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Preventable medical error is the sixth biggest killer in America and injures thousands of patients every year. Research has shown that few patients who are injured ever file a medical negligence lawsuit, and many Americans are unaware of the extent of medical errors, which cause about 98,000 deaths in a year. Medical personnel and staff across the industry can be at fault for medical negligence – not just physicians.

Frequency of Claims and Incidents

A 2011 report indicates that 39 percent of injuries associated with medical negligence claims result in significant physical injury, and 26 percent result in death.  The following injuries are also associated with medical negligence claims:

  • 17 percent minor physical/emotional injury/breach of consent
  • 15 percent major physical injury
  • 3 percent no adverse injury

Despite the significant number of patients who suffer from death, significant injury or major injury, researchers found that only 21.5 percent of patients who were operated on in error or who received operations on the wrong site filed a claim or lawsuit.

Accountability

State medical boards are supposed to discipline doctors who consistently violate standards of care and do not put patients’ safety first.  However, two-thirds of doctors who make 10 or more medical negligence payments are never disciplined at all.  “Never events,” such as operating on the wrong patient or wrong site, continue to occur at an alarming rate.

Method of Settlement

Many claims are settled by negotiation between the claimant and the insurer, and when an indemnity payment was made, a little more than half of the lawsuits were settled in mediation. Other claims are resolved through alternative dispute resolution such as arbitration, mediation, or private trial.

The amount paid to claimants typically increases with the age of the claim.  Claims that were closed within one year of the report date, for example, will have a lower paid indemnity than a claim that is closed after two years.

Who is Responsible for the Malpractice or Negligence?

Nearly half of all hospitals in the United States have reported a disciplinary action to the National Practitioner Databank. The Harvard School of Medicine estimates that about 18 percent of patients in hospitals are injured during the course of their care. Furthermore, hospitals commit as many as 40 wrong site, wrong side, or wrong patient procedures every week.

Hospitals may be responsible for employee negligence.  The responsible party depends largely on whether or not the doctor, nurse or staff member had control to prevent the negligence.  Often times, a doctor will perform a surgery at a hospital but is not an employee of the hospital.  If the doctor, or someone under his supervision during the surgery, commits an act of negligence, the doctor may be held responsible.  However, this depends on whether the doctor was present and whether the doctor could have prevented the negligence.

Pharmaceutical companies can also commit errors, and more than 1.3 million people are injured annually. Nearly 100,000 people die every year because of medication mistakes, which results in more annual deaths than breast cancer or AIDS.  Since patients are not trained in medications and what to look for, it is the pharmacist’s responsibility to ensure that all aspects of each prescription are correct.

Legal Facts

Medical malpractice refers to times of negligence when doctors, nurses, or other healthcare providers do not meet an established and expected standard of care in their actions with patients and injuries, damages, or deaths are the unfortunate result.

Physicians who are convicted of engaging in medical malpractice may face a number of fines, judgment awards, fees, and penalties from patients who were directly affected by their acts of negligence.

Consequences of Medical Malpractice

It is also a common result that physicians who are convicted of acts of medical malpractice or negligence will go on to lose their medical licenses, barring them from practicing medicine if the case of negligence or malpractice is judged to be significantly severe. People who have suffered from malpractice or negligence from their physicians or other healthcare professionals, should look into the law to see if they may be legally entitled to some form of financial compensation.

Medical Malpractice Lawsuits

It is not an easy feat to start and win a case of medical malpractice in the United States, as healthcare facilities such as hospitals and insurance companies often have entire departments set up to fight claims and complaints of medical malpractice and negligence. They are also likely to have insurance to help them settle any claims that come up from patients.

 

Sources:

Kreidler, Mike. 2012 Medical Malpractice Annual Report. Rep. Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner, Aug. 2012. Web. 11 Dec. 2012.
“Medical Negligence: The Role of America’s Civil Justice System in Protecting Patients’ Rights.” American Association for Justice. N.p., Feb. 2011. Web. 10 Dec. 2012.
“SC Department of Labor, Licensing, & Regulation Board of Pharmacy.” National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. N.p., Feb. 2010. Web. 11 Dec. 2012.