Medical malpractice

What To Know About Filing A Medical Malpractice Case

June 14, 2022 by James McHugh, Jr.
Filing a medical malpractice case

If you or someone you care about requires medical care, you expect those in charge to make you and your loved ones feel better, not worse. Medical malpractice occurs when a physician fails to properly treat a medical condition and this negligence causes a new problem or aggravates an existing issue. Medical malpractice can have a variety of causes and the signs and symptoms can also be subtle to the untrained eye. While doctors and other healthcare staff are unable to control everything, if they are negligent and/or breach their duty of care to a patient, that patient can file a medical malpractice lawsuit.

Under Pennsylvania law, medical malpractice occurs whenever a doctor or other healthcare professional violates the standard of care for their profession or practice. The standard of care refers to generally accepted medical practices for a particular medical problem and can vary, based on a number of factors including the patient’s prior medical history and age.

Below we discuss what you need to know about filing a medical malpractice case.

What Types of Medical Malpractice Cases Can Be Filed?

While medical malpractice can be caused by many different types of actions or inactions, some of the most common types of claims include:

Surgical Errors

If a mistake is made during a surgical procedure and it results in an injury, the injured patient may have a medical malpractice claim. Doctors are not the only source of surgical errors – the hospital and other staff members can make mistakes before, during, and after surgery. When a patient is injured by healthcare negligence, they need to hold those who caused the injury accountable for their actions. For example, if a surgeon mistakenly operates on the wrong arm or hospital staff fails to provide the proper postoperative care, the patient should seek out the advice of an experienced medical malpractice lawyer.

Misdiagnosis

Misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis is by far the number one cause of malpractice claims in an outpatient setting. When a medical provider fails to diagnose a condition properly, the patient can suffer severe injuries and even permanent damage. Some doctors fail to diagnose conditions because they dismiss the patient’s complaints while others simply do not administer the necessary tests to properly diagnose. More healthcare workers than just physicians can make medical errors; other medical professionals who can contribute to misdiagnosis include those responsible for reading and interrupting medical tests. While not all errors are deadly, 20% of patients with serious conditions are first misdiagnosed.

Medication Errors

Prescribing the wrong medication and/or prescribing medication when it is not needed are both forms of medical malpractice. If you were the victim of a medication error, you may have received the wrong medication, the incorrect dosage, or the medication may have been administered incorrectly. Your medical team must also sufficiently screen you for allergies before administering drugs. If they don’t and you are injured, you can file a lawsuit to recover damages.

Birth Injuries

Birth injuries include conditions such as cerebral palsy, brachial plexus injury, brain damage, and paralysis. Hospitals, nurses, doctors, and midwives may all be potentially liable in a birth injury lawsuit if the mother and/or the baby are harmed during prenatal care, childbirth, or postnatal care. Childbirth malpractice can include injuries resulting from the failure to properly monitor a baby in the womb, failure to perform a C-section, and more. Negligent prenatal care can include failing to diagnose preeclampsia or Rh incompatibility in the mother.

What is the Statute of Limitations for Medical Malpractice in Pennsylvania?

Like many states, Pennsylvania has a very strict statute of limitations for medical malpractice lawsuits. A statute of limitations is a law that sets a specific limit on the length of time a person has to file a civil case after suffering any sort of loss or injury. It is important to act quickly if you discover you or a loved one has been injured after a visit with a medical provider. Your time to file suit could be running out. A medical malpractice lawsuit is complex and requires both legal and medical knowledge.

When it comes to a medical malpractice lawsuit, it’s important to act quickly before time runs out to investigate and file a lawsuit against a doctor, hospital, or other medical professionals. As a general rule, the statute of limitations for a Philadelphia medical malpractice lawsuit is two years from the date of the incident or from the time the patient discovers (or reasonably should have discovered) they were injured.

The “discovery rule,” says that the “clock” to calculate the two-year time period within which a medical malpractice victim must file their lawsuit may not actually begin until the patient either knew or should have known they were injured and that the injury was caused by the defendant’s negligence. The discovery rule, however, does not typically apply to cases where medical malpractice resulted in a patient’s wrongful death.

