You had gone in for your annual examination with your doctor at the Hennepin County Medical Center. You mentioned a small lump in your breast, but the doctor said not to worry about it without doing a thorough examination or sending you for testing. It was later revealed that the lump was malignant and had grown substantially in size. You had to undergo chemotherapy and radiation and miss a substantial amount of work, most of which could have been avoided if the cancer had been caught earlier. Medical malpractice cases vary widely in many ways, and the situation above is just one example of potential malpractice by a physician. If you are wondering if you have a case, here is some basic information we have compiled about medical malpractice cases in Minneapolis. Be sure to also check out the FindLaw section on Medical Malpractice for a general overview.
What Is a Medical Malpractice Action?
A medical malpractice action generally is filed when a healthcare professional acts in a negligent manner and a patient is hurt as a result. Some examples include things like medication errors, diagnosis delays or errors, and mistakes in surgery or other procedures.
A malpractice action is a civil (as opposed to criminal) action and in Minneapolis will likely be brought in the Hennepin County District Civil Court.
Depending on the nature of your injury, some first steps you might consider before you file your action include the following: 1) contacting your doctor to see whether he will correct the problem, 2) contacting the medical licensing board to report the incident, and 3) getting a confirmation from a medical expert that your doctor acted negligently and caused your injury. In Minnesota a filer must have such a sworn statement by such an expert when filling the initial court papers.
While considering whether to file a malpractice action, the filer should be sure to know how long they have to do so. There are strict time limits within which a person must bring their action or lose their right to do so. These are called statutes of limitations and they vary by state and cause of action. In Minnesota, you have 4 years to bring a medical malpractice action. Generally, the 4 years begins running (counting) on the date of the negligent treatment. This is different from some other states that follow a "discovery of harm" rule, which starts the statute of limitations running when the patient discovered or should have discovered the injury.
How Does One Establish Malpractice?
In order to maintain a negligence action against a medical professional, the patient must show that the doctor owed a duty to the patient, that the doctor breached that duty, and that injury to the patient resulted from that breach.
Although we all are expected to behave reasonably to avoid harming others, a doctor is held to a higher standard than the average person. Specifically, a doctor's conduct is measured against other doctors in similar circumstances and a doctor must act with the same degree of skill, care, and diligence as another reasonably competent doctor would.
In order to establish what another "reasonably competent doctor" would do, the patient typically must offer the expert testimony of a doctor in the same area of medicine who can explain the level of care and how it is commonly met. Then, in order to show negligence, the expert typically explains how the doctor failed to meet this level of care.
What Are The Common Defenses to Malpractice?
If you do pursue your malpractice action, the doctor will most likely argue in defense that he acted as a reasonably competent doctor would have under the circumstances or that your injuries didn't result from his actions (or inactions). A doctor may also suggest or argue that a patient's own negligence caused or contributed to the harm at issue.
What Damages Are Available?
Generally, patients in malpractice cases seek compensatory damages. These include economic damages such as medical bills and lost wages, as well as non-economic damages such as pain and suffering.
In cases in which it is established by clear and convincing evidence that the doctor showed "deliberate disregard for the rights or safety of others," you may also be entitled to punitive damages (damages to punish or deter the wrongdoer).
A medical malpractice case can be a complicated endeavor with its medical terminology, records, experts, insurers, and more. For this reason, it may be a good idea to consult with an attorney to assess a potential case and get helpful guidance through the process. Check out this FindLaw section on Medical Malpractice Legal Help for more information about attorneys in the field.
Contact a qualified attorney.