Not every bad medical outcome results from bad medical practice. For example, some surgeries have widely-acknowledged high rates of failure, but patients and surgeons opt for the procedure anyway because the alternative — often doing nothing — offers even less chance for relief. Sometimes routine and well-performed medical procedures can cause unexpected complications that lead to bad results despite everyone’s best efforts. So how can you tell if a doctor or other medical provider has been negligent in a way that constitutes malpractice?
More than an injury
A bad outcome is a necessary part of a medical malpractice claim, but a bad outcome by itself will not suffice to show malpractice. The next thing you — or your malpractice lawyer — must demonstrate is that your doctor behaved negligently. In general, the law defines medical negligence as failing to live up to a standard of car based on how a similarly-qualified medical provider would have performed under the same or similar circumstances. If your doctor failed to make a diagnosis that most doctors would have been able to make, failed to order a test that most doctors would have ordered, failed to provide the kind or quality of care that most doctors would have provided and that failure caused you injury, that constitutes malpractice.
Figuring out whether an injury resulted from negligence is one of the greatest challenges facing the medical malpractice system today. As reported by a 2006 study in the New England Journal of Medicine, the legal system does not always get it right. In general, most medical malpractice claims arising from medical errors resulted in compensation for the victim, and most injuries not arising from medical errors were not compensated. But 27 percent of medical malpractice claims independently judged to involve medical error never resulted in compensation, while 16 percent of medical malpractice claims independently judged not to involve error did.
The point is simply that figuring out on your own whether you were the victim of medical malpractice may be close to impossible. Consult with an experienced medical malpractice lawyer and with other doctors to help you decide whether to pursue a medical malpractice claim against your doctor.
Dr. Michael M. Wilson is an attorney and a physician who earned his undergraduate degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his legal and medical degrees from Georgetown University. He has focused in the area of medical malpractice for more than three decades and secured more than $100 million in settlements and verdicts on behalf of clients throughout the country. He is admitted to practice in the District of Columbia and New York as well as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and the U.S. Supreme Court. He is listed in America’s Top 100 High Stakes Litigators.