What Is Medical Malpractice?

By D.A. Barber , last updated August 5, 2011

If your doctor or hospital made a mistake while treating you that has left you no better off than you were, then you will want to understand just what exactly medical malpractice is. Because of the nature of the medical profession, health care providers are held to an extremely high standard. This is because even minor medical negligence can result in injury or even death of a patient. These high standards and the responsibility for a patient’s health are recognized by the legal system, giving patients who are victims the ability to hold the health care givers responsible through a personal injury lawsuit known as medical malpractice.

A medical malpractice case typically comes to light when a doctor or hospital has failed to provide a patient with the level of professional care that is considered substandard based on recognized medical expertise. This can include injury during a surgical procedure, a late diagnosis of a disease or cancer, and failure to provide follow-up treatment.

Medical malpractice is established to protect the patient and hold medical professionals responsible for substandard care, and it allows family members to respond in the event of the wrongful death of a loved one.

Legal Remedy

The legal remedy for such substandard health care is to file a medical malpractice lawsuit against the medical personnel responsible for the injury. Because these types of lawsuits can be incredibly expensive and complicated, you should first seek out a specialized medical malpractice lawyer who will provide you with an initial free consultation. This is important both to determine whether you have a solid case, and to determine what options you have as far as compensation.

The types of compensation will be based on to what degree the doctor or hospital breached their medical duty, as well as the extent of your physical or economic injury. The three main forms of damages that are normally recovered in a medical malpractice case include economic or compensatory damages, non-economic or compensatory damages, and punitive damages.

Economic Damages

Receiving economic damages is actually being paid back for the total amount you have lost as a result of the injury suffered. This includes all your medical bills accrued as a result of medical negligence, as well as lost wages due to your injury or time for treatment. This compensation can also include the cost of any additional medical treatment after the injury, including surgery, prescriptions, physical therapy and psychotherapy.

Non-Economic Damages

Compensatory damages are compensation for loss that has no immediate dollar amount, such as physical pain and suffering, emotional distress, or the loss of companionship in a wrongful death case.

Punitive Damages

Punitive damages are designed not to help the victim, but to punish the medical professionals responsible for the damage. These damages are reserved for those special cases where the doctor or hospital were proven to have plainly acted with gross negligence or for financial gain.

Limitations

There is usually a statute of limitations for medical malpractice lawsuits, which can vary by the jurisdiction or type of malpractice claimed. Some states also have a cap on damages for malpractice which, in some cases, can actually make it not worth filing the lawsuit.

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