When the term “personal injury” comes up in a conversation involving legal issues, most people associate those words with vehicle accidents or slip-and-fall cases. However, while uncommon, an area that sees a lot of activity in personal injury law in Williamsport involves medical malpractice.
Doctors, nurses, medical professionals, and the institutions they work for operate in a unique trust situation. Patients and consumers go to them for services, fully expecting that they will be taken care of and their health protected, ideally improved from the current situation and being sick. When one of these operators, who is already trained to a professional level, including licensing, causes harm, it begs the question of whether the operator applied to medicine and medical practices correctly. While there is no question that a doctor, nurse, or hospital administrator has a level of expertise that gives them the authority to make decisions a common person might not understand fully, that doesn’t mean that any of those operators can function without a duty of care as well. In fact, due to their professional status, the duty of care applied is even higher and more stringent.
The Fundamental Elements
Like many other personal injury situations, certain elements are automatically needed in medical malpractice. There was:
- An expectation of service or performance,
- A duty of care applied,
- A failure occurred, and
- That failure resulted in an injury that can be documented.
In the area of medical malpractice, those same elements have become more complex. Granted, doctors and medical staff are sought after for their skill and expertise; They are licensed and tested to ensure the capability to perform a specialized duty of care already. However, they also have the latitude from their professional status to make decisions unique to their role that the law won’t second-guess automatically.
The Nuance of Malpractice at the Professional Level
The standard of care that applies is a key factor in the success of malpractice cases. The standard is defined under state law in Pennsylvania, and its application is expected to be made by those licensed to practice medicine in the state. So, the licensure of the party involved already raises the level of scrutiny and review on practice, i.e., typically, another expert doctor or similar has to be brought in to confirm what went wrong from a professional perspective under the law as well as how the action or procedure should have been applied correctly. Negligence, poor skill, or intentionally harmful decisions are the most likely cases to move forward when confirmed by a medical expert or an investigation.
Instead, medical malpractice has to show the above elements as well as show that even despite the professional latitude, the given medical officers acted in such a way that an average person of the same peer level would conclude their action or lack of care should have been prevented or not allowed. And, because the act or omission occurred regardless, a patient was hurt as a result. Losses can range from pain, disfigurement, and permanent loss of life function to mental harm and suffering. Ultimately, if proven in court, damages can be sought for both actual and punitive expenses to ensure the same mistake doesn’t occur again to someone else.
No surprise, the above is not the kind of legal work or litigation taken on by just any attorney. While technically, a lawyer with a bar license can take on most legal cases in their state, that doesn’t mean the given attorney is the best choice. Especially in medical malpractice, expertise in understanding medical services and how the law applies specifically to medical malpractice matters greatly.
Equipment can also result in medical practice. In these instances, the question pivots on whether the medical equipment used were designed badly, applied wrong, marketed wrong, or turned out to be defective in production. Both manufacturers and medical providers can be held responsible for the use of the problem equipment or devices if the facts conclusively show use should have been avoided from a reasonable medical expert’s perspective. The proving of such cases often tends to hinge on who was involved, what was known, and what decisions were made going ahead and using the equipment or device despite the problem being documented.
Personal Injury Fault in Pennsylvania
As noted earlier, specific elements in a case need to be proven, showing a relationship between a failure to meet a standard of care and a patient being injured and suffering loss as a result. That said, showing this happened doesn’t automatically mean the fault is 100 percent that of the medical provider. Pennsylvania uses what is known as a “modified comparative negligence rule,” which reduces damages by however much a suing party was also responsible for the injury. So, for example, not following a doctor’s instructions could reduce recovery, even when the doctor may have made an avoidable mistake in surgery. The exact details are determined case by case. The exact details are determined case by case. Again, having the benefit of a specially trained medical malpractice attorney involved versus general representation makes a big difference in the outcome of the case.
Procedural Requirements Can Be A Hidden Challenge
Most patients harmed don’t deal with the rules of court when pursuing a malpractice claim; this is the technical domain of the attorney. However, even among attorneys, the nuance of the medical malpractice case in Pennsylvania can be missed, creating a serious mistake in a case. Unlike many tort cases, medical malpractice cases only have two years from the date of injury to be filed under what is known as the statute of limitations. After that, the case can be dismissed for being filed late regardless if the patient is in the right. Similar rules apply to evidence pursuit and related filings. Again, without experience in medical malpractice litigation, a non-specialized attorney can make a lot of unnecessary errors.
Experience Is Half the Battle
For medical malpractice cases in Pennsylvania, Rieders, Travis, Humphrey, Waters & Dohrmann continues to be a primary resource for experienced work in the field. Combining a depth of extensive legal knowledge, experience in medical malpractice cases specifically, and a focus on protecting patients from harm, our legal team continues to push for better medical service delivery case by case. The law can be responsive through statute changes, but it’s a broad approach that doesn’t necessarily speak to a patient’s specific circumstances. We do. This is why Rieders, Travis, Humphrey, Waters & Dohrmann are available for a free consultation and about how to best pursue your specific needs. Call us today to find out more.