What Is Medical Malpractice?
Doctors take an oath to do no harm as part of their medical training. Medical professionals should not only heal their patients as much as possible, they should never cause injury or damage. Unfortunately, however, at times doctors and other medical personnel do cause harm, through lack of skill, misjudgments, inaccurate diagnoses, or many other possible reasons. “Medical malpractice” is the failure to exercise a proper amount of professional care that results in an injury, damage, or loss to the patient.
Medical malpractice cases are some of the most complicated in law, because of the wide range of injuries and damage possible, the complex nature of medical interventions, and even the specific stipulations of Massachusetts law. If you or a loved one has been injured or has died as a result of medical malpractice, it’s important that you contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney such as the Noonan law firm today.
Medical Malpractice: The Process in Massachusetts
Medical malpractice cases in Massachusetts must follow a specific initial process. When a suit is filed and the defendant files a response, the plaintiff must provide an offer of proof to a three-person tribunal convened specifically for that purpose, within 15 days of the response. The tribunal must consist of:
- A Massachusetts superior court justice
- A physician or other healthcare provider licensed in the state who practices in the field relevant to injuries claimed
- A lawyer licensed to practice in Massachusetts
The tribunal is expected to review relevant medical records, treatment notes, statements from medical experts, and test results in the service of determining whether the evidence is sufficient to raise a question about whether the healthcare provider was responsible for causing injury or harm, and thus negligent.
If the tribunal finds there is enough evidence to raise a question about liability, the case can proceed.
If it does not, however, the plaintiff will need to file a $6,000 bond with the court clerk for the case to proceed. The bond is intended to cover legal fees for the defendant in the event the medical malpractice suit is not successful. In addition, the suit will be dismissed if the bond isn’t posted by 30 days after the tribunal has rendered a decision.
What Injuries Can Medical Malpractice Cause?
Medical malpractice can cause catastrophic injuries and permanent harm, such as quadriplegia, paraplegia, or brain damage, for example. They can also be reversible, such as quickly corrected prescription errors. They can be immediately apparent or take years to surface. If a surgeon leaves surgical instruments in a patient, for instance, it may only be discovered if the patient develops symptoms and has to be X-rayed or undergo exploratory surgery to determine why.
Common causes of medical malpractice include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Failure to diagnose
- Medication errors
- Anesthesia errors
- Surgical injuries
- Spinal cord injuries
- Childbirth errors
I Was Hurt by Medical Malpractice. Who Is Responsible?
To bring a medical malpractice suit, a healthcare provider must have been responsible for failing to provide an adequate standard of care. If that occurs, they are negligent. The injury or damage caused to you must have been caused by the negligence (and not some other cause), and you must have a loss or damages stemming from the injury.
Any medical professional who rendered care that caused harm, injury, or damage, or that they should have known would cause harm, injury, or damage can be responsible for medical malpractice. So can the sites and healthcare systems where the medical professionals practice, if they contributed or were solely responsible. The list includes:
- Treatment Centers
- Urgent Care Centers
Can I Be Compensated for What Happened?
Massachusetts law allows victims of medical malpractice to recover compensation for their losses, both economic and emotional.
You can be compensated for the following:
- Medical expenses incurred
- Medical expenses likely to be incurred going forward
- Lost wages
- Loss of earnings capacity
- Other economic losses
- Impairment or loss of bodily function, either temporary or permanent
- Scarring or disfigurement
- Loss of chance of survival
- Pain and mental suffering
- Loss of companionship
- Other general damage
While there are no limits on economic damages, Massachusetts imposes a limit, or cap, on the non-economic categories in medical malpractice suits, such as pain and suffering. The limit is $500,000.
The limit does not apply, though, if the injuries include substantial disfigurement, substantial or permanent impairment or loss of a bodily function, or other circumstances that would prevent the victim from recovering fair compensation.
Consortium Claims for Family and Survivors
Medical malpractice can cause injuries and harm that affect an entire family. If a breadwinner suffers a spinal cord injury and becomes unable to move, for example, the family’s financial well-being and emotional equilibrium may be profoundly impacted.
As a result, Massachusetts allows spouses, children, and parents of the injured person to bring claims against the negligent party for their own loss, separate from the patient’s loss. These are called loss of consortium claims.
Family members can be compensated for:
- Loss of comfort, solace or moral support
- Loss of companionship and society
- Loss of enjoyment of sexual relations
- Any restrictions on social or recreational activities related to the injury
Is There Any Defense Against Medical Malpractice?
Despite the harm medical malpractice can cause, all defendants in a suit are always entitled to mount a defense. Medical professionals are no exception.
Medical professionals can, for example, argue that they acted according to a generally accepted standard of care, and thus weren’t negligent. They can argue that their actions didn’t cause the harm. A doctor treating a cancer patient, for instance, may try to argue that the disease caused the harm, not the treatment.
The defense case can also try to argue that you contributed to your injuries. They can argue that you didn’t follow the recommended course of care, or acted in conflict with it by failing to take prescribed medication. Medical professionals can argue that you didn’t give a complete history of your symptoms, making them unable to diagnose and treat properly.
It is up to the court to hear both your and the defense case, and decide what is just—so choose an attorney who will fight vigilantly to see that justice is done.
If You Need a Medical Malpractice Lawyer in Massachusetts
If you or a loved one has suffered from medical malpractice, the experienced attorneys at the Law Offices of Gerald J. Noonan can help. Contact us online or by calling (508) 588-0422 to discuss your case. We practice in Greater Boston and all of Massachusetts. There is never a charge for our initial consultation and case review.