When someone goes to the hospital or a doctor’s office, they have the right to expect adequate care. Unfortunately, not everyone receives the proper care. Medical malpractice is the third leading cause of death in the United States. Roughly 195,000 patients die due to medical errors every year.
Around 2 percent of medical malpractice victims file a claim. The reasons why so many people do not pursue a case are different for each person. Sometimes, victims do not file a case because they run out of time.
If you were a victim of medical malpractice, ask a lawyer when the statute of limitations expires for your case, because after that, you can no longer file a claim.
The Common Causes of Medical Malpractice
Every step of the health care process can lead to medical malpractice if a care provider is negligent. Medical malpractice happens when a care provider violates the applicable standard of care, meaning that they must provide care that meets the same standard as the care that other competent providers would offer in similar situations. If a care provider does not meet the applicable standard of care, the patient can suffer an injury. A patient may have a medical malpractice case if they can prove their injury was due to a provider’s substandard care.
Medical malpractice can occur in a variety of ways. Some common causes are:
- Misdiagnosis. The most common cause of medical malpractice is misdiagnosis. One report found that around 46 percent of claims had to do with misdiagnosis.
- Healthcare-acquired infection. The CDC reports that an estimated 31 patients acquire an infection in a healthcare setting on any given day. Healthcare-acquired infections can include urinary tract infections from a catheter, bloodstream infections from injections and IVs, and ventilator-related pneumonia. Healthcare-acquired infections sometimes justify a medical malpractice claim.
- Medication errors. Poor training, health worker fatigue, and staff shortages sometimes lead to medication errors. A mistake in prescribing, dispensing, or monitoring a patient’s medication can lead to severe harm. Every year, medication errors injure around 1.3 million people.
- Surgical errors. A surgeon operating on the wrong part of the body, accidentally puncturing an organ or artery, or leaving surgical implements in the body after surgery all count as surgical errors. At least 4,000 surgical error cases occur every year in the United States.
What Is the Statute of Limitations for Medical Malpractice Claims?
If you believe you are a victim of medical malpractice, you have a limited amount of time to go to court and begin your case. This deadline is known as the statute of limitations. Every state has laws that designate the statute of limitations for various types of cases. Some states set a specific time limit to file a medical malpractice claim, and others have a deadline that covers all injury-related lawsuits.
The statute of limitations varies from state to state, but most places set it at two years. Many states have a special deadline for minors. For example, a minor can often begin a case once they turn 18 even if the alleged incident occurred 10 years ago. You must find out what the applicable deadline is in your state to avoid losing out on compensation.
Can You Reopen a Case?
When you pursue a medical malpractice claim, you typically have one try to get it right. Usually, the case ends when you settle. Once you sign the settlement papers, you cannot reopen the case later.
However, if a judge dismissed your case, you may reopen it if the statute of limitations has not yet expired. If the claim was dismissed with prejudice, then you cannot open it again. But if it was dismissed without prejudice, then you can file a new complaint at a later date.
Speak with a lawyer to figure out if you can reopen your medical malpractice case.
The Process of a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit
- Consulting an attorney. The first step of the process is for the injured person to meet with a medical malpractice attorney. During an initial consultation, the lawyer will ask about the facts of the incident and determine if the injured person may have a valid case.
- The investigation. During the investigation, the lawyer will review every relevant medical record. Medical records can help show what went wrong and if the health care provider could have avoided it. The attorney will generally contact one or more medical experts after gathering all available information. The experts might be heads of surgery or professors teaching in hospitals. They often write a letter in support of the injured party.
- Filing a lawsuit. Once the lawyer has gathered enough information to support the injured person’s claim, they file a lawsuit in court on the injured person’s behalf. Some states require that the lawyer notify the healthcare provider before they file a lawsuit, to provide an opportunity for the healthcare provider to offer a settlement before the case goes to court.
- Discovery. The next stage is the discovery phase. During discovery, each party has an opportunity to obtain documents and other information from each other. The injured person and the doctor will go through depositions where they answer questions from the other side’s attorney. Some of the questions may be regarding what went wrong, the provided care, and any other issues. The discovery stage can sometimes last a year or more, depending on various factors.
- Settling. After discovery, the lawyers generally discuss a settlement. Most cases settle before they go to trial, which usually brings a resolution sooner. In some cases, the lawyers and the clients discuss a settlement with a neutral mediator.
- Going to trial. Although most cases end in a settlement, sometimes the parties cannot reach an agreement and the case proceeds to trial. The judge or jury determines the trial’s outcome. If either side is unhappy with the outcome, they can appeal the decision for a second opinion from a higher court.