Additionally, the law also states that regardless of when the error is discovered, the lawsuit must be filed within seven years of the negligent act and corresponding injury. There is a single exception to this seven-year limit when the physician who committed malpractice left a foreign object inside a patient’s body. For example, if a patient felt a bit of discomfort early on, but thought it was part of the healing process, and later finds out the doctor left a surgical sponge inside of them, they may still be able to bring the case even beyond the seven-year final deadline.

An Injury to a Minor Tolls the Statute of Limitations

Pennsylvania has a minors tolling statute, which means that if a child is injured through an act of medical malpractice before they turn 18, the two-year statute of limitations only begins to run when the child turns 18. Therefore, a claim for damages related to the injury of a child can generally be filed before they reach the age of 20.

Medical Malpractice Damages Caps

Pennsylvania law establishes a limit on damages in all medical malpractice cases, but damages caps are very specific and only cut off punitive damages, which are the damages imposed as punishment for especially egregious behavior. The cap is set at twice the amount of actual damages in the case, meaning that the more actual damages your attorney can prove, the higher the cap when punitive damages are involved. There is actually no limit on either economic or non-economic damages, which are the two main compensation categories that injured patients can recover in a healthcare negligence case.

There are other damages caps to consider in a Pennsylvania medical malpractice case, depending on who the defendant is. While state healthcare employees have no immunity from blame and monetary damages, the state’s liability in any civil claim is limited to $250,000 per injured party or a total of $1,000,000 for any single incident. So, if you’re suing a state-run hospital for medical malpractice, that’s potentially the most you can collect.

The way a victim of medical malpractice may be paid is also unique since Pennsylvania also has a “periodic payments rule.” This rule requires any future damages award greater than $100,000 to be paid in installments. Future damages include the medical bills, lost wages, and other damages the victim of medical malpractice is expected to incur in the future due to disability and/or ongoing medical treatment. Both sides have to agree to the terms of the installment payments.

And, there are even more ways your medical malpractice damages can be limited beyond caps. In Pennsylvania, the contributory negligence doctrine holds patients are unable to receive compensation if their own negligence exceeds that of the medical provider. The legal doctrine of comparative negligence holds that if an injured patient is determined to have contributed to their own injury, their actual damages are reduced by the percentage of their own fault. There are also provisions in Pennsylvania law that allow for joint and several liabilities, which means that if more than one party is liable for the injury damages, the injured patient can receive compensation from all of them.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim in a Medical Malpractice Case?

The death of a loved one is a tragic experience, particularly if the death was caused unexpectedly due to the negligence of another. In the event of the wrongful death of a loved one, you may decide to seek compensation from the responsible party. Each state has its own laws regarding the intricacies of wrongful death claims.

In Pennsylvania, wrongful death is one caused by a wrongful act, neglect, unlawful violence, or negligence of another. This can include all types of medical malpractice and other personal injury accidents like car accidents and workplace accidents, among others.

Pennsylvania law requires that a personal representative of the deceased’s estate file a wrongful death claim on behalf of the beneficiaries of the deceased’s estate. The personal representative can be someone the deceased named before they died or it can be a spouse, adult child, or parent. However, if a personal representative of the deceased’s estate does not file a wrongful death claim within six months of the death, any beneficiary can file the claim on behalf of all beneficiaries.

Wrongful death beneficiaries can be the spouse, children, and parents of the deceased (but parents only qualify if they can show pecuniary loss). No other relatives qualify. If there are no qualifying wrongful death beneficiaries under the statute, then a wrongful death claim cannot be brought on behalf of the deceased individual.

There are two types of damages that can be awarded in a Pennsylvania wrongful death claim. The first type of damages compensates the family for the cost of funeral and burial expenses, medical expenses, and any estate administration expenses. For a surviving spouse, children, or parents, damages can include loss of companionship, loss of comfort, loss of income, and pain and suffering.

Pennsylvania Injury Attorneys for Filing a Medical Malpractice Case

Medical malpractice claims are complex, and you need an attorney with experience handling medical claims who knows also knows the intricacies of Pennsylvania law. The experienced trial lawyers of Lopez McHugh have been investigating and winning medical malpractice cases for decades. We have the resources and skills to hold medical facilities and medical providers accountable when they hurt those in their care. Our medical malpractice attorneys have the experience and knowledge you need to get the best recovery possible for your case.

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