A 2016 study conducted by medical safety experts at Johns Hopkins University reported that about 250,000 Americans die each year from medical malpractice. It’s important for all Americans to know their rights in terms of healthcare and their options for legal recourse when malpractice occurs. In California, special laws and provisions are in place concerning medical malpractice claims. Talk to a knowledgeable Bakersfield medical malpractice lawyer to understand the medical malpractice laws that apply in your area.
The attorneys at Rodriguez & Associates have decades of experience handling medical malpractice claims for our clients in the Bakersfield area. It’s vital to know what a medical malpractice claim entails, common types of cases, and the damages available to plaintiffs in these cases. It’s also important to know California’s state-level laws for medical malpractice claims.
What Is Medical Malpractice?
Medical malpractice describes negligence in medical care that results in patient harm. Doctors and other medical professionals such as nurses and anesthesiologists must ensure their treatment does not harm patients, and this requires adhering to acceptable standards of treatment for specific medical conditions. The medical community reaches consensus on acceptable methods of treatment for known medical conditions and injuries. When a medical professional acts outside of the scope of acceptable treatment methods for a given patient, or fails to provide competent or effective treatment, any resulting harm may lead to a medical malpractice claim.
Types of Medical Malpractice
Medical malpractice lawsuits can arise out of many situations, and a few of the most common types of claims our Bakersfield medical malpractice attorneys have seen include:
- Misdiagnosis. Doctors use a process of elimination to diagnose patients. Once they observe a patient’s symptoms, they can narrow down the list of possible diagnoses. Medicine is inherently uncertain, and some medical conditions share symptoms with others or may mask other conditions. If a doctor fails to follow an appropriate diagnostic process for a patient, it can result in delayed treatment for the patient’s actual condition. Misdiagnosis can also lead to a medical malpractice lawsuit if the diagnosing physician failed to follow an appropriate diagnostic method that follows the consensus of the medical community.
- Delayed diagnosis. Medical professionals have a responsibility to diagnose patients in a timely and accurate manner. When unreasonable delays in diagnosis occur due to lab technician errors, equipment failures, or medical negligence, the resulting damages may be grounds for a medical malpractice lawsuit.
- Surgical errors. Surgeons must be careful to ensure they do not harm patients during surgical procedures. They must also follow acceptable surgical methods and carefully monitor anesthesia and patient vital signs during procedures. Leaving a surgical sponge or instrument inside a patient’s body cavity, operating on the wrong body part, or causing internal damage due to improper or incompetent use of surgical instruments could all be grounds for a medical malpractice claim.
- Medication errors. Doctors must carefully prescribe medications. This involves accounting for patients’ existing prescriptions and possibly harmful interactions, patient drug allergies, dosage size, and medication names. Some medications have very similar-sounding names to others, and it’s vital to accurately prescribe medications to prevent patient harm. Pharmacies must also dispense medications safely and accurately. Lawsuits involving medication errors will fall under medical malpractice, but those involving dangerous medications or improperly manufactured drugs will fall under the purview of product liability.
What Is the Medical Standard of Care?
A plaintiff with a medical malpractice claim must submit his or her claim to the relevant medical review board who will decide whether or not the claim holds merit. The board will determine the appropriate standard of care for the given situation and then assess whether or not the defendant met this standard of care. The standard of care in a medical malpractice lawsuit refers to the acceptable type of treatment for a given medical condition. For example, if a patient suffers a broken arm, the medical community has established effective methods for treating such an injury based on the location of the fracture and its severity. If a physician failed to treat a broken arm using methods approved by the medical community, the medical review board would likely determine the physician did not meet the standard of care for the situation if the treatment resulted in harm to the patient. For additional information regarding the standard of care, speak with a qualified Bakersfield medical malpractice lawyer.
Dangerous Drugs and Product Liability
If a doctor prescribes a medication that ends up harming the patient, liability for the patient’s damages may not automatically fall to the prescribing doctor. If a pharmaceutical manufacturer produced a dangerous drug, improperly labeled their products, or otherwise produced a dangerous product, any resulting harm to patients would instead fall under product liability law. In a product liability claim, the plaintiff and his or her Bakersfield personal injury lawyer do not necessarily need to prove the manufacturer was negligent in their production of the drug in question. Instead, the plaintiff must only prove that the drug was defective or dangerous and resulted in harm to the plaintiff. In some cases, a drug manufacturer may need to prove they were not negligent in the production, marketing, or sale of the drug in question.
California Medical Malpractice Laws
Every state has unique laws concerning medical malpractice claims, the elements of filing medical malpractice claims, and the available damages in such claims. California law defines medical malpractice as a medical professional’s failure to meet an acceptable standard of care for a given patient’s condition. The statute of limitations for filing a medical malpractice claim in California is three years, starting on the date malpractice occurred. If an incident of malpractice results in an injury that is not immediately apparent, the claimant has one year to file a claim, starting on the date the claimant discovered the harm or should have discovered it through reasonable diligence.
