A careless, negligent action by a doctor, nurse, or hospital worker can change your life forever. Thousands of individuals are harmed by employees at doctor’s offices and in hospitals each year. If you were injured or harmed by a medical mistake that could have been avoided, you may be eligible to seek compensation from the party responsible. A skilled and experienced Charleston medical malpractice lawyer can make this possible.
All throughout the United States, the term “medical malpractice” encompasses a broad variety of mistakes and errors that are made in doctor’s offices, hospitals, dentist’s offices, clinics, and all types of medical facilities and institutions. Mistakes made which lead to med mal are those that could have been avoided had the medical professional not been negligent, reckless, or otherwise careless.
The basic premise of medical malpractice law states that medical workers have a professional and legal duty to provide a certain degree of care and exercise skill when providing healthcare services to patients. When a doctor, nurse, or other type of medical professional fails to do this and causes injury and/or death instead, the mistake or error is said to be an act of malpractice.
Medical mistakes happen due to a wide variety of reasons, many of which are tied to hospital and medical facility understaffing. When a facility doesn’t staff enough doctors, nurses, or other workers, care begins to suffer. It’s easier for employees to make mistakes when they are juggling more patients than they can comfortably handle. Other factors that often lead to malpractice include employees who are distracted, overtired, or simply careless when they should be paying better attention to their work.
The Frequency of Med Mal Incidents
Instances of medical malpractice are much more common than many people realize. In 2016, Johns Hopkins released a study that calculated more than 250,000 deaths per year, nearly 10% of all deaths annually, are due to medical errors in the United States. This makes medical mistakes the third-leading cause of death in the country, after heart disease and cancer.
While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists the top three causes of death as heart disease, cancer, and respiratory disease, they neglect to classify medical errors separately on death certificates when collecting national health statistics.
The Johns Hopkins study cautions that most medical errors aren’t due to inherently bad doctors, but rather a broken system that provides poorly coordinated care, fragmented insurance networks, the underuse or absence of safety nets, and physician practice patterns that lack accountability.
The Different Types of Medical Malpractice
Medical malpractice is an overarching term that refers to many different situations. Med mal incidents all take place in a medical facility, such as a hospital or doctor’s office.
Some of the different types of negligence cases our firm frequently handles include:
- Birth Injuries. Giving birth is often one of the scariest things a person can do. A lot of trust is given to the doctor who will be taking care of the mother and child. When a negligent doctor fails to provide the proper care during pregnancy or makes a mistake during birth, the infant could suffer from a number of conditions, like cerebral palsy. The mother could also sustain preventable injuries.
- Defective Medical Devices. Medical device manufacturers are supposed to ensure their devices are safe before they put them on the market. Unfortunately, when corners are cut and devices aren’t tested properly, they could end up injuring patients or exacerbating conditions. Patients with defective devices are also likely to have to undergo additional and possibly dangerous surgeries, only to have to start over with their treatment.
- Misdiagnosis. It can be incredibly dangerous when a doctor misdiagnoses a patient’s condition. If a doctor is rushing because of patient load or does not have the proper experience, they could diagnose the beginnings of a heart attack as something as minor as heartburn. If that patient returns later after suffering from a heart attack, the doctor can be held accountable for their mistake.
- Failure to Diagnose. If a patient suffering from a number of symptoms isn’t diagnosed at all because the attending believes there is nothing wrong or is too inexperienced to make a proper diagnosis, the negligent doctor can be held accountable for their actions.
- Surgical Errors. Going into surgery can be an incredibly overwhelming experience. While you know the risks associated with your procedure, there’s no way to predict what the doctors will do. In some cases, patients have received a procedure on the wrong side of their body. When patients’ identities aren’t verified, they could receive surgeries meant for others.
- Anesthesia Miscalculations. Anesthesiologists are supposed to calculate the correct amount of medicine to put a patient under and ensure they are responding appropriately during surgery. In the event too much anesthesia is administered, the patient could suffer from brain damage as a result of too little oxygen. If a patient receives too little anesthesia, they could be suffering from unnecessary pain or even become aware during surgery.
- Medication Errors. There are a number of people who could be at fault for a medication error. If a doctor writes down the wrong dosage and a nurse or pharmacist does not catch the mistake, a patient could experience varying consequences depending on the type of medicine.
- Emergency Room Delays. Emergency rooms can be hectic places. Nurses and doctors often have to balance which patients to see first. If a young, fit person with flu symptoms is seen before an older patient experiencing chest pain, the latter patient could quickly get worse and sustain irreparable damage.
- Premature Hospital Releases. If a person is released from the hospital before they should be in an attempt to free up beds, the hospital should be held accountable for whatever the released patient endures.
- Negligence Leading to Infection. Hospitals are supposed to be kept clean at all times. If a patient is left in an unsterile environment after a procedure or doesn’t have their surgical sites cleaned properly by nurses, they could suffer from an infection. While some infections are easily treated, others can be life-threatening.
