Boston is home to some of the best hospitals and medical professionals in the world. When people go to a doctor, they expect to receive the proper diagnosis and treatment for their ailment. While its true that advances in modern medicine have contributed to human longevity by adding an average of 30 years to the human life span since 1900, unfortunately, our Boston medical malpractice attorneys know there can also be mistakes.
Medical malpractice can occur in a variety of ways. It is not limited to in-hospital care but can occur in an environment where you receive medical treatment. Some examples of medical malpractice are:
Nursing homes and assisted living facilities exist to provide constant care to elderly individuals. When a nursing home staff neglects their duties, do not exercise a reasonable degree of care in their work, or a nursing home fails to adequately vet their employees, elderly residents are the ones who suffer. Nursing home neglect could include bedsore injuries, unsanitary living conditions, abandonment, or any other incident involving a nursing home or nursing home staff failing to provide reasonable care to residents.
Obstetricians must ensure they take every precaution and carefully monitor babies’ vital signs during labor and delivery. Most birth injuries result from negligence and could include oxygen deprivation, excessive force, or injuries from surgical instruments. A “birth injury” could describe an injury to a newborn infant, the infant’s mother, or both.
A misdiagnosis is an incorrect diagnosis. Doctors use a process of elimination to determine a patient’s condition. While some symptoms of medical conditions can mirror the symptoms of others, doctors use a variety of techniques to reach positive diagnoses. If a doctor fails to reach an accurate diagnosis, he or she may be guilty of medical malpractice if he or she failed to check all possibilities before diagnosing a patient.
If a doctor is completely unable to diagnose a patient’s condition, he or she needs to find a specialist or another doctor who can. When doctors fail to deliver any diagnosis, it can constitute as medical malpractice if it leads to patient harm.
When doctors know a patient’s condition they must use accepted methods for treatment. If a patient’s medical condition is definite, the doctor must treat the patient promptly while meeting the acceptable standard of care for the situation. There is no good reason to delay treatment of a known medical condition, and doing so constitutes medical malpractice.
Most doctors do not sterilize their own procedure rooms, instruments, and other medical devices used in patient care. These responsibilities typically fall to nurses and other support staff members. If hospital staff members fail to maintain a clean and safe environment suitable for patients, the hospital could be liable for any infections or injuries that befall patients as a result.
Any surgery has the potential to go wrong for a variety of reasons. However, surgeons must exercise the appropriate level of care during every procedure. Surgeons who injure patients during surgeries, leaving surgical tools inside patients, or otherwise compromise the safety of a surgical procedure are typically liable for malpractice if the error harms the patient in any way.
Anesthesia plays an important role in medicine. Anesthesia helps keep patients stable and reduces or eliminates pain. Some anesthesia renders patients completely unconscious, so doctors may perform their work without disturbing the patient and causing unnecessary pain. If anesthesiologists fail to carefully monitor a patient’s vital signs, or a doctor fails to take a patient’s drug allergy concerns into account, anesthesia errors can cause serious complications and may even be fatal in some cases.
Some drugs are dangerous for patients with some medical conditions. Other medications may conflict with the medications a patient already takes. Doctors must ensure their prescriptions are appropriate for their patients. Pharmacies must ensure they dispense the right medications in the right dosages. Many prescription medications have similar-sounding and similarly-spelled names. Pharmacists must ensure they carefully check every patient’s prescriptions to ensure order accuracy.
Assisted living communities allow elderly individuals to retain a sense of independence while having convenient access to medical care. When assisted living communities to fail to administer appropriate care, endanger their residents, neglect residents, or otherwise inflict injuries on the people in their care, the responsible parties will likely face liability.
Paramedics and EMTs have a duty of care to their patients to stabilize them and provide immediate triage until they arrive at the emergency room for more comprehensive care. The law recognizes the stressful nature of this type of work, as well as the sense of urgency it creates, and there are many protections in place for EMTs who act in good faith to help their patients. However, EMTs and paramedics who fail to meet the appropriate standard of care for a situation can incur liability for medical malpractice.
While a “birth injury” can apply to many possible issues with prenatal care, labor, and delivery, a “delivery error” specifically applies to injuries inflicted on babies during the delivery process by negligent doctors.
These estimates are from the Civil Justice Resource Group and are based on hospital records.
Less than 3% of those people harmed file a medical negligence claim!
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It is very hard to determine exact numbers when it comes to medical malpractice incidents in the United States. The reason is simple: medical malpractice often happens without patients even being aware that they are victims. At the same time, a very, very small percentage of patients who do think that they have been harmed by negligent doctors report their experiences or seek compensation and justice.
However, while we don’t have as much research on medical malpractice as we wish, we do have some. Here is what we know:
What can we learn from these statistics? One big takeaway is that medical malpractice will continue to be a leading cause of death in the United States until we start educating ourselves, speaking up, and holding negligent parties responsible for their actions.
A 2016 report on the Massachusetts healthcare system indicated that the state’s hospitals consistently underperform compared to national averages in many areas. According to the data, Readmission rates in Massachusetts hospitals were 54% higher than national averages. For safety, Massachusetts hospitals performed 27% worse than the national average. Patient experience scores linger around 29% below national averages, and Massachusetts hospitals performed 62% worse than the national average for timeliness of care.
These statistics may be startling, and they should serve as a warning to anyone entering the Massachusetts healthcare system for treatment to remain vigilant for signs of malpractice. Doctors, hospitals, and all healthcare professionals have a duty to act with reasonable care and meet the acceptable standards for treatment, patient experience, timeliness, and all other aspects of care. When they fail to do so through negligence, and patients suffer as a result, those patients can recover their damages through medical malpractice claims.
