What is a medical malpractice case, and how often do such cases occur?
Every year, thousands of Massachusetts residents visit Massachusetts medical professionals to receive medical services. Such medical services range from simple routine evaluations and receiving prescriptions, to the most complicated surgical procedures. Massachusetts doctors, surgeons and other medical professionals hold the lives of our loved ones in their hands when administering a medication, conducting a surgery, providing a diagnosis, or performing other services. The medical diagnosis and treatment process is imperfect, however. For a number of reasons, medical mistakes occur far too frequently, and Massachusetts patients end up paying the price. If a Massachusetts medical professional has been negligent, and causes or augments an injury to a Massachusetts patient, then the medical professional should be held accountable and responsible for money damages, such as lost wages and pain and suffering.
Personal injuries that result from medical malpractice tend to vary a great deal. Every patient is different, and thus every medical malpractice case is different. However, some injuries and some mistakes tend to recur. Our expert Massachusetts attorneys have decades of experience in ascertaining whether a medical professional was negligent in performing or failing to perform some act that resulted in an injury. While medical malpractice tends to vary in its causes and results, the following medical malpractice cases are some of the more common:
- anesthesia mistakes;
- blood product mistakes;
- dental malpractice;
- delayed or misdiagnosed cancer;
- medication mistakes;
- placenta abruption;
- radiology mistakes;
- misread x-rays, CAT scans or CT scans;
- failure to properly monitor a patient;
- lack of a patient’s informed consent for a procedure;
- or surgical errors or an object left inside a patient following surgery.
According to the National Institute of Health, medical malpractice is one of the leading causes of death in the United States, claiming over 200,000 wrongful death victims each year. Medical malpractice, as a cause of death, is outpaced in frequency only by heart disease and cancer.
Out of the medical malpractice cases that occur every year, medication error cases are the most common, with as many as 400,000 medication mistake-related personal injuries taking place annually. Personal injuries related to medical malpractice take place more often in out-patient settings than in hospitalization settings, but medical malpractice injuries tend to be more severe if they occur during hospitalization.
Massachusetts patients are often entirely unaware of the legal issues surrounding medical malpractice and are also unaware of a patient’s rights with respect to filing a medical malpractice claim. As a result, the number of medical malpractice cases brought against medical services providers is significantly lower than the number of medical mistakes that actually occur.
According to a study by the Harvard Institute, only one out of approximately eight individuals who are negligently injured by a medical professional brings a medical malpractice claim.
Additionally, Massachusetts has special rules with regard to certain aspects of medical malpractice cases that make it even more difficult for a person to bring a medical mistake claim in court. Please call 617-787-3700 or email firstname.lastname@example.org, at any time of the day or night, to have an expert Massachusetts medical malpractice lawyer evaluate your medical malpractice claim in a completely free and absolutely confidential consultation.
A Massachusetts medical malpractice case is a special kind of personal injury case. The elements of the patient’s case, however, are the same as with many other personal injury cases. The elements consist of: (1) a showing of a duty of care; (2) a breach of that duty of care; (3) actual causation and foreseeability; and (4) damages to the patient. The patient has the burden of proving all of these elements by a preponderance of the evidence – namely, that it is more likely than not that each of the elements of the case is shown to have taken place. However, because of the technical and specialized nature of the medical profession, for every element of a medical mistake case, expert testimony may be needed. For example, an expert in a failure to diagnose cancer case may be needed to testify that the defendant doctor breached a duty that was owed to the plaintiff patient in failing to timely diagnose the cancer. Another expert may be needed to testify that the breach of the defendant doctor’s duty caused the patient’s chances of surviving cancer to be diminished. Yet another expert may be needed to testify as to the personal injury damages suffered by the patient as a result of the defendant doctor’s negligence. The realities of expert testimony proof in a medical malpractice case almost necessitate that the patient use a highly skilled and experienced Boston medical malpractice lawyer who knows how to prove the patient’s claim most effectively and at the least cost.
Massachusetts has a special statutory provision with regard to medical malpractice law, namely Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 231, Section 60H. Pursuant to this Massachusetts law, patients injured in a Massachusetts medical malpractice case can recover damages for hospital bills, rehabilitation expenses and lost wages. These damages are unlimited in amount. However, a damages cap of $500,000 is imposed on so-called “non-economic damages,” namely damages such as pain and suffering, and loss of companionship or embarrassment. For such damages, the patient can only recover up to the $500,000 limit. Under Massachusetts law, certain limited exceptions to the $500,000 cap on non-economic damages are permitted. In certain exceptional cases, such as a case of a serious or permanent loss of a bodily function or bodily impairment, the jury may award damages above the statutory limit for non-economic damages.
Massachusetts law also provides joint and several liability for medical malpractice defendants, vicarious liability and the collateral source rule. Under the joint and several liability rule, every defendant in a medical malpractice case is responsible for the entire amount of damages to the injured patient, even if the defendant did not cause the entire amount of damages. But a plaintiff can only recover such money damages once, and cannot recover the full amount of damages from multiple defendants at the same time. Under the vicarious liability rule, the employer of a negligent medical professional is responsible for the damages caused by the negligent employee.
This means that, in most cases, hospitals are also responsible to the patient for the damages caused by a negligent medical professional employed by the hospital. Under the collateral source rule, a negligent medical professional is not responsible for paying that portion of the damages that have been paid to the patient by an insurance provider, minus any premium costs to the patient. Finally, it is important to remember that Massachusetts plaintiffs in a negligence case can lose the right to recover all or a portion of the damages that are otherwise recoverable if the plaintiff negligently contributed to his or her own personal injuries.
Under the Massachusetts medical malpractice statute of limitations, a plaintiff generally has 3 years from the date of the injury, or last treatment related to the malpractice, to bring a medical malpractice claim. In the special circumstance that a Massachusetts surgeon or surgical assistant left an object inside the patient, the discovery rule applies. This allows the statute of limitations to start running only when the patient discovers or should have discovered the object. A case also cannot be brought more than 7 years after the act or omission by the medical professional that causes the injury, except in the case of a foreign object left inside the patient.
In some particularly tragic cases, Massachusetts patients suffer a wrongful death as a result of Massachusetts medical malpractice. A wrongful death case against a Massachusetts medical professional contains many of the same elements as an ordinary negligence case resulting in non-fatal injuries. The wrongful death damages that can be sought by the plaintiff can also include loss of support, society and affection and loss of companionship. A wrongful death case based on medical malpractice must be brought by the administrator or executor of the deceased patient’s estate. Our Boston, MA wrongful death lawyers and Boston, MA personal injury lawyers are here 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, at 617-787-3700, to provide you with a free and confidential consultation regarding your wrongful death medical malpractice case. In these tragic circumstances, turn to our expert Boston personal injury lawyer professionals. Call 617-787-3700 or email email@example.com today.