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Navigating Medical Malpractice Claims in North Carolina

Whether you seek medical help for a chronic issue, an emergency, or preventative care, you trust that the medical professional will give you the best care possible and that you will leave the facility in better shape than when you arrived. Unfortunately, mistakes happen and when they are caused by the negligence or carelessness of the people you have entrusted your life to, the consequences can have life-long repercussions.

Understanding Medical Malpractice

Medical malpractice is the legal term that is used when a healthcare provider, through a negligent act or omission, causes injury to a patient. These acts of negligence can range from errors in diagnosis and treatment to aftercare or health management. For example, a doctor may fail to diagnose a serious illness, a surgeon might perform an operation on the wrong body part or patient, or a nurse may administer the wrong medication. These errors can have life-altering consequences, and patients may be able to get compensation for the problems that arise as a result of these acts.

Not every situation which has an undesirable outcome is medical malpractice. This is why informed consent before a procedure is an important step in the treatment process; even when medical professionals act with the best possible care, things can go wrong. People who arrive at an emergency situation and act with the best intentions in the moment may also be exempt from medical malpractice.

The impact of medical malpractice has multiple pieces. It's not only the impact on the victim's physical health, but also their mental well-being and financial stability. The medical malpractice legal framework seeks to provide recourse for victims to recover damages, which may include compensation for medical costs, loss of income, pain, suffering, and even punitive damages in some especially negligent instances if the following pieces can be shown.

There are four parts to a possible medical malpractice case: Duty of Care, Breach of Duty, Causation, and Damages. Duty of care refers to the legal obligation of a healthcare provider to provide an acceptable standard of care to their patients. There is no state-wide or national “standard of care” metric, the law allows this to be based on the community in which the care is administered. This is because it is impossible to hold each medical facility to the same standard when equipment and available providers vary widely across the state.

A breach of duty means that the medical professional somehow did not provide an acceptable standard of care to their patient. This can take many forms, including things like a misdiagnosis, a surgical error, or the wrong dosage of administered medication. To prove that a breach of duty has occurred, it must be established that another reasonable healthcare provider with similar training and experience would have acted differently in similar circumstances. For example, if a patient goes to the emergency room with a set of symptoms that is a classic textbook presentation of early stroke symptoms, but they are evaluated and sent home with a diagnosis of heartburn, and then they suffer a large-scale stroke, this could be a case of misdiagnosis. Each case has a unique set of facts that has to be evaluated to determine if there was a breach of duty.

Next the plaintiff must prove that this breach of care caused them injury. Causation can be difficult to show because there are often multiple factors that contribute to a patient's condition. An experienced Charlotte medical malpractice attorney will enlist experts who can help identify and prove the cause-and-effect relationship between the healthcare provider's actions and the patient's injuries, helping to prove causation for their client. 

Calculating the damages that this breach of care has caused and will continue to cause in the future is not as straightforward as it may seem at first. Compensatory damages may include reimbursement for medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering. It's crucial to work with an experienced Charlotte medical malpractice attorney who can work with experts to help you navigate this process and ensure you receive fair compensation for your damages.

Medical Malpractice Laws in North Carolina

Medical malpractice laws are governed by NC General Statute § 90-21.11. In North Carolina, a medical malpractice lawsuit must be filed within three years from the date of the injury. But there are some exceptions to this because you might not know immediately that your care caused damage. In this case, you have 1 year from the time of the discovery of the problem to file a claim. But the action be filed more than four years from the last act of the defendant, or more than ten years in the case of damages sought by reason of a foreign object left in the body. This may seem like a long timeline, but when you are dealing with ongoing health issues, you may not have the additional time or energy to work through a medical malpractice claim alone.

North Carolina law also has specific requirements for the damages that can be awarded in these cases. There is no cap on economic damages, which cover direct costs like medical treatment and lost wages. For non-economic damages like pain, suffering, and emotional distress, the state has imposed a cap, which is adjusted for inflation every three years. As of January 1, 2023, the cap on noneconomic damages was reset to $656,730.

Furthermore, before a lawsuit is filed, North Carolina law requires the plaintiff to obtain an "affidavit of merit". This affidavit, signed by a qualified expert, must indicate that the claim has merit because the healthcare provider failed to meet the standard of care. A qualified expert witness must also testify to help establish whether the standard of care was indeed breached. The qualifications for this expert are also specified by the law and depend on the specific circumstances of the case. An experienced North Carolina medical malpractice firm has established relationships with experts in these fields and they know who to call and what to ask to make sure that the right people are reviewing your case and providing testimony.

The Medical Malpractice Claim Process with Rosensteel Fleishman Car Accident & Injury Lawyers

A medical malpractice claim typically follows several steps, starting from the initial consultation to potentially facing trial. 

The first step is to meet with a lawyer for a consultation. These consultations are usually free, but be sure to check on this before you meet with the lawyer so that you aren’t surprised by any fees. At Rosensteel Fleishman Car Accident & Injury Lawyers,  you will meet with one of our experienced medical malpractice attorneys who will gather facts about your case. This meeting helps us to understand what happened, evaluate the potential legal claim, and decide the best way to proceed. We recommend that you bring all relevant medical records and documentation to this meeting, which will allow us to make a more accurate assessment. 

If we decide to proceed with the claim, we will begin a comprehensive investigation. During this phase, our attorneys and medical experts will analyze medical records, interview any potential witnesses, and gather as much information as possible to construct a robust argument. The investigation's findings will help us establish whether the medical provider breached the standard of care, a critical element in a medical malpractice lawsuit. 

Once we gather sufficient evidence and have an expert review the facts of the case and agree that the standard of care was not upheld, we will file a formal lawsuit against the medical provider(s) in question. If you skip the step of having an expert review the files, your case may be dismissed and you may not be able to recover any damages for your suffering. After the lawsuit has been filed, we may enter into negotiations with the defendant's legal team. We will strive to reach a fair settlement to compensate for your medical expenses, loss of income, pain and suffering, and other relevant damages, without having to go to trial. However, we prepare every case as if it will go to trial, ensuring we're ready if negotiations don't result in a settlement.

Every personal injury lawsuit filed in North Carolina is required to go through mediation before it can go to trial. This means that a professional mediator will try to help both sides come to a settlement. They are not authorized to make decisions on the case, but it is much less expensive if the two sides can agree to some terms before it reaches court. If a settlement cannot be reached, we will represent you in court. Our attorneys, backed by their extensive experience, will present your case and fight for your rights. While a trial can be daunting, we will support you every step of the way, keeping you informed and involved.

Navigating a medical malpractice claim can be complex and stressful, but you don't have to do it alone. Our experienced medical malpractice legal team is here to guide you through each step of the process, fighting for your rights and the compensation you deserve. Call us today for a free consultation about your case and let Rosensteel Fleishman Car Accident & Injury Lawyers fight for you.

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