Under Massachusetts state laws, a plaintiff cannot recover more than $500,000 for non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases. Non-economic damages include pain and suffering, loss of companionship, embarrassment, and other general damages not related to economic damages, such as medical costs. However, if it is shown that there was substantial impairment or permanent loss of a bodily function and that the damage cap deprives the plaintiff of just compensation, then it may be exceeded. Furthermore, the statute of limitations for medical malpractice actions in Massachusetts is three years from the date that the injury occurred.
Most states have laws which require the plaintiff’s attorney to submit proof of the defendant’s negligence at the beginning of a medical malpractice case. Massachusetts General Law chapter 231, section 60B states that after a lawsuit is filed, the plaintiff’s lawyer must make an Offer of Proof to a three-person tribunal, consisting of a superior court judge, physician from the same field of practice as the defendant, and an attorney authorized to practice in the commonwealth.
Within 15 days of the defendant’s answer to the complaint being filed, this tribunal decides whether or not the case has any merit going forward. During this time period, the tribunal may subpoena records or summon witnesses to acquire more evidence. If the tribunal rules against the plaintiff, they can still decide to proceed with the lawsuit but must file a $6,000 bond, payable to the defendant if they do not prevail in the final judgment.
If you think you have a medical malpractice claim, it is prudent to get a copy of your medical records as soon as possible. Medical records are important pieces of evidence in malpractice claims. Even if you have all of your records in order, due to the complexity of modern medicine, malpractice claims require complex litigation because of the various issues that may be involved. Some key points about medical records in Massachusetts include:
In order to understand what constitutes medical malpractice, it is vital to understand the legal term, “standard of care.”
Not all medical mistakes are medical malpractice. Doctors and hospitals can’t be expected to perform perfectly and to never make an error–that would simply be impossible, and sometimes mistakes are not preventable even when you have the best care. But medical professionals can be held to certain levels of quality, which is referred to legally as the standard of care.
Put simply, the standard of care is the level of care an ordinary, reasonable, and competent person with the same training and experience would provide under similar circumstances and conditions. In other words, would an average doctor acting in the same situation have made the same mistake, or would they have known to act differently?
For example, if a surgeon made a mistake during a very complex and dangerous operation, it may not be medical malpractice because any other surgeon would also have difficulty with the procedure. But if a surgeon made a mistake during an operation that other doctors would have avoided, such as perforating an organ or operating on the wrong knee, they may have been negligent and may face a medical malpractice lawsuit.
It’s also important to understand that specialists are often held to a higher standard of care than general practitioners and other medical professionals. For example, while a family may miss the signs and symptoms of rare cancer, an oncologist with specific training may face a lawsuit for a missed diagnosis or misdiagnosis.
How can you better understand if your medical treatment or the medical treatment of your loved one was below the accepted standard of care? In many cases, a medical expert witness can analyze the evidence in the case, determine the standard of care, and determine whether your medical provider met the standard of care.
Liability for medical malpractice will vary according to the unique circumstances of your case. If a doctor or surgeon caused your injuries, you may have a claim against either the individual or the hospital. The individual may have to pay damages if he or she is an independent contractor and not an employee of the hospital. Many health care practitioners in Boston work as independent contractors instead of employees.
A health care facility will not be vicariously liable for the actions of an independent contractor. Physicians typically carry a lot of personal insurance coverage just for this reason. If you need to file a claim against an individual practitioner, that individual will most likely have adequate insurance to pay the full amount of your damages. If the at-fault party was the facility or an employee of the facility, the hospital could be liable instead.
A hospital or health care center in Boston could be the defendant in your medical malpractice claim if it or one of its employees caused your injuries. The hospital could be liable for the negligent actions of a nurse, assistant, administrator or maintenance member. It could also be liable for malpractice such as poor sanitation at the facility, lack of communication, dangerous premises or broken safety protocols.
A third party could also share liability for your injuries or illness. A third party is someone not directly involved in the incident that could still be accountable, such as the manufacturer of a defective medical device or drug. Many medical malpractice claims involve more than one defendant sharing fault. A medical malpractice lawyer from Sweeney Merrigan Law, LLP can help you identify the correct party or parties to hold responsible for your injuries in Boston.
The skill and experience level of your medical malpractice attorney can make an important difference to your medical malpractice claim. The right medical malpractice lawyer can make you feel heard and cared for throughout the claims process. He or she could also fight for the best possible compensation award for your various damages. During the search for a Boston medical malpractice lawyer, look for signs the attorney is right for you.
Schedule a free consultation with a prospective attorney to see if your personalities are a good match. You should feel comfortable with your medical malpractice lawyer in Boston and confident about the future of your claim. While no attorney can guarantee a positive case outcome, you should feel the attorney would work hard to secure the best possible results on your behalf.
At Sweeney Merrigan Law, LLP, we take medical malpractice cases on a contingency fee basis. You will only have to pay attorney’s fees if we secure you financial compensation. You will owe $0 if we do not win an insurance settlement or judgment award on your behalf. If we are successful, you still will not have to pay us out of pocket. Instead, we automatically deduct our fees as a percentage of your settlement or jury verdict. You will always know upfront how much our services will cost, with no hidden fees or surprises.
Given the nature of malpractice litigation, it is important to choose a knowledgeable and trustworthy firm to handle your medical malpractice claim. At Sweeney Merrigan Law, LLP, our Boston medical malpractice lawyers will investigate your claim immediately and fight to get you the compensation you deserve. Contact us for a free consultation today and see how we can restore your peace of mind.