“Medical malpractice” refers to actions for personal injury against a healthcare provider based on professional negligence. The term is most often used to apply to law suits brought by patients against physicians as a result of getting “bad care.” However, “healthcare provider” also includes nurse practitioners, physician assistants, dentists, chiropractors, and anyone else holding a healthcare license.
Licensed providers must practice with no less than the level of learning and skill ordinarily possessed by other practitioners in the same or similar locality and under the same circumstances. This level is the “standard of care.” Hence, licensed healthcare providers must practice within the standard of care.
The first clue that something has gone wrong with your medical condition is that you do not get better, or in some cases get worse. When you seek treatment for a medical illness, you expect to get better. Note I stated that the “first clue” to a medical malpractice case is when a patient does not get better. The next step in evaluating a potential medical malpractice case is to determine why a patient did not get better or why the patient got worse. Most times when a patient does not get better, it is not the result of negligence.
If you suspect that your physician has been negligent, you should get a second medical opinion from another physician. In some cases, your insurance plan will cover the expense of second opinions. Because coverage may vary according to your health insurance plan, contact your insurance carrier to learn more about your rights to a second opinion. If the second opinion suggests that your initial care was below the standard of care or if you are not able to get a reliable second opinion, you should consult a medical malpractice attorney.
When consulting an attorney, you should be ready to provide the date on which you knew or should have known that you had a medical problem or suffered harm from medical care that you received. This date is important because there are time limits, set by law, which you must follow when suing a healthcare provider. This time limit is called a “statute of limitations.” Thus, if you suspect you have been a victim of medical negligence, you should not delay in seeking legal advice. Most medical malpractice attorneys offer free, though brief, initial consultations to go over the basic facts surrounding the care received. They will then provide an opinion as to what next steps, if any, should be taken.