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Although hospitals are supposed to be the place people go to in order to get better, it’s an unfortunate truth that sometimes situations can instead go from bad to worse there. Although the nature of these issues can stem from a variety of sources, such as a doctor’s genuine mistake, clear ineptitude, or some other external factor; the end result can still have a serious impact on the patient’s health regardless of the cause. While medical malpractice claims should always be handled by a knowledgeable West Virginia personal injury lawyer, it’s worth going over some of the basics anyway. Once you understand the intricacies of these cases, you can decide for yourself whether you need the expertise of a West Virginia personal injury lawyer for your own claim.
The Central Points of a Medical Malpractice Claim
There are four main points to any malpractice claim: that there was a clear relationship between the doctor and patient, that the care provided to the patient by the doctor fell below the medical standard of care, that there was a clear connection between the care provided and the harm that resulted, and that the harm that resulted was significant enough to the patient to be quantifiable.
Although there is plenty of room for ambiguity within each of these points, they are the primary components of every malpractice claim. It’s important to note that the burden of proof lies with the patient in these cases, which means they are responsible for proving each of these points in a satisfactory manner. If a patient is unable to satisfactorily prove each of these claims, then they will not be awarded any damages at the conclusion of the malpractice case. It’s precisely for this reason that having a knowledgeable lawyer by your side is so important. Since these types of cases typically have a lot of nuance, having someone that has a deep understanding of the rules and regulations associated with medical care can be the difference between a successful claim and a lost one.
Establishing a Doctor-Patient Relationship
This may seem like an obvious point, but doctors are only responsible for a diagnosis or treatment that they give to an actual patient. If you’re at a party and a doctor says something offhandedly, you cannot turn around and then hold them liable for any harm that came from the “off the clock” advice. If you instead spoke with a doctor at a hospital as their patient though, then their actions are certainly open to closer scrutiny. This is typically the easiest part of a malpractice case to prove, or at least it should be, in theory.
Examining the Medical Standard of Care
Unlike the doctor-patient relationship, coming to an agreement on the accepted medical standard of care is much more difficult. This is because there isn’t an easily defined or accepted standard that can be easily referenced across all courtrooms. In proving a medical standard of care, the main concern is whether another health care professional in a similar situation would have pursued the same treatment or diagnosis as the doctor involved in the claim.
Since the medical standard of care involves exploring what other health care professionals would do, it should come as no surprise that this stage of the case often involves other health care professionals. Typically, the patient’s lawyer will bring in a medical expert to explain their own thought-process to the court. By providing an alternate insight into the events that led to the malpractice, a medical expert can have a significant impact on the outcome of a claim.
Of course, it’s not enough for a medical expert to simply have some knowledge of a specific treatment or diagnosis. One of the main points behind a medical standard of care is whether a doctor of a similar background would make the same decisions as the one involved in the case. As a result of this specificity, the medical expert involved on the plaintiff’s side will often be one from the same area and who practices the same field of medicine. This ensures greater accuracy in exploring the necessary steps involved in the correct treatment, and it also serves to create a sharper contrast between the correct method and the incorrect one used by the defendant.
Presenting a Connection Between Negligence and Harm
Although a large part of a case hinges on highlighting any breaches in the medical standard of care, that may not always be enough for a claim to hold up in court. In addition to proving any breaches, the plaintiff must also prove that any negligence on the doctor’s part led to actual harm for the patient. This can sometimes be difficult, especially if a lot of the “damage” is emotional rather than physical. In fact, the harm that a patient experiences must be measurable beyond simply existing, but we’ll discuss that in more detail later.
When discussing any acts of negligence on the doctor’s part, it’s not enough to simply prove that they behaved in appropriately given their knowledge and background. In addition, the plaintiff must prove that it was precisely because of the doctor’s inappropriate actions that they experienced direct harm. Although this sounds difficult to prove, there is a certain amount of leeway afforded to patients. For instance, if a doctor’s misdiagnosis led to a patient’s continued suffering of an ailment, then that negligence can qualify for malpractice, even though the doctor didn’t cause the ailment.
To put it another way, malpractice primarily seeks to financially make amends for any medical actions that previously led to a decline in a patient’s health. This gives malpractice a wide berth from which to work and address issues, which also means that there are plenty of opportunities for malpractice claims that people simply have no idea about. It’s for this reason that contacting a lawyer is recommended, as they can provide a greater insight into your specific case than you might otherwise discover on your own without any outside help.
Proving Patient Harm
Finally, the arguably most important component of a malpractice claim is proving that the patient suffered real damage from the doctor’s actions. As previously mentioned, this can sometimes be difficult, as the pain experienced by the patient must be quantifiable. This is because the pain experienced by the patient is then used as a measure for the financial damages awarded in the case of a victorious claim. If the damage can’t be appropriately proven, then there is nothing for the court to base their damages on to award the plaintiff. This also means that it’s important for you to keep thorough records after an operation, so that you can prove any damages should the need arise.
Bringing It All Together
If, after reviewing these different points, you feel that you might have a medical malpractice case, then your next step should be to contact a personal injury lawyer. With their expertise, you can determine your next steps and ensure that your case is as strong as it can be.
While this guide does cover a lot of the broader points commonly associated with malpractice claims, it is by no means exhaustive. There are still plenty of intricacies that are not covered here, including the problems that can arise from a person getting an out-of-state treatment or diagnosis. Although this guide doesn’t have the answer to specific questions like that, these are the type of questions that you should definitely bring to an attorney. A skilled attorney that has extensive malpractice knowledge can work with you through all of your case’s specific points, and can also help to address any concerns or reservations that you might personally have about your claim.
If you’re worried about the potential cost of hiring a lawyer for a malpractice case, you really shouldn’t be. Our services are offered based on a contingency fee, meaning that we don’t get paid unless your claim is successful. In fact, this is how most malpractice attorneys operate, regardless of which state they’re located in. So, if you think you might have experienced malpractice in the past, based on the points discussed above, then it’s time to contact an attorney and start exploring possible options. We want to help you make things right, especially if it means helping to protect other patients from being similarly mistreated in the future.
Jan Dils, Attorneys at Law