Medical malpractice and medical negligence cases stem from mistakes by a doctor or other medical professional that cause suffering, injury or the death of a patient. Medical malpractice may happen when there is inappropriate action taken by the practitioner or omission, which is a failure to take appropriate action. If a healthcare provider deviates from the accepted standards of practice, they may be guilty of malpractice. The most common examples are:
- Misdiagnosis of a condition
- Excessive delay in providing care
- Failure to provide appropriate treatment
- Legal Elements: Negligence, Injury, Cause
In order for a medical malpractice suit to be proven, the claimant must establish the following:
Duty Was Owed
A legal duty is established whenever a healthcare provider undertakes care or treatment of a patient. The presence of a valid physician-patient relationship must be proven before a claimant can make a malpractice claim.
Dereliction of Duty
This refers to the breath of duty by the healthcare provider. It may be an inability to provide an acceptable standard of treatment, or delay in treatment. Expert testimony may be needed to prove this.
Breach Caused an Injury
The claimant must prove that the physician’s negligence led to the injury. It must be shown that if the physician acted differently, the injury could have been avoided.
Unless the patient sustains damages of some sort, there is no basis for a claim. Damages may be medical expenses, lost earnings, emotional distress, pain and suffering. Punitive damages may be awarded in cases of reckless conduct.
California law analyzes the relative fault of each party involved in an event that produces injury. They follow a pure comparative fault, which means that an injured party can recover for their damages, even if they are greater than 50% at fault (51% to 99%).
Statute of Limitation in California
Every state has a time limit in which a plaintiff must file a claim in court or lose their rights to sue forever. A medical malpractice action for injury or death must be brought within one year from the date the claimant discovered the negligent act, but no more than three years from the date of injury. Legal actions by or on behalf of minors must be filed within three years from the date of the injury. However, if the child is under the age of six, the lawsuit must be commenced within three years or prior to the child’s eight birthday, whichever provides the longer time period. In addition, California’s statutory period begins to run for adults at the time of discovery, yet for minors at the time of the negligent act. Although the California Supreme Court has yet to address this anomaly, other courts have begun to read a discovery rule into the provision for minors, on the theory that not to do so would deny minors the equal protection of the law.
Cap on Damages
In a medical malpractice lawsuit, there are two types of damages; economic and non-economic. California places a cap on non-economic damages, most commonly pain and suffering, for medical malpractice cases in the amount of $250,000. The cap applies whether the case is for injury or death, and it allows only one $250,000 recovery in a wrongful death case. Non-economic damages include compensation for:
- Mental distress and suffering
- Loss of the ability to enjoy life’s pleasures
- Permanent impairment or loss of function
- Loss of consortium when there is a disruption of the marriage caused by the injury
Non-economic damages are monies awarded as compensation for non-monetary losses and injuries, which the plaintiff has suffered, or is reasonably likely to suffer in the future as a result of the defendant’s negligence.
If you or someone you love has suffered a catastrophic, life-changing injury as the result of the negligence of a doctor, hospital, nurse or other medical professional or facility, you should contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney. They will be able to evaluate your case and give you advice on how to proceed.