Medical malpractice insurance can be a worthy investment for a medical professional and health care provider, but can also be a useful tool for patients in protecting themselves from foreseeable harm and future financial constraints.
California residents who have suffered a medical malpractice injury or illness likely believe that theirs is a rare experience in what is an overall excellent health care system. Unfortunately, such is not the case. A British Medical Journal (BMJ) research as cited in a Washington Post article reports that medical errors are commonplace today and may account for as much as 251,000 deaths a year, making them the third leading cause of death in the United States.
California residents should therefore be concerned since according to the National Practitioner Data Bank 2003 Annual Report, the 2015 medical malpractice statistics for the state of California include the following startling figures:
- 1,358 or 9.5% of all medical malpractice claims against healthcare professionals were made in the state of California;
- 16.74 percent of general medical malpractice lawsuits against dentists were filed in California—the exact number of the medical malpractice payments reports against dentists in California, is 375
- California physicians had to pay an aggregate of $176,986 in mean medical malpractice damages, and $60,000 in median malpractice payments.
If the foregoing statistics seem alarming, here is what California residents need to know. Medical malpractice or negligence occurs when a hospital, doctor or other health care professional, through a negligent act or omission, causes an injury to a patient. This negligence might be the result of errors in diagnosis, treatment, aftercare or health management. To be considered medical malpractice under the law, the claim must have the following characteristics:
Residents of Ventura county and surrounding counties of California like Oxnard, Thousand Oaks and Simi Valley who have suffered any type of medical negligence or malpractice should call to speak to one of our California medical malpractice attorneys to see how we can help you recover for any damages you have suffered.
- A violation of the standard of care – The law acknowledges that there are certain medical standards that are recognized by the profession as being acceptable medical treatment by reasonably prudent health care professionals under like or similar circumstances. This is known as the standard of care. A patient has the right to expect that health care professionals will deliver care that is consistent with these standards. If it is however determined that the standard of care has not been met, then a case of negligence may be established.
- An injury was caused by the negligence – For a medical malpractice claim to be valid, it is not sufficient that a healthcare professional simply violated the standard of care. The patient must also prove he or she sustained an injury that would not have occurred in the absence of negligence. An unfavorable outcome by itself is not malpractice. The patient must prove that the negligence caused the injury. If there is an injury without negligence, or negligence that did not cause an injury, then there is no case.
- The injury resulted in significant damages – Medical malpractice lawsuits are extremely expensive to litigate, frequently requiring testimony of numerous medical experts and countless hours of deposition testimony. For a case to be viable, the patient must show that significant damages resulted from an injury received due to the medical negligence. If the damages are small, the cost of pursuing the case might be greater than the eventual recovery. To pursue a medical malpractice claim, the patient must show that the injury resulted in disability, loss of income, unusual pain, suffering and hardship, or significant past and future medical bills.
The leading California statute governing Medical Malpractice is the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA) of 1975, which was intended to lower medical malpractice insurance for healthcare providers, by decreasing their potential tort liability. Since MICRA was established, California has become one of the most stable medical malpractice markets in the country as MICRA has served as the national model for state and federal liability reform efforts.
The success of MICRA’s reform initiatives could not however, have been possible without the establishment of medical malpractice insurance, which insures against claims of medical negligence. Most policies also cover your conduct as a member of a peer review panel. This feature protects against lawsuits claiming that an adverse peer review decision made by the insured was inappropriate and caused a loss of income. Some policies provide a dollar amount available to the insured if a lawyer is needed to defend against licensing or peer review proceedings.
This spells great news for medical negligence attorneys who, for situations that warrant it, litigate lawsuits based on the negligent conduct of individuals providing care such as doctors, nurses, dentists and anesthesiologists and health care providers such as hospitals, health care clinics and medical corporations. Why? Because insurance policies usually provide these attorneys with the necessary blueprint to file claims for a fixed dollar amount, based on the injury, rather than searching in the dark for a settlement or damage award figure for their clients, as there are limits to doctors’ liability and a limit on how much patients can receive in damage awards.
If you are medical professional or health care provider, it’s a no-brainer! You should consider enrolling in a medical malpractice insurance plan best suited for your practice. If you are a patient awaiting surgery or is receiving medical care, it may be in your best interest to also find out if your medical provider also carries medical malpractice insurance. As a patient, you may also want to keep in mind that California’s statute of limitations for medical malpractice lawsuits can be found at California Code of Civil Procedure section 340.5, which states that this kind of case must be brought “within one year after the plaintiff discovers, or through the use of reasonable diligence should have discovered, the injury,” or within three years of the date of the injury, whichever comes first.
In other words, in California, once you learn that you were harmed by a health care provider’s negligence, you need to get your lawsuit filed in the state’s civil court system within a year of that discovery. And if you don’t discover that you were harmed until after more than three years have passed since the negligent act occurred, you will have lost your right to file a medical malpractice lawsuit in California. One exception to this overall three-year deadline is cases where a foreign object — such as a medical instrument or a surgical sponge — was left in the patient’s body. In those kinds of cases, the one year discovery deadline still applies, but there is no overall time limit. So, you could bring this kind of case ten years or more after the surgical error occurred, as long as you file it within a year after you find out about the presence of the foreign object.