Exceptions to this statute of limitations exist for cases involving minor children under the age of six and cases involving fraud. If any party related to such a claim knew about an incident of malpractice but failed to disclose it in the course of any fraudulent activity, the statute of limitations “tolls,” or stops, on this date. If a healthcare provider fraudulently conceals or knowingly fails to disclose a medical mistake, the statute of limitations will toll on the date of discovery, as well.
California law also requires plaintiffs with medical malpractice claims to notify their potential defendants at least 90 days before filing a lawsuit. This notification should include the plaintiff’s basis for filing the claim and the description of the plaintiff’s claimed losses. If the plaintiff files such a notice within 90 days of the end of the statute of limitations, the plaintiff will have another 90 days to file the lawsuit beginning on the date of delivery of the notice.
Damages in Medical Malpractice Lawsuits
California has specific laws for damages in medical malpractice lawsuits. Most plaintiffs will receive economic damages that repay their specific monetary losses resulting from medical malpractice. There is no cap on economic damages, and these can include lost income from time spent in recovery, past and future medical expenses for corrective treatment, and any other economic damages resulting from the malpractice. California imposes a $250,000 limit on non-economic damages for things like pain and suffering, loss of affection, and diminished quality of life.
There is also a shared liability law that applies to California medical malpractice cases with multiple defendants. Multiple defendants in a medical malpractice claim will each receive a percentage of fault based on the jury’s assessment of the facts. It’s also possible for a plaintiff to absorb some measure of liability. For example, a plaintiff who does not follow a doctor’s dietary instructions after stomach surgery will likely absorb some fault, but if the doctor made an error during such a surgery, the doctor’s fault percentage will likely eclipse the patient’s.
Under California’s pure comparative negligence law, a plaintiff may still recover damages even if he or she is partially to blame for the claimed damages. Although rare in medical malpractice claims, it is possible for a plaintiff to receive a fault percentage in a medical malpractice lawsuit. The plaintiff will lose a portion of the case award equal to his or her percentage of fault. In the event of multiple defendants, the jury assigns each defendant a portion of fault that will reflect the amount of damages each party owes the plaintiff.
How Much Does a Medical Malpractice Lawyer Cost?
A qualified Bakersfield medical malpractice attorney will also operate under California’s rules for attorneys’ fees in these cases. A lawyer may only charge 40% of the first $50,000 recovered, 33% for the next $50,000, and 25% of the next $200,000. An attorney may only charge 15% of any amount of $600,000 or more. California medical malpractice attorneys will generally operate on a contingency fee basis for representation. This means an attorney only collects attorneys’ fees if a client wins his or her case.
Why You Need a Bakersfield Medical Malpractice Lawyer
Navigating any type of personal injury claim is difficult. Each state has unique laws, statutes, and filing requirements for such claims, and each case varies greatly on an individual basis. Some claimants may believe that his or her particular case is open-and-shut, and therefore should be easy to navigate without an experienced attorney. Attempting to represent your own interests in any type of legal matter without any legal training can be disastrous. You may miss a filing deadline that has your case thrown out before it even reaches trial, or you might overlook valuable avenues of compensation that apply to your claim. A Bakersfield medical malpractice attorney can help you successfully navigate a medical malpractice claim in California.
Your lawyer can not only help you build a strong case for court, but also handle correspondence with medical insurers and other parties involved in your case. However, it’s vital to find an attorney with experience in medical malpractice claims. Medical malpractice law may be similar to personal injury law, many special provisions come into play that an inexperienced lawyer may overlook. An incident of medical malpractice can result in extensive damages, permanent disability, and significant financial damage. The right attorney can make a tremendous difference in the outcome of any medical malpractice claim.
A qualified medical malpractice attorney will connect with expert witnesses who can provide valuable insights into the elements of your claim. A medical expert witness is usually a retired medical professional with a solid career history who acts as a witness in medical malpractice cases. For example, a medical malpractice claim for negligent cancer treatment will require testimony from medical experts with backgrounds in oncology. Qualified medical experts are not easy to find, and a new or inexperienced attorney may not have a wide network of connections or even know where to look.
The attorneys at Rodriguez & Associates have more than 80 years of combined experienced handling civil claims for our clients throughout the Bakersfield area. A medical malpractice claim can mean the difference between recovering your damages after suffering a medical injury and a significant financial crisis. It’s essential to secure representation from a reliable and experienced medical malpractice attorney who can successfully navigate the most complicated of claims.
Rodriguez & Associates | Medical Malpractice Attorneys in Bakersfield
Contact our Bakersfield office today to schedule a free consultation with one of our attorneys. Once we review the details of your medical malpractice claim, we can provide you with our outlook of your case and the types of compensation you could receive from a lawsuit.