Defining medical negligence is tricky, as the concept looks different in different cases. Proving medical negligence can be equally tricky, as not all medical mistakes arise to negligence.
Medical negligence is ordinarily defined as the improper or careless treatment of a patient by a healthcare provider, including a doctor, nurse, surgeon, or another medical professional. When an unjustifiable mistake results in harm, the injured patient can pursue a medical malpractice lawsuit. Personal injury claims arising from medical negligence are some of the most challenging cases our Baltimore personal injury attorneys handle. Because a patient’s outcome is never guaranteed, proving medical negligence is difficult. If you suffered an infection after surgery, your surgeon or another medical professional might not necessarily be guilty of medical malpractice.
Contact the offices of Rice, Murtha & Psoras by calling (443) 508-7927 and schedule a free case review with our Maryland medical malpractice lawyers.
Medical Malpractice in Maryland
Negligence is a common legal theory used to establish fault and liability in a personal injury lawsuit. Often thought of as “carelessness” or “recklessness,” legally, the concept of negligence encompasses much more. Medical negligence is a bit tricky to pin down, as medical treatment is often an inherently risky process.
To hold another party financially liable for your injuries or damages, you must demonstrate that their actions were more than careless. For example, in a car accident, you will attempt to prove that another motorist was to blame. However, our Bel Air personal injury attorneys must prove their actions were negligent to hold them legally liable. To do this, the available evidence must prove four separate elements: duty of care, breach of duty, causation, and damages.
These same elements apply in cases of medical malpractice where medical negligence has occurred. However, medical negligence also requires that we prove the doctor deviated from standards of care and the care you received was so subpar as to be dangerous.
You should speak to a lawyer about injuries you received during medical care, as medical negligence is difficult to define. In some cases, patients experience pain, discomfort, and complications during treatment, but there is no actual medical negligence.
When is Medical Care Considered Malpractice in Maryland?
Medical professionals, including physicians, surgeons, nurses, technicians, and other healthcare providers, owe a duty of care to their patients. Typically, this duty is described as providing a level of medical care that complies with the standard of care a skilled and reasonably competent medical professional with similar training would provide under comparable circumstances.
When a medical professional deviates from the standard of care, their actions could constitute medical negligence and be grounds for a medical malpractice claim. Medical negligence might involve negligent actions taken by a doctor that injures a patient. It might also involve a failure to act when a reasonable healthcare provider would step in and take action.
It is also important to note that medical negligence is deeply rooted in standards of care. Much like the concept of medical negligence, standards of medical care are difficult to define. Standards might differ based on the type of treatment a patient receives and other underlying health conditions. A course of treatment that meets the standard of care for one patient might fall below these standards for another patient.
When is Medical Care Not Considered Malpractice in Maryland?
Not every negative outcome of treatment is medical negligence. Just because your doctor misdiagnosed your condition or you experienced negative complications after surgery does not prove you were the victim of medical negligence. Medical treatment is often risky, and outcomes are never guaranteed, so it is important to look at each case independently and draw the line on what constitutes “malpractice” or “negligence” in each case.
As stated above, medical negligence occurs when a medical professional deviates from the acceptable level of medical care. Being misdiagnosed can be frustrating, but it is not always a result of medical negligence. If other doctors would have come up with the same diagnosis based on your symptoms and available test results, your doctor might have provided an acceptable level of care. Just because one or more doctors would have correctly diagnosed your condition is not necessarily proof that you were the victim of medical malpractice.
Medical negligence surrounding a misdiagnosis becomes increasingly difficult to prove when a patient has a rare condition or a condition that mimics other diseases or disorders. If your condition is rare, many doctors might be unfamiliar, and a misdiagnosis might not rise to the level of medical negligence. Similarly, a misdiagnosis might not be negligence if your symptoms apply to various conditions.
Nonetheless, victims of misdiagnosis can often prove that what happened to them was indeed malpractice. In many cases, misdiagnosis involves not only a wrongful diagnosis that leaves the underlying condition untreated but also unnecessary treatment for a condition you do not have.
The term “complication” is common in medicine and refers to instances when a patient’s condition is made worse or more difficult by external or unexpected conditions. For example, an infection after surgery might be considered a complication. Complications are often hard to predict, and proving that your complication resulted from medical negligence might be difficult.
While doctors try to prepare for complications they might reasonably expect, many others are total surprises. For example, patients often react differently to medication based on things like underlying health conditions and body chemistry. It is possible that you experienced severe medical complications after taking the prescribed medication. If your doctor had no reason to expect such complications, their actions might not consist of medical negligence.
Even so, complications can rise to the level of medical malpractice if the doctor committed errors or mistakes that made those complications happen. Sometimes, doctors try to pass off mistakes as “mere complications,” but these could still be malpractice. Always double-check the doctor’s opinion by getting a second opinion from another physician and having our Baltimore medical malpractice lawyers review your case.
Not Deviating from Acceptable Care
Our Harford County, MD medical malpractice lawyers will turn to medical experts when trying to prove medical negligence. A medical expert will offer their professional opinion explaining how your doctor’s conduct diverged from the acceptable level of medical care. For example, a medical expert might conclude that a reasonably skilled general practitioner would have ordered a specific series of tests given your symptoms. The test results would have confirmed your condition.