Med Mal Perpetrators
While most interactions with doctors are helpful, mistakes can happen for a number of reasons. Virtually any type of medical professional or healthcare facility staff member may be held accountable for taking part in medical negligence or malpractice. Those who may be able to be held responsible include:
- Doctor’s Assistants
- Medical Technicians
- Physical Therapists
- Emergency Room Staff Members
- Urgent Care Center Staff Members
In order to build the strongest claim possible and obtain the compensation you deserve, you’ll need to understand why the negligence occurred in the first place. Many medical errors happen for a variety of reasons; however, there are certain identifiable patterns that can be examined. Those common causes include:
- Lack of Communication. A patient’s medical team is supposed to communicate regularly to assure everyone is on the same page. If, for example, a doctor orders the administration of a specific medication and the nurse doesn’t check their duties, the patient could suffer. Communication errors can also happen during shift changes.
- Inadequate Organization. Hospitals need to be and stay organized. Patient charts should be updated, and regular cleaning needs to happen. A patient may not receive the treatment they need if paperwork was mixed up or filed incorrectly. If a cleaning schedule doesn’t exist, it’s possible patients could become susceptible to infection.
- Inexperience. If a doctor is asked to make a call they’re unprepared to make or they do not have the experience needed but make the call anyway, they are jeopardizing the life of their patient. Doctors are supposed to ask their colleagues for second opinions for a reason. Hastily making a decision can seriously impact a patient’s life.
- Fatigue. It’s no secret that medical professionals often work long hours. When doctors or nurses work too many hours, however, they could be putting people’s lives at risk. It can be incredibly dangerous to practice medicine while fatigued, as the brain does not respond as it does when it’s well rested.
- Substance Abuse. Working in the healthcare field is undoubtedly stressful. Some doctors, however, cope with that stress in unhealthy ways. If a doctor tries to practice medicine while drunk or under the influence of drugs, they can be stripped of their license.
What Is Informed Consent?
When a doctor, nurse, or any other medical staff member who is treating you is preparing to perform a procedure on you, you have the right to informed consent. According to the West Virginia Health Care Decisions Act, you have the right to make your own decisions about your care. This means that doctors must first inform you about their care or procedure recommendations. Similarly, physicians must first inform you about the medication they recommend.
When your doctor or physician informs you of their recommendation, they must tell you how the procedure or medication is intended to help the patient and the known risks that could potentially happen as a result. They need to give you this information as a patient because you need to have the opportunity to decide whether or not you are willing to take the risk associated with your care.
If you decide to follow through with the recommended course of action and a risk you were warned about happens, then you most likely do not have a med mal claim to file because you accepted those risks. However, if unexpected risks happen, then that could be considered medical malpractice, and you could file a claim to recover the damages done to you.
A doctor or physician could also be held accountable for medical negligence if they don’t inform their patient before performing a procedure. The only time a doctor is allowed to act without first giving the patient the opportunity to consent is if the patient is incapacitated and at an immediate risk of death.
If your doctor failed to inform you about the risks of a procedure or a medication before your treatment with that particular procedure or medication, then you could use the help of a Charleston medical malpractice lawyer. At DiPiero Simmons McGinley & Bastress, PLLC, we know that healthcare is a sensitive topic, which is why we’ll handle your med mal case with extreme care, and keep you informed at every turn.
Medical Malpractice Laws in West Virginia
Medical malpractice is a complex, multi-faceted, and ever-changing field of law; however, some background knowledge is good to have if you must bring a case against a healthcare professional while using a law firm in Charleston.
The following are a few quick facts about malpractice law:
How long you have to pursue a case under the statute of limitations. Although every case is unique, the majority of claims for malpractice must be brought against defendants within two years of the date that harm was caused, or within two years of the date it should have been discovered. There are some situations that could be given more time, but generally you must act quickly and consult with a lawyer.
Why expert testimony is needed for your claim. Under medical negligence laws in Charleston, it must be proven that the defendant failed to uphold a reasonable standard of care for his or her profession, and that this failure led to injury on behalf of the plaintiff. In order to provide evidence for this, expert testimony usually must be presented, often in the form of statements and testimony by medical professionals who are highly regarded in their field.
Damage award limits. Our state’s medical malpractice law places monetary limits on the damages you can collect if the doctor in question has malpractice insurance for one million dollars or more. Noneconomic damages, such as compensation for the pain and suffering due to your injuries, are limited to $250,000, while actions that involve traumatic injuries are limited to $500,000. We’ll do our best to reach a malpractice settlement for you, but if the insurance company for the doctor or hospital is not reasonable, we’ll use our combined 150 years of experience to take your case to trial to get you the compensation you and your family deserve.
When your claim might actually be a product liability claim. Although you think you might have a medical malpractice claim, House Bill 2011 might change the way your claim is dealt with. If your doctor or healthcare provider prescribed a drug or used a medical device within the parameters and guidelines set by the Federal Food and Drug Administration, then they are not liable for the injuries you suffered from that drug or medical device that was used correctly. Instead, you would have a dangerous drug claim or defective product claim because the drug or medical device manufacturer would be at fault for your injuries.
