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Updated March 16, 2023
Medical professionals can make mistakes, causing harm to their patients. Certain mistakes are unacceptable, while others aren’t so damaging. How do you know if you’re able to sue for medical malpractice?
Medical malpractice law is complicated. Here are the basics.
Whether your medical injury took the form of a surgical error, a birth injury, or some other cause, there are several requirements that you as the plaintiff must be able meet in order to prove that you have a medical malpractice case. First and foremost, you must establish that you had a doctor-patient relationship with your medical professional—in other words, you had a reasonable expectation of care from your doctor, and your doctor agreed to care for you.
Generally, medical professionals are legally expected to provide a standard level of care for the patients. Standard of care is a way of determining whether a medical professional performed in a similar way to how another competent doctor would under similar circumstances. Your doctor may have failed to meet this standard if they:
Medical malpractice attorneys will often use medical expert witnesses to help build and inform cases. An expert witness may know about your medical condition specifically and may be able to draw comparisons between your doctor’s misconduct and generally-accepted standards of care.
Once you have proven that your doctor has made a mistake, you must also prove that this mistake caused you serious harm. If your condition worsened or lead to further medical complications, you may have grounds to sue for medical malpractice. There needs to be a link between the doctor’s conduct and your injury in order to evaluate your damages for a future settlement.
Now that you have established a link between your medical professional’s substandard level of care and your injury, you must find a way to represent your losses, which will often take the form of medical expenses, physical therapy, lost wages, and pain and suffering, among other things. Make sure that you save medical bills, receipts, and other documents relevant to your case so that your medical malpractice attorney has facts to use to your benefit in court.
Medical lawsuits are extraordinarily complex, and no two cases are the same. While it would be nice if every medical malpractice case only required proof of the above, the law is not an exact science. There are some cases or situations where extra factors complicate the case even further.
It goes without saying that medical malpractice leads to bad outcomes: any unwelcome injuries or bills on behalf of a patient are unfortunate. However, it’s not always the case that a bad outcome was the fault of your medical professional.
No medical procedure is completely free of risks. If we were able to sue doctors for every instance of treatment that didn’t go according to plan, it would be impossible for anyone to practice medicine. There is a distinction between medical malpractice and bad outcome cases. Consult with your attorney to get a better understanding of your individual case.
Patients have a right to be informed of any risks or side effects associated with a medical treatment before they offer consent. In turn, medical professionals must receive informed consent from their patients before any medical procedure or treatment takes place. In this process, the patient or a legal representative must be informed of the nature of the treatment itself, the risks, the objective and desired outcome, any available alternative treatments, and the success rate before agreeing to anything. Patients must also be allotted an appropriate amount of time to offer consent and to ask questions.
Informed consent does not necessarily take the form of a signature. In the state of Indiana, informed consent can be also given verbally. Healthcare providers must sit down with the patient or their representative and discuss the procedure with them until they understand. An informed consent form will generally look like a pre-printed legal document that acknowledges any risks and complications of a procedure. A patient signature on such a document adds weight to the informed consent and provides a way of ensuring that doctors uphold their standard of care throughout your treatment.
However, if the form was poorly written or incomplete in such a way that it deceives the patient, they may have grounds to sue for medical malpractice. An attorney will be able to look over any documents that you’ve received and signed and be able to tell whether you have the grounds to sue.
Medical malpractice cases can be made more complicated by the existence of any injuries, illnesses, or other medical conditions that existed prior to the medical procedure. In medical malpractice cases, the most significant preexisting conditions could influence the harm that was done to you following the procedure. These can include any physical or mental injuries from unrelated incidents, congenital abnormalities, or allergies to medication.
Having a preexisting condition doesn’t mean that you’re unable to sue: Your condition is likely why you’re seeing a doctor in the first place, and if you weren’t able to file a medical malpractice lawsuit with a preexisting condition, you likely wouldn’t be able to do so at all. In a medical malpractice case, you’re trying to prove that your doctor’s mistake caused your injury instead of your preexisting condition. Unfortunately, preexisting conditions can make causation less clear. When you talk to an attorney about your case, make sure that you gather all the evidence you can to highlight a direct link between your doctor’s misconduct and your current (worsened) condition.
Personal injury cases can get complicated, and medical malpractice cases are especially so. If you or a loved one have been injured as a result of medical malpractice, contact the attorneys of Wilson Kehoe Winingham. An experienced Indianapolis medical malpractice lawyer at WKW can help you get the compensation you deserve.
Call 317.920.6400 or fill out an online contact form for a free, no-obligation case evaluation.
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