What is Medical Malpractice

A lot of things in life can lead to illness or injury. But visiting the doctor or a hospital