As patients, we turn to medical professionals for help when we need it most. Many of us trust our doctors and nurses implicitly, without even considering that these professionals, too, are human and capable of making serious errors. It may be time for us to question that trust.
Filing A Medical Malpractice Lawsuit In Queens
Medical errors are shockingly common. In fact, researchers at Johns Hopkins University say that mistakes in medical practice are now the third leading cause of death in America. Only heart disease and cancer lead to more deaths in the United States than medical mistakes. Even when patients survive a severe medical error, they often face long roads to recovery, which can include additional surgical procedures and lengthy periods without work.
Thankfully, New York State’s strong medical malpractice laws allow injured patients to secure compensation from the healthcare professionals who have harmed them. Filing a medical malpractice lawsuit may be the only way that many patients are able to piece together their lives in the wake of a doctor’s negligence.
Our experienced medical negligence lawyers can help. Over more than 80 years of combined experience, our lawyers have guided numerous injured patients through complex legal terrain, fighting for their best interests against large insurance companies and entire healthcare systems. If you or a loved one were injured in any way by a medical professional’s mistakes, you may be entitled to significant financial compensation.
What Is Medical Malpractice?
Whether we’re talking about doctors, nurses or diagnostic technicians, every healthcare professional has a legal duty to provide adequate medical care. Defining this legal duty can be complex, but in every case, medical providers are bound to follow the accepted standards of their profession. In legal terms, we call the adequate level of medical care a “standard of care.”
Standard Of Care
Standards of care are crucial in medical malpractice lawsuits, but they can also change from patient to patient, as well as from doctor to doctor. We wouldn’t expect an obstetrician to have the same medical knowledge as a gastroenterologist. Nor would we want them to treat extremely different patients, or diverse medical conditions, in the same way.
Obviously, the standard of care has to change, taking into account a patient’s medical history, the current condition at issue and the practical difficulties involved in various procedures. Some courts even allow the standard of care to be tailored regionally, altering the legal requirements based on where a medical professional practices and the resources available to them.
As a broad concept, however, the standard of care is fairly simple. It’s a how a reasonable, similarly-educated medical professional would have acted under the same circumstances. As an alternative way of thinking about this, we can ask whether or not the patient would have received the same level of care from a different healthcare professional.
Identifying the relevant standard of care is the first step in building a medical malpractice lawsuit. Attorneys rely on independent medical experts to outline the applicable of standard of care.
Medical Negligence: Violating The Standard Of Care
Medical experts are also critical to the next step in building a case, which is to identify ways that the actual medical professional violated the standard of care:
- Misdiagnosis or failure to diagnose
- Late or delayed diagnosis
- Surgical errors, including performing surgery on the wrong limb or on the wrong patient
- Mistakes in anesthesia dosing or administration
- Birth injuries
Doctors can fall below the accepted standards of their profession for many reasons, although few intentionally harm patients. Often, carelessness is enough to harm a patient with lasting consequences.
We think doctors should be held to a high standard. Their actions, after all, are often a matter of life and death. The law agrees. In medical malpractice lawsuits, a healthcare professional’s intentions don’t matter much. Truly egregious conduct, including intentional harm, can add to the damages secured in a lawsuit for personal injuries, but to be found liable for patient harm, negligence is sufficient.
Proving that a medical professional’s negligence led to demonstrable harm, however, is absolutely essential. This step actually includes two considerations:
- the patient suffered injuries
- the doctor’s negligence caused those injuries
Demonstrating that harm was suffered can be hard, since many patients are already sick or injured before seeking medical attention. When a cancer patient dies, for example, it can be difficult to show that their death was caused by medical negligence, rather than the cancer itself. A medical expert will again become crucial in convincing a judge or jury that the healthcare professional’s carelessness led to patient harm.
Courts use a “preponderance of the evidence” standard to consider issues like this. In short, patients will have to show that it’s more likely than not that the doctor’s negligence led to the patient’s injuries. This is a lower standard of proof than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard used in criminal cases.
To secure compensation, patients will also have to put an approximate price-tag on the injuries they have suffered. In general, these “damages” fall into one of two categories:
- Special Damages – these losses are simple to quantify, like additional medical expenses and lost wages
- General Damages – these damages are intended to compensate victims for harm that, while very real, is difficult to translate into numbers, like the experience of pain and emotional trauma
A third category of damages, punitive damages, is reserved for intentional or outrageously reckless harm caused by a medical professional. New York is one of only 15 states that does not apply a “cap,” or ultimate limit, to punitive damages in medical malpractice lawsuits.
Most other states limit the amount of damages a victim can receive, but New York doesn’t, in part explaining why New York is still the leading jurisdiction for medical malpractice lawsuits nationwide. According to an analysis from Diederich Healthcare, New York leads the country in medical malpractice settlements and payouts. In 2016, malpractice insurance companies and doctors paid out a total of nearly $712 million in settlements and jury verdicts to injured patients in New York State alone.
Statute Of Limitations On Medical Malpractice
In every state, lawmakers have passed a “statute of limitations,” which limits the amount of time injured patients have to file medical malpractice lawsuits. New York is no exception, and most patients will have 2.5 years, or 30 months, to file their malpractice claim.
The clock begins ticking either:
- the day a patient was injured or harmed due to a medical professional’s negligence, or
- the day that a continuous course of treatment, related to the injury, ends
Some states have an additional law, a “discovery rule,” that can extend the statute of limitations beyond its normal ending point.
Exceptions To The Statute Of Limitations
New York’s discovery rule, however, only applies to foreign object cases, when a doctor (usually a surgeon) leaves some medical instrument inside a patient’s body. In these cases, the statute of limitations works a little differently. Instead of beginning on the date of injury, the statute will only begin to run when the patient discovers (or should have
discovered) that a foreign object was left inside their body. After that, the patient has one year to file a malpractice lawsuit.
Injured children are also treated differently. When minors are harmed by medical negligence, the statute of limitations only begins to run on the child’s 18th birthday, opening the door to legal action for the normal 2.5 years.
Another law serves as a hard limit for the filing of malpractice claims. This “statute of repose” says that no lawsuit can be filed more than 10 years after the alleged malpractice took place. The statute of repose applies to foreign object cases and lawsuits involving injured children, along will all other medical negligence claims.
Contact Our Queens Medical Malpractice Lawyers
Even a second’s mistake can change a patient’s life forever. Were you or someone you love harmed by a medical professional’s carelessness? Our medical malpractice attorneys want to hear about it. Contact our experienced Queens attorneys for a free consultation today. You can learn more about your legal options and rights – at no charge and no obligation.