Q:

What happens if I am injured in the course of medical treatment?

A:

If a medical professional makes an error that results in injury to the patient, the patient may be able to sue the negligent party or parties for monetary damages to compensate him or her for the medical injury. Medical malpractice claims arise when a health care professional or organization provides unskilled or negligent treatment that results in injury to the patient. The underlying basis for a medical malpractice claim is that you sustain an injury as a result of treatment that falls below the accepted standard of medical care for that particular field of professional expertise.

Some examples of medical malpractice include incorrect diagnosis or failure to diagnose, failure to treat, improper treatment, delay in treatment, prescription errors, surgical errors, foreign object left in the body, failure to properly monitor a patient, failure to order necessary tests, birth injuries, rendition of services without informed consent, etc.

Q:

How do I know if my injury constitutes medical malpractice?

A:

Medical professionals are not expected to be infallible and there may be poor results from treatment that do not amount to malpractice. Medical professionals are expected to exercise the basic knowledge, skills, and care ordinarily possessed and exercised by other members of the profession acting under similar conditions and circumstances. This basic knowledge and skill is called a standard of practice, or standard of care. When a medical professional treats a patient and fails to use this basic knowledge, skill, and care whether the failure consists of doing something incorrectly, or failing to do something that should be done, that failure is a deviation from the standard of practice or care.

The injured party has the burden of proving that the health care provider negligently failed to meet the applicable professional standard of care for that health care provider. That means the health care provider failed to act as a reasonably prudent health care provider in Ohio would under similar circumstances. Health care providers are judged in comparison with similarly trained and qualified providers of the same class in the same community and in the same field of medical specialization. Likewise, a hospital owes their patients a duty of ordinary care to provide equipment and facilities reasonably suited to the intended uses and such as are in general use in similar hospitals under similar circumstances. The injured patient must then prove that the health care provider’s breach of the standard of care was a proximate cause of the injuries to the patient. In other words, there must be a close connection between the action of the health care provider and the harm to the patient. Finally, you have to show what damages resulted form the alleged mistake. This may include medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, etc.

Expert testimony is required in most cases to establish a breach of the prevailing standard of care. Claimants are required to file a certificate of merit including a statement indicating either that the claimant has an expert witness who will attest to the case’s merits or that the case is of such a nature that expert testimony is not necessary. Medical malpractice claims are very difficult to prevail in and are also extremely expensive partly due to the need for qualified expert review and testimony. Whether or not you have a good case depends on the professional judgment of attorneys and medical experts. If you are told that you do not have a case with merit, you should seek another opinion from one or more other attorneys.

Q:

Is there a time limit in which I need to file a lawsuit for medical malpractice?

A:

The law requires that you file a lawsuit within a specified period of time depending on the nature of the claim and the entity that caused your injury. This is referred to as the statute of limitations. Failure to file suit within this time frame prevents you from filing suit at all. In some instances, there are various exceptions to the statutes of limitation that may extend or limit the limitation periods. There may be special claims presentation requirements for claims against state and local government. For these reasons, it is important to consult an attorney as early as possible to be sure you don’t miss a crucial deadline.

A medical malpractice action generally must be brought within one year from the date the cause of action accrues. The cause of action accrues when the claimant discovers the injury or reasonably should have discovered the injury, or when the physician-patient relationship for that condition terminates. No action may be brought more than six years after the alleged wrongful act, but if the injury is discovered in the last year of the six-year period, the action may be brought within one year of discovery. When a claimant is a minor, of unsound mind, or imprisoned the limitation period is tolled until the disability is removed.

Q:

Who can be held accountable for the medical malpractice?

A:

Generally, a medical malpractice claim can be brought against a licensed health care provider. This can include a person, corporation, facility or institution licensed by the state to provide health care or professional services, or an officer, employee, or agent thereof acting in the course and scope of his employment. A claim can be brought against physicians, dentists, nurses, therapists, technicians, hospitals, and pharmacists, among others. A physician commits medical malpractice if he fails to act in the same manner a reasonably prudent physician in the same field of medicine would act under the same circumstances. Nurses, therapists and other health care providers, and the hospitals or clinics they work for, can be held responsible for their failure to meet accepted standards of care in their particular field. In Ohio, under certain circumstances, a hospital may be held liable for the negligent acts of non-employed physicians.

