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“Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint,” said Mark Twain. He had a keen perception of everyday life, which he observed with great humor. And most of his observations were right on the money. What would really happen if a misprint in a medical book or health magazine caused injury or death? Most likely, there would be a lawsuit by the injured person, or their family. Most of us believe, deep in our souls, that someone should pay for mistakes when it comes to our health and well-being.
A misprint is probably a questionable basis for a lawsuit. Who do you sue? The publisher? The proof-reader? The typesetter? Or was it actually a mistake of the author of the book or article? It could be very hard to pin down, and the suit might not go anywhere.
Successful lawsuits are much more likely when medical errors or mistakes are made by health care professionals. When the care they provide deviates from accepted standards of practice in the medical community, an act or omission that causes injury or death of the patient can be considered professional negligence.
There is a national epidemic of medical errors, and they do occur everyday. Doctors and hospitals can be held liable for injuries and deaths that result from mistakes. Nearly 250,000 people die each year due to medical malpractice – nearly half of them due to errors in hospital emergency rooms. Medical malpractice has become one of the leading killers in the United States – 6th after deaths from heart disease, cancer, stroke, chronic lower respiratory disease and accidents.
What kinds of mistakes can constitute malpractice?
Here are a few: Misdiagnosis, Birth injuries, Medication errors, Infections in hospitals, Errors during surgery, Medical record errors, Unnecessary surgery, Unlawful practice of medicine.
Among the statistics: There are 7,000 deaths and 1.5 million adverse drug events due to medication errors each year. Two million hospital patients acquire infections each year, with 90,000 dying from them. There are 1,500 incidents of surgical tools left in patients each year. Medical errors, professional negligence and sub-standard care are a tragedy affecting millions of people.
Only 0.3% – a very tiny percentage – of total health care costs in the U.S. are attributable to medical errors. But it is estimated that the cost of disability, lost income, and personal care expenses due to medical errors in the U.S. is somewhere between $17 and $29 billion annually.
Health care professionals and facilities carry medical malpractice insurance to cover their risks, at a total cost of nearly $7 billion annually. Doctors talk a lot about the skyrocketing cost of their liability insurance, and it is true that it has increased about 52% over the past 14 years. Surprisingly, though, the dollars paid out in malpractice insurance claims have decreased by nearly 15% in recent years.
The number of medical error claims by injured patients is far lower than we might expect. Some analysts report that only one in ten patients who are injured or die file or attempt to file a malpractice lawsuit or claim. Of all medical malpractice suits filed, only about 25% are successful. In 2009, there were fewer than 40,000 payouts to victims, compared to nearly 250,000 deaths, and many hundreds of thousands or millions of injuries that did not result in death.
What are the rules for filing a malpractice suit? There are four basic requirements for what is legally referred to as a “tort of negligence.” You must be able to prove that:
There was a legal duty owed when a hospital or health care professional provided care or treatment.
That the legal duty was breached, and the care provided was not the standard of care to be expected from that provider.
That the breach caused an injury, and that it was the specific or proximate cause of the injury.
That there was actual damage to the person. If there was no real damage experienced, then there is no basis for a claim, even if there was negligence.
In California, there is a $250,000 cap on the amount of a claim (outside of actual medical costs related to the injury or death and loss of income). In most cases, malpractice suits must be filed within one year of death due to professional negligence; or in the case of injury rather than death, within one year of the patient becoming aware of the negligent act or acts.
This article was originally published HERE.