Requirements to File a Medical Malpractice Claim
Medical malpractice claims are innately complex and often difficult to fight in court. This is because hospitals and medical facilities in Charleston tend to be owned by powerful corporations backed by legal departments that are often comfortable finding any loophole possible to avoid letting a claim go through. To succeed with your claim, you’ll need an attorney who’s familiar with complex cases, the loopholes corporations sometimes use, and local and statewide malpractice laws.
Our legal team at DiPiero Simmons McGinley & Bastress, PLLC is experienced with handling complex cases and we know what evidence and testimony your case requires to succeed. We have the resources to put together a strong claim.
In Charleston, the following information will need to be proven before a med mal claim can be successful:
- A doctor-patient relationship existed
- The doctor/medical professional was negligent and failed to provide the proper degree of care
- Another doctor or medical professional would have acted differently in the same situation (thus providing the correct degree of care)
- The doctor/medical professional’s negligence directly resulted in your injury or illness
- The injury led to specific damages that will have a long-lasting or permanent effect
If, unfortunately, you’ve lost a loved one due to a medical error you believe may have been malpractice, you or the deceased individual’s family members may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of your loved one. Our law firm handles these cases as well.
What Damages Can You Recover in a West Virginia Med Mal Claim?
After experiencing medical negligence in West Virginia and deciding if you want to file a legal claim, you should know what kinds of damages you can recover. As discussed above, there are monetary limits to the noneconomic damages you can recover in our state if the doctor has medical malpractice insurance for over a million dollars, but you can still recover damages up to that limit, as well as other types of damages.
The different types of damages that you can recover in our state are economic, noneconomic, and punitive. Here are the different categories of damages that you can receive monetary compensation for and what they are comprised of:
- Economic. Economic damages are the monetary losses that you suffered as a result of the medical malpractice event. These losses can be calculated from exact numbers associated with the documents you accumulate from your damages. Some of those documents include medical expenses as well as the cost of medication, treatment, rehabilitation, and medical devices. Medical mistakes can result in injuries that cause permanent damage, so you could include future care costs in your damages. If you missed work due to the injury, you could also include missed wages and pay you will also miss in the future from reduced or lost earning capacity.
- Noneconomic. These damages are more abstract than economic damages, and often don’t have a direct cost attributed to them. Noneconomic damages are calculated based off of the emotional or mental damages that you suffered from the incident. Some factors that go into calculating noneconomic damages are pain and suffering, emotional or mental distress, loss of enjoyment of life, and loss of consortium. The limit for noneconomic damages is $250,000, unless the injury is traumatic, which raises the limit to $500,000.
- Punitive. While this category of damages is rare, it is used to punish actions that are especially harmful. In cases of medical malpractice, punitive damages would be to recover from a doctor or other staff member’s gross negligence, egregious misconduct, or recklessness. In order to be awarded punitive damages in your med mal case, you’ll likely need to prove malicious intent by the doctor or medical professional who caused your injuries. These damages can be much higher than economic and noneconomic damages because they do not directly relate to the injury that was caused, instead they are all about intent, gross negligence, and punishing the wrongdoer. Punitive damages help deter this same situation from happening to another patient in the future.
These damages might sound complicated and hard to prove. That’s why you could use the help of a Charleston medical malpractice lawyer from DiPiero Simmons McGinley & Bastress, PLLC. We will guide you through the claims process and help you compile all the documents and other proof necessary to calculate a fair compensation amount for the various damages that you suffered from the incident of medical negligence.
Our Experienced Lawyers in Charleston Can Help
At DiPiero Simmons McGinley & Bastress, PLLC, we’re passionate about pursuing justice for all our clients. We can investigate your potential case to assess the impact of the injury on your life and can help you file a claim and obtain the compensation you need to move forward comfortably and recover from an incident that shouldn’t have occurred.
We may be able to assist you in pursuing damages for:
- Mental anguish
- Physical pain
- Additional medical bills
- Long term recovery costs
- Lost wages or earning capacity
Filing a medical malpractice lawsuit may additionally ensure that no other patients are harmed or injured the same way you were. Lawsuits send a message that hospitals and other medical institutions cannot ignore. That message states that patient care must come first. Hospital understaffing isn’t an acceptable excuse for negligence. Our state’s residents deserve better.
Lawsuits help ensure that mistakes are prevented. In the case of medical malpractice, a hospital that gets sued may require their employees to go through extra training or cut down on the number of patients each nurse or doctor oversees. They may also decide to place more of an importance on hiring more staff members or take a second look at their current hiring procedures. All these efforts, in turn, result in better patient care.
Consider hiring our team if you would like assistance with your case in West Virginia or have any questions we may be able to answer. Our dedicated attorneys will do everything they can to help you get the settlement you deserve. Contact our Charleston office to learn more.