Q:

Does signing a consent form waive my rights to file a lawsuit for medical malpractice?

A:

Signing a consent form in and of itself does not waive your rights. It is possible that the consent form does not contain all of the relevant information that it should or it may have been signed without adequate explanation. Even if you signed a consent form, you did not consent to substandard medical care. A doctor’s failure to meet the acceptable standard of care is not the same as consenting to the normal risks of a procedure.

Q:

How much can I expect an attorney to charge to handle a medical malpractice case?

A:

Most attorneys who believe a case has merit will take the case without payment up front. They will take the case on a contingency basis, which means they will receive a percentage of your award if and when you recover for your injuries. Contingency fees average between 25 and 40 percent. Most attorneys charge a smaller percentage if the case is settled before the attorney does all the work necessary to go to trial. If you and your attorney agree to a contingency fee, the attorney must put the agreement in writing and provide you with a signed copy. Some attorneys may charge an hourly fee or a flat fee for their services.

Out of pocket expenses include such things as filing fees, deposition fees, expert witness fees, exhibit costs, copying charges, and other similar expenses. The attorney’s out of pocket costs are, in many cases, not included in the attorney’s fees. You should be sure to pay attention to how an attorney will bill you for costs. In a medical malpractice case, these expenses can be quite high due to the need for expert testimony and because they are hard fought cases, which in many cases do not settle until they have been thoroughly litigated. Many attorneys will decline a case unless there is potential for a substantial verdict or settlement.

Q:

What damages can be recovered for medical malpractice?

A:

As a victim of medical malpractice, you can sue for your injuries and all of the direct consequences of those injuries. Actual damages refers to the amount of money it would take to fully compensate you and place you in the same position you would have been in had the injury never taken place. You can recover your actual economic losses such as the costs of reasonable and necessary medical care, rehabilitative services, costs of domestic services, and loss of earnings. The law allows compensation for future medical and care expenses that the claimant can prove will be reasonably necessary to treat the injury caused by the malpractice. The claim may include income the claimant can prove will probably be lost in the future because of the injuries. Loss of earning capacity is also allowed when the patient proves he or she is less able to earn a living as a result of the injuries caused by the malpractice.

You are also entitled to non-economic damages for physical pain and suffering, mental and emotional suffering, physical impairment, inconvenience, disfigurement, loss of enjoyment of life, loss of consortium (disruption of your personal relationship with your spouse), etc. There is no definite standard of calculating reasonable compensation for these types of damages other than being just and reasonable in light of the evidence. Non-economic damages are limited to the greater of $250,000 or three times economic damages up to a maximum of $500,000. For permanent and substantial injuries, the limits increase to the greater of 1,000,000 or $35,000 times the claimant’s remaining life expectancy.

In certain instances, damages may be awarded to families of injured claimants for loss of care, companionship, love and affection. Family members can be compensated for the wrongful death of a loved one. These damages may include medical and burial expenses, loss of income that would have supported the family members, and contributions the deceased would have made in the way of comfort, assistance, advice, protection, companionship, etc.

Punitive damages are intended to punish a defendant and deter others from similar conduct. Punitive damages may be awarded only if the claimant proves that the defendant acted with malice or intent, not just negligence. Punitive damages may not exceed three times the amount of compensatory damages or $100,000. Punitive damage awards against corporate defendant are limited to three times compensatory damages or $250,000. Political subdivisions are immune form liability for punitive damages.

Q:

How can I determine how much my claim is worth?

A:

Attorneys are prohibited from promising that they will obtain a certain amount of money for you. For purposes of settlement, a claim is valued upon an estimate of what a jury would likely believe the case to be worth, taking into account the severity of the injury, the effects of the injury on your life and the negligence of the other party. If you were partially at fault for the accident, the amount of damages will be reduced proportionately. Benefits received from some collateral sources may be used to reduce your recoverable economic damages. Any settlement will be reduced if there appears to be a good chance that the claim will not be successful. Other factors that may reduce the damages include past medical history, pre-existing injuries, and prior claims history.

Considerable compensation may be commanded if your injuries are severe requiring extensive medical treatment, absences from work and permanent injuries. This is especially true if you were a healthy, productive, young worker prior to the accident. That is because an important factor in the value of your claim is the difference between your quality of life before the accident as compared to after the accident.