You Have Been Treated by Your Doctor and the Outcome Is Not What You Expected. You Are Worse Now Than You Were Before You Were Treated.
This must be malpractice, right? – Maybe.
- Results Like These Are No Accident – Notable Awards and Settlements
- Settlement Values – How Much Is My Case Worth?
Studies have shown as many as 250,000 people die each year because of medical errors. Thousands more are injured each year. But the mere fact that you’ve been injured or that a loved one dies does not mean you were the victim of malpractice. Under Pennsylvania law, a doctor is not a guarantor of a good result. Sometimes bad outcomes occur because of malpractice; sometimes bad outcomes just occur due to known and accepted complications of the procedure.
How do you know whether your outcome is the result of medical malpractice?
Under Pennsylvania law, a doctor is responsible for your injury if the care he or she provided was below the standards of practice expected of an ordinary doctor. Stated another way, a doctor may be legally responsible for your injury, and you maybe a victim of medical malpractice, if he or she failed to do something that a reasonably prudent doctor would have done or did something that a reasonably prudent doctor would not have done. If your doctor acted in a manner consistent with what a reasonably careful practitioner would have done, you were not the victim of malpractice.
Say for instance, that you have been diagnosed with advanced stage cancer. You have been going to your doctor for years and he never told you that you might have cancer. If your cancer had been diagnosed sooner, your prognosis would have likely been better.
Is your doctor legally responsible? – It depends.
Some cancers are undetectable until they are larger and deadlier. Some cancers produce no symptoms until late in the course of the disease. If your physician had no reason to suspect cancer earlier, you may not have a case. However, if you showed signs and symptoms that should have raised the suspicion of cancer, your doctor may be responsible if those signs went unaddressed.
For instance, persistent anemia is often a red flag for physicians. Unexplained anemia could mean unexplained blood loss, which could mean a tumor somewhere that is causing bleeding. A tumor in the kidney might produce blood in the urine. A tumor in the GI tract might produce blood in the stool. Sometimes the bleeding is microscopic and can’t be seen. Sometimes you don’t know about bleeding until a blood test shows a low hemoglobin or hematocrit. Those types of symptoms might be caused by cancer (or might be caused by a much less serious illnesses), but typically a work-up by your doctor is required to ensure that the test result is not the result of a serious, underlying condition. If the physician fails to undertake a work-up and cancer goes undiagnosed for a significant period of time, you likely have a claim for medical negligence.
Ultimately, the question of whether you are a victim of medical malpractice comes down to whether there were signs that were missed, or whether the doctor performed standard screening tests, or whether the doctor properly recognized the significance of the complaints offered by the patient. The question for the jury is whether the doctor acted like a reasonably prudent physician would have under similar circumstances.
But who decides what a reasonably prudent doctor would do under the circumstances? Who decides whether a doctor has fallen below the standard of care?
Ultimately, a jury makes that decision. But juries are not allowed to make that decision in a vacuum. They require guidance from medical experts. Often, the trial comes down to a battle of the expert witnesses. The expert testifying on behalf of the patient testifies that, in his opinion, the doctor’s care fell below accepted standards of medical practice. The expert called on behalf of the doctor will usually testify that, in his or her opinion, the care that was provided satisfied the accepted standard. This is a feature that makes medical malpractice trials so unique. How can this be? How can two different doctors have two different opinions about whether the physician satisfied the standard of care? It’s like a baseball game where the players call their own balls and strikes. Two umpires have reached two totally different conclusions.
Jurors, selected to hear the case precisely because they have no medical expertise, have to make the decision as to which medical expert should be believed. Often, the outcome is determined by how well your lawyer presents his or her expert and how well your lawyer does punching holes in the defense expert’s opinion.
Your lawyer needs to have a good understanding of the underlying medical principles. He or she has to know the medical terminology. Your lawyer needs to understand the medicine so that he can present an expert who can clearly explain the medical principles to the jury. Your lawyer needs to be able to go toe-to-toe against the defense expert. Your lawyer needs to understand the medicine so that s/he can effectively cross-examine the doctor’s expert. This is why you should not retain a lawyer who merely “dabbles” in medical malpractice cases. You need a lawyer who specializes in medical malpractice cases. You need a lawyer who, either through education, training or experience, has an understanding of medicine.
At the end of a malpractice trial, the jury does not declare anyone “guilty” or “not guilty.” Instead, the jurors will fill out a work sheet consisting of several questions:
“Did the Defendant Doctor’s care fall beneath the accepted standard in his/her specialty of practice?”
“Did any failure to meet the standard of care cause an injury to the patient?”
A “no” answer to either question ends the trial and results in a verdict for the doctor. If the jurors answer the first two questions “yes,” they are permitted to go on and make a decision regarding the amount of damages to be awarded.
The manner in which the jury answers the questions above depends upon a variety of factors. How clear was the deviation from accepted standards? How badly injured was the patient? How effective were the lawyers when they presented the case?
Victims of Medical Malpractice May Get Help
Slade McLaughlin and Paul Lauricella have been practicing law for decades with combined experience of nearly eighty years. Since the 1980s, they have focused their practices on medical negligence, and have secured for their clients numerous verdicts in medical negligence cases. They hold the record for the largest medical negligence verdict rendered in Pennsylvania outside of Philadelphia. They have the record for the highest punitive damage verdict rendered by a jury in Pennsylvania in a medical malpractice case. They have successfully litigated cases against doctors in a wide variety of specialties. They understand the medical concepts and medical jargon. They have the resources to enlist highly qualified experts who can explain complex medical concepts to judges and juries. If you think you have been the victim of medical negligence, contact McLaughlin & Lauricella by email for a free consultation or call us at 1-855-633-6251.