What Is Medical Negligence? Understanding Medical Negligence Claims and Lawsuits

Harry M. Roth, Esq.

Sep 20, 2023

When facing a serious illness or injury, people expect the doctors and nurses who treat them to provide the best medical treatment. Health care professionals are only human and, occasionally, they make human mistakes. Sometimes, the outcome of treatment is not at all what was expected or explained. Sometimes, the outcomes are risks of a procedure or treatment and, other times, they are caused by medical negligence. Often, a patient or their family will not be able to know whether they suffered a bad medical outcome or were harmed by a health care provider’s negligence. Either way, they are left to deal with the economic and emotional hardships that result. And so, it is helpful to speak with a lawyer experienced in investigating and handling medical negligence claims.

Medical negligence, also called medical malpractice, is a broad area of civil law that affords an injured patient the right to seek damages from a health care provider who allegedly provided negligent treatment. Every medical professional, whether they’re a doctor, nurse, surgeon, or dentist, owes a duty of care to act reasonably in the clinical setting and provide reasonable and appropriate patient care. When a health care provider, through their actions or inactions, deviates from this standard of care, medical negligence is the result.

Identifying and Understanding Medical Malpractice

If you’ve been harmed by the health care provider who should have helped you, it’s important to understand the difference between a potential risk of medical treatment and harm caused by medical negligence. An experienced medical malpractice attorney can help you determine where your case lies on the spectrum.

A medical malpractice claim is a type of lawsuit in which the plaintiff claims that a medical provider breached their duty of care. This breach can look like a misdiagnosis, a premature hospital or emergency room discharge, a surgical error, misreading an x-ray, or even failure to recognize the symptoms of an illness.

A medical malpractice lawsuit may be warranted when medical negligence occurs, and that medical negligence causes injury. Medical malpractice lawsuits are normally initiated by filing a Complaint with the court.  A Complaint is a document that sets forth an injured patient’s specific allegations of medical malpractice and damages.

When a medical professional’s negligence has led to disabling injuries, however, the story changes a lot. Malpractice can lead to lifelong disability and even wrongful death, and in these cases, damages can be overwhelming.

Determining IF YOU Have a Medical Malpractice Claim

If you think you have been harmed as a result of medical malpractice, it is important to speak with a lawyer with the expertise and resources to investigate and handle your case. Experienced lawyers, working with qualified medical experts, will review your medical records and evaluate your treatment. To be able to prove a medical malpractice case, the lawyer must be able to prove: (1) whether the treatment you received met the minimum standard of care applicable to your needs and (2) the medical negligence caused your injuries or increased the risk of harm.

Can I Sue if I Have Been Hurt or Do I Need to Prove the Medical Care Was Negligent?

Not every medical injury qualifies for a malpractice claim. There are always risks of medical treatment, particularly surgical care, and harm can result even in the absence of negligence. In those circumstances, you may not have a claim. However, it is important that you work with an experienced lawyer who will carefully review the circumstances giving rise to your injury. The key question is whether the injury occurred as a result of substandard care. In order to make this determination, an experienced medical malpractice lawyer will review the records of your treatment with appropriate expert physicians to determine whether they can prove that the care you received was below the minimum standard of acceptable care and was a substantial cause of your injuries and damages.

The Factors You Need to Prove for Medical Negligence

There are four elements that need to be satisfied if you want to file a medical malpractice claim:

  • Doctor-Patient Relationship: The injured party often needs to have a doctor-patient relationship with the defendant. In Pennsylvania, a medical provider can be negligent even if they never personally met the patient. For example, radiologists do not always personally meet with patients. Nevertheless, a radiologist can be found negligent if they misread a radiology report and fail to report a critical diagnosis.
  • Breach of Care: The medical professional needs to have breached their established duty of providing reasonable care under the circumstances for your medical needs.
  • Causation of Harm: The plaintiff needs to be able to prove that the doctor’s negligent care caused or increased the risk of harm they suffered.
  • Injuries Suffered: Not every breach of care leads to lasting harm. The American legal system requires a plaintiff to have measurable damages relating to personal injury. These damages include past and future lost earnings, medical expenses and physical pain and emotional suffering.

What are Potential Recoveries You Can Expect in a Medical Malpractice Claim?

Settlements and verdicts in any civil court case depend primarily on the circumstances giving rise to the case and the extent of the damages at issue. Each case is unique. If a doctor’s negligence didn’t cause long-term harm or disability to the patient, there may be very little to gain in a lawsuit. In some situations, where damages do not warrant filing a lawsuit but where the medical care was negligent, an alternative for patients is to file complaints with medical facilities and regulatory boards.

What to Know about Medical Negligence Lawsuits

Whether medical negligence has led to a birth injury, brain injury, or other disabling harm, there are some things you should know about filing a negligence claim before you begin.

Success Rates of Medical Negligence Claims

While your medical malpractice attorney should fight as hard as possible for you, it’s important to know that a medical malpractice claim is no “slam dunk.” One long-term examination of medical malpractice cases determined that doctors won most jury trials, and an even higher percentage of claims were dropped without the plaintiff receiving compensation. These cases can be challenging and take time. Your lawyer should inform you about the process in your particular state or county as each has different rules that can affect the potential recovery and the time it will take to complete.

How to Start a Medical Negligence Claim

When seeking medical negligence compensation, your first step should be finding an experienced legal team to fight on your side. An experienced medical malpractice attorney will have the knowledge and resources to develop the evidence needed to prove your case and be prepared to try it to verdict. If your lawyer develops the evidence needed to pursue a claim, a lawsuit will be filed against those health care professionals whose care was alleged to be below the minimum standard of acceptable care – negligent.

The Process for a Medical Negligence Claim Court Case

Every medical malpractice case is unique, but the basic procedures you can expect if you bring your case to court will be the same for everyone.

  1. Consult with a lawyer about your medical malpractice case and examine the evidence.
  2. Your legal team will gather the medical records and review your case with appropriate medical experts to determine if they can prove a case and if so, will file a lawsuit.
  3. The lawyers on both sides of the case then undertake and complete the pre-trial phase of litigation known as discovery. During the discovery phase, the lawyers on both sides learn through written questions called interrogatories and sworn pre-trial testimony called depositions, about the claims and defenses being made.
  4. During discovery, you and your lawyers will identify medical experts who will testify that the care was negligent and caused harm. The defendants will identify their own experts who will testify that the care delivered was appropriate and not a cause of the patient’s harm.
  5. Upon the completion of the discovery phase of the litigation, the parties will fully understand the strengths and weaknesses of their positions. At that point, your lawyers will negotiate with the doctor’s lawyers. You may be offered a settlement at this phase. If not, the case will go to trial.


What to Do If You Think You’ve Experienced Medical Negligence

If you’ve been injured by medical treatment, you deserve to know all your options. This is why finding a good law office can make a huge difference to the outcome of your case. The law offices of Cohen, Placitella & Roth have many years of experience guiding clients through these options and fighting on their behalf.  At  CPR Law we strive to make lasting impacts in our clients’ lives by seeking justice for them and by doing what’s right. Contact our team of lawyers at (888) 972-0072 to schedule your consultation today.