If you or someone you love has been injured by a doctor, you should also contact an attorney. However, you must realize that they may not take your case. The standard of proof for medical malpractice is much higher than most people realize. It is not possible to file a lawsuit over just anything and expect a multi-million dollar payout. But you should talk to an experienced malpractice attorney to see what they can do with your case and also to see if they can help you with dealing with the doctors or hospitals after the incident.
It is not easy to get a full picture of the increase in medical malpractice cases in South Africa, as there is no central register. Cases can be settled in court, out of court or via mediation. If matters are settled out of court or via mediation, there is no public record of compensation. However, if all sources of information are collated, it would certainly appear that both the number and levels of claims are increasing, and this is affecting the overall cost of health care in the country, including what you pay for medical scheme cover.
However, bringing a lawsuit is not for everyone. Weigh your options. If your fear of “looking bad” to family or friends outweighs your desire to bring a malpractice suit against your doctor for an injury he caused you or a loved one, bringing a suit may not be the best option for you. On the other hand, if your need or want to bring suit against your doctor outweighs your fear, taking action against your physician may be the right choice for you.
When it comes to lawsuits over misdiagnosis, plaintiffs need to follow the same steps for proving medical malpractice as in any other kind of case. It must be shown that, in failing to accurately diagnose a harmful health condition, the doctor failed to demonstrate the level of skill that a similarly-trained and experienced doctor would have shown under the circumstances.
Medical malpractice cases can be complex. It can sometimes take a medical expert to understand what really happened. Yet it is a jury of non-medical people who will decide whether you win or lose your malpractice case. Your lawyer and your medical expert witness must be able to present difficult medical issues to the jury in a way that is easily understandable and that makes common sense.
In most states, first responders in a medical emergency situation (such as an EMT or a firefighter) are protected from lawsuits unless the first responder does something reckless or intentional. This protection for first responders does not apply to emergency rooms in hospitals, although in some states an emergency room doctor must act with gross negligence to be held liable for harm that occurs before the patient is stabilized.
As we reported, the medical malpractice system often discriminates against certain patients, particularly those with low incomes. Those who can’t get representation — often women, children or the elderly — are sometimes called the “hidden victims” of medical malpractice. Studies show that the problem isn’t limited to states that have strict limits on malpractice awards.
A misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis itself is not evidence of negligence. Skillful doctors can and do make diagnostic errors even when using reasonable care. The key is determining whether the doctor acted competently, which involves an evaluation of what the doctor did and did not do in arriving at a diagnosis. This means looking at the "differential diagnosis" method the doctor used in making treatment determinations.
However, our legal system is set up in such a way where monetary damages is not only a way to compensate persons for lost wages, medical bills, and pain and suffering; it is also there as a way to hold doctors accountable for their actions. Without the threat of monetary sanctions and lawsuits, doctors would lose some motivation for conducting their professional lives in a careful and cautious manner. Furthermore, if you doctor did negligently injure you or a loved one, bringing suit against him may serve as a wakeup call and could possibly prevent him from injuring someone else in the future.
Most people are uncomfortable talking about their injuries. No one likes to be thought of as a whiner or complainer. I find that even my most severely injured clients are wary to openly discuss the full weight and burden that their injuries take on them. It’s understandable that if you have a scar from a surgery or accident that you may not like to discuss the fact that it makes you uncomfortable when strangers stare at it or friends or colleagues ask you what happened. Victims of injury do not often desire to sit and truly reflect on the extent that their injuries have had on their lives. Even so, little vignettes or stories illustrating how someone’s life was like before and then after an accident is crucial in demonstrating to the jury the magnitude of your loss.
Some of the most commonly misdiagnosed diseases are heart attacks and blood clots, infections or tumors. Misdiagnosis can delay treatment and can even be fatal. Mistakes are shockingly common when medication is administered, and surgical mistakes happen way too often. Sometimes doctors operate on the wrong body part, or on the wrong person entirely! The same formula above can be useful in trying to calculate the value of your medical malpractice case.
