Medical malpractice, or “med mal,” happens when a doctor or other licensed health care professional negligently treats a patient and that negligence results in injury to the patient. In addition to doctors, licensed health care professionals include physician assistants, nurses, nurse practitioners, pharmacists, anesthesiologists, chiropractors, and dentists. Hospitals and medical facilities can also be found guilty of medical malpractice for their own negligence, that of their employees.
Accidents and mistakes happen all the time. Many of these truly are accidents and result in no harm to the patient. In those cases, it is unlikely that medical malpractice has occurred. To rise to the level of medical malpractice there must be negligence. To establish a negligence claim the patient, or representative of someone who died, must show that:
- there was a doctor/provider-patient relationship;
- the patient was owed a duty of care by the doctor/provider;
- the doctor/provider violated that duty of care;
- the patient suffered an injury; and
- the injury was caused by the provider breaching the duty of care, or deviating from the expected standard of care expected.
Over the years a number of misconceptions have arisen about medical malpractice. The more common ones are discussed below.
Medical Errors Are Uncommon
Many people believe that medical errors happen rarely. The numbers tell a different story, and likely not the whole story. Deaths due to medical errors are usually not listed on death certificates and hospitals rarely track medical errors. Therefore the numbers that do exist are likely lower than the reality.
Studies vary, but estimates are that approximately 250,000 people die each year due to medical malpractice. Medical malpractice is believed to be the third highest cause of death in the United States, making your chances of being killed due to medical malpractice extremely high.
Medical Errors Cannot Be Avoided
Medical errors can be avoided. Studies have shown that more than 70% of medical errors can be prevented. Some common errors that can be avoided are:
- medication errors. Medication errors occur frequently and can arise in a number of situations. Medication errors can occur on the part of the doctor prescribing the medicine, the pharmacy filling a prescription or even during the manufacturing and packaging process. Doctor errors might include prescribing the wrong medication, prescribing the wrong dosage, overprescribing a medication, or failing to review how the medication might interact with other medications the patient is taking. On the part of the pharmacist it could involve labeling the drug incorrectly, or filling it with the wrong medication or dosage.
- improper treatment
- lab mixups
One of the most media attention garnering examples of medical malpractice in North Carolina occurred at Duke University Medical Center back in 2003 and involved the death of Jesica Santillan. Jesica was a 17-year old young woman from Mexico who had a heart condition that required a heart-lung transplant. After being unsuccessful in Mexico, her family smuggled her into the United States to try to get her a transplant. After 3 years on the donor waiting list, a heart and lungs became available. Near the end of the transplant surgery it was discovered that organs were actually blood type A. Jesica was type O. She was kept on life support while a search was undertaken for new organs. Surprisingly, new compatible organs became available; but it was too late. After undergoing another transplant, Jesica died. No one at Duke or the two organizations that obtained the organs had cross-checked the blood types before surgery.
Medical Malpractice Lawsuits are Frivolous
As mentioned above not every situation arises to medical malpractice and in a case where there is no injury to the patient, a medical malpractice lawsuit likely would be frivolous. However it is estimated that, like in the case of Jesica Santillan, 80% of medical malpractice lawsuits arise out of major injury or death. The other 20% are based on less severe injuries but, according to Harvard Health, 97% of medical malpractice lawsuits contain strong evidence of negligence on the part of a doctor, hospital, or other health care facility.
Medical malpractice lawsuits, like many lawsuits, can take years to get to trial and be resolved either at trial or through settlement. Therefore there is no advantage to a patient, or the family of a deceased patient, to file a frivolous claim. The reality is that most of those who are injured due to medical malpractice do not sue.
Filing Medical Malpractices Claims Result in Higher Healthcare Costs
Like all insurance, healthcare costs continue to rise. That is not a result of medical malpractice claims. Payouts for medical malpractice claims are actually very low, and account for less than 1% of total health care costs in the United States. Consider that medical errors themselves likely account for some of the costs of increased healthcare. For example, a doctor who misdiagnoses a condition has not solved the patient’s issue and that patient will need additional visits, tests, and possible medication or surgery to get to the proper diagnosis and treatment. As more tests and visits are needed, healthcare costs increase.
There is a Shortage of Doctors in States that Don’t Limit Medical Malpractice Lawsuits
The American Medical Association (AMA) has dispelled this myth. They report that in the past 50 years the number of doctors in the United States has more than doubled in spite of an increase in malpractice claims. In addition, they looked at states that have placed a cap (or limit) on damages in medical malpractice cases and determined that those states actually have less physicians per 100,000 people than states that have no caps.
North Carolina is a state that has a cap on medical malpractice in certain cases. As of January 2020, the cap for non-economic losses for medical malpractice cases was $562,338. See N.C. Gen Stat. §90-21.19.
Let Our Charlotte, North Carolina Medical Malpractice Attorneys Review Your Case
If you have a medical malpractice case, the Charlotte, NC based lawyers at Rosensteel Fleishman, PLLC are experienced attorneys who can help you understand your rights and whether or not there is negligence to proceed with a medical malpractice claim. Please contact our office at 704-714-1450. There is no fee for an initial consultation.