’ll make these complicated legal matters easy to understand. Let’s start by going over the why most medical malpractice claims are considered civil cases.
What’s the Difference Between Civil and Criminal Cases?
In order to understand why medical malpractice claims are often classified as civil cases, you’ll need to understand the difference between civil and criminal cases. The goal of a civil case is the opposite of the goal of a criminal case. When a person files a civil lawsuit, they are looking to receive compensation as the victim of someone else’s negligence. When a criminal lawsuit if filed, the goal is to punish someone who has committed a crime. Let’s take a closer look at the specifics of each case type.
Civil cases are typically investigated by a private party – namely the individual who has suffered as a result of someone else’s negligence. It is often easy to support claims in a civil case because it is generally assumed what the plaintiff is alleging is true. Also, the guilty party in a civil case pays for their actions in dollars. This money is provided to the plaintiff to aid with the economic and noneconomic burdens they’ve experienced as a result of their accident.
A criminal case is investigated by an attorney or prosecutor who represents the local government. It is harder to support a criminal case with evidence because the standards to prove guilt are higher. When an individual is found guilty in a criminal case, it’s likely they’ll face community service, a fine, probation, or jail time, depending on the severity of the crime.
Why Are Most Medical Malpractice Claims Civil Cases?
Now that you understand the difference between civil and criminal cases, let’s talk about medical malpractice lawsuits.
For medical malpractice to occur, four events must take place. First, a duty of care must be established by a legitimate doctor/patient relationship. Second, that duty must be breached by means of inadequate service. Third, the patient must experience physical or monetary damage. Finally, it needs to be proven that the damage can be directed related to the breach.
These claims often fall under civil cases because the focus is on the victim receiving compensation for what they’ve been through, not punishing the negligent provider. In theory, the financial support should help with medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and any other additional costs associated with the consequences of the medical error.
In What Instances Are Medical Malpractice Claims Criminal Cases?
While it’s not impossible for a medical malpractice claim to lead to a criminal case, it is incredibly rare. Extreme circumstances, like the death of the patient, are often required. In order for a medical malpractice claim to lead to a criminal case it must meet the same four standards listed in the section above, as well as prove one or more of the following:
- Gross negligence
- Practicing medicine under the influence of alcohol or drugs
- Unjustifiably risking the health and wellbeing of the patient
- Deceiving or improperly treating the patient
- Disregarding human life, or an indifference to human life
- Untimely or inappropriate responses to critical situations
- Use of medical treatments that have been found to repetitively fail in the past
- Use of unnecessary medical procedures and tests for revenue gaining purposes
- Practicing without a license or certifications, or misrepresenting the credentials they’ve actually earned
While contemplating taking legal action after your injury, it’s important to acknowledge the statute of limitations associated with medical malpractice claims. In the state of West Virginia, you have two years after the date of your accident to file your claim. In some instances, there may be more time available. An experienced attorney will be able to help you understand the time constraints you’re under.
If you’re ready to pursue your case or simply have questions, contact our medical malpractice lawyers in West Virginia today. We’re prepared to explain your legal rights and options, and seek justice for your injuries.