Because emotional distress cannot be seen or objectively quantified, it may be harder to get money for this type of injury compared to, for example, a broken arm. In many cases, emotional distress is part of a harassment case, such as sexual harassment or another form of workplace harassment. A medical misdiagnosis may cause emotional distress, as well.
If you don’t file a medical malpractice claim or lawsuit against your doctor within the prescribed time period, absent some exceptional circumstances you will be barred from seeking monetary compensation for the injuries and damages you sustained. A medical malpractice lawyer should know the statute of limitations deadline in your jurisdiction and can work to make sure that a claim or lawsuit is filed in your case in a timely manner.
Ensuring that you have the necessary documentary evidence—medical records; witness statements to establish the full scope of your pain and suffering; and expert testimony to verify your injuries and the pain they are causing you—are matters that we have years of experience handling. Before and after witnesses are those individuals who knew you both before and after the incident giving rise to your injuries and are equipped to testify regarding how the accident has impacted you from their perspective. A spouse or significant other is typically an obvious ‘before and after’ witnesses because they live with you day in and out, taking notice of your physical pain and condition.
Ways an accident has affected you can be very personal in nature. For instance, an injury victim may have been a member of a bowling league with her spouse for twenty years prior to an accident occurring. They bowled together every Thursday evening with their friends and this weekly ritual became a cornerstone of bonding in their marriage. Following the accident however, the injury victim suffered neck injuries that prevented her from being able to bowl. She begins to feel isolated from her spouse and her friends. Thursday evenings are now spent utilizing heating pads and taking prescription narcotics in attempts to alleviate the pain.
If you suffer an injury or illness after medical treatment, and it was a known risk that your doctor did not tell you about before you agreed to the treatment, it could be malpractice. A court will consider whether a reasonable person would have consented to the treatment if they had been told of the risks. In some cases, the failure to get any consent at all may also be an assault or battery. If you have experienced an assault during medical treatment, you can contact the police.
Not every mistake or bad result means there was negligence—doctors and healthcare providers are not liable for every mistake. The law realizes that doctors often have to make quick decisions without the best information. The key question is this: did the doctor make a reasonable decision that other reasonable doctors would have made in the same situation—even if later it turns out to be the wrong decision that caused a bad result. For example, you complain to your doctor of severe head pain. They pay attention and examine you. They carefully take your medical history, listen to you describe your symptoms, and order the right tests. Using the results of this examination, they decide that you have an ordinary tension headache that will go away. Later, it turns out that your doctor was wrong, and the pain was not caused by a tension headache. The doctor’s diagnosis was wrong. But your doctor still provided the proper standard of care, the same care that other doctors would have provided in this case. The doctor was not negligent and you probably won’t win if you sue the doctor for malpractice.
Malpractice lawyers decline cases because potential compensation doesn’t justify legal costs, Knutsen says. It only makes sense to accept “high-value cases,” meaning those with potentially big claims. The decision rests on the “entirely distasteful” exercise of calculating the value of a life. “It’s cheaper to kill someone than to maim them. In our legal system, as long as you are alive, you have a claim for income loss and pain and suffering. If you’re dead, those claims expire,” Knutsen says.
In the early stages of the process, the most important thing is finding out who to contact at the insurance company. A claim will not be processed right away because it's important to learn about all the medical expenses before attempting any calculations. Injured parties don't typically wish to risk anything uncovered in their eventual settlements.
Expert testimony is required. Expert opinions are often a crucial feature of the patient's case. A qualified expert is usually required at trial. (And often, expert testimony or an expert affidavit is required at the malpractice review panel proceedings prior to commencing trial.) State rules vary as to what makes somebody qualified to provide expert medical testimony, but generally it is someone with experience in the particular field at issue. In a very limited number of circumstances, expert testimony is not required, such as when a surgical towel is left inside the patient after a surgery.