To prevail in a medical negligence case, our office must show that a medical professional failed to provide an acceptable level of care, not just that the outcome was negative. Negative outcomes often occur despite the fact that a doctor provided the best care possible. If the doctor did everything right, then there is no malpractice, even with a bad outcome.
Ultimately, a jury is left to decide whether there was malpractice or not in your case. Both sides will usually present experts who will explain why this case does or does not constitute malpractice, and the jury will make the ultimate decision.
How to Prove Medical Malpractice in Maryland
In order to succeed in a medical malpractice claim, you need to prove that the doctor was actually negligent and that what they did was not just a mere complication or impossible diagnosis like those discussed above. Instead, you have to provide affirmative proof that what happened meets the legal elements of negligence, including that you suffered harm because of the mistakes.
“Negligence” as a legal concept is a very specific thing. When you file a lawsuit, you must choose a “cause of action” under which you bring the case. Sometimes this can be for an “intentional tort” like assault or battery, but most injury cases are going to be brought as a claim of “negligence.” This is the typical base claim for medical malpractice cases, which is why the term “medical negligence” is often applied.
Any legal claim has elements that you must show in order to win your case. In a negligence case, the elements are duty, breach, causation, and damages. More specifically, in the context of a medical malpractice case, you have to first prove that the doctor owed you a duty. This is usually established by the nature of the doctor-patient relationship. Then, you must show that their care deviated from the standard of care, breaching that duty. Third, you must show that the deviation was what actually caused your injuries, and lastly that you suffered damages.
All in all, negligence is the core difference between an honest mistake or an unfortunate complication and actual malpractice. As discussed in some of the examples above, a deviation from the standard of care is usually sufficient to prove the first two elements of negligence (breach and damages).
Proving You Suffered Harm
You cannot bring a medical malpractice case if you did not actually suffer harm from the medical care. In many cases, the harm is complex or not particularly obvious, but you can sue for many different areas of damages in medical malpractice cases.
The first and most obvious harm you could suffer is actual injury. If a doctor nicked an artery, damaged a nerve, made an extra incision in the wrong place, cut too deep, or amputated the wrong limb, there is a direct, clear injury.
Alongside injuries and mistakes like this, you often suffer harm in the form of additional medical care costs to make up for the doctor’s mistakes. These financial harms can be compensated alongside other economic damages, such as increased lost wages from having to take more recovery time away from work.
With many misdiagnosis cases, the harm you suffer is known as a “lost chance.” If you have a medical condition that should have been diagnosed and treated earlier, but your doctor missed it, the condition could get worse. By the point that it is properly diagnosed and treatment finally begins, the condition could be worse. Especially with misdiagnosis for things like cancer, lost time in treating the condition could mean that your life expectancy is shorter or that the condition is now too far advanced to cure. This lost chance at recovery, lost lifespan, and lost future can be grounds for compensation.
To win any court case, you need evidence. Evidence in a medical malpractice case comes in many forms, but most commonly in the form of testimony about what happened during your care, medical records and documentary evidence, and expert witness testimony.
The nurses, doctors, hospital staff, and patient can all testify about what happened. In many cases, you will be able to testify about the lead-up to the medical mistake, but you might not have the medical expertise to testify about the ins and outs of your diagnosis, the treatments you received, and the mistakes that occurred. However, the nurses, doctors, and other staff might know more about what happened as it happened. Especially if you were unconscious and the mistakes happened during surgery, the records and evidence will all be in the medical team’s hands. Eyewitnesses can be put on the stand and questioned about the events.
Medical records and other documentary evidence of what happened can fill in the gaps and support your claims. They can also be used to contradict doctors and care providers who lie on the stand or insist they cannot remember what happened.
In most medical malpractice cases, you will also need expert witnesses to testify as to how the care deviated from the standard of care and whether what happened to you was indeed out of the ordinary or unreasonable. This usually means hiring a doctor who works in the same field to review your case and produce an expert witness report explaining that the care was wrong and that it constitutes malpractice. The defense will usually have its own experts, too, so it is up to the jury to pick which expert seems more accurate.
How Can a Maryland Medical Malpractice Lawyer Help Your Case?
Determining medical negligence for the purposes of a malpractice case is rarely easy. An attorney can help you find the right doctors and medical experts to shed some light on your situation and whether negligence played a role. Your attorney can also help you through the complex legal procedures involved in getting your case to court.
Consulting Medical Experts
One of the many requirements for medical malpractice cases in Maryland is a certificate from a qualified expert. This certificate is like a seal of approval from another medical expert who believes that your doctor’s treatment fell below the standards of care.
The key is getting the right expert to provide the certificate. Courts prefer certificates from experts whose background is in a relevant medical field. For example, if you are suing a hospital for complications from heart surgery, you might need a cardiothoracic surgeon to review your case.
Finding Further Medical Care
Another important step is getting medical care to correct the negligent treatment you received previously. Sometimes, a different doctor can provide better treatment and help you fully recover. In other cases, a doctor can try to repair as much harm as possible, but some injuries might have permanent complications.
Filing a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit
Filing a medical malpractice case takes time, effort, and skill. The legal procedures are complicated, and mistakes could cost you the entire case. An attorney can help you find medical experts to assist you while navigating the complex procedures imposed by the court.
Our Maryland Medical Malpractice Attorneys Handle Complex Medical Negligence Cases
Reach our team at the offices of Rice, Murtha & Psoras by calling (443) 508-7927 and schedule a free case review with our Maryland personal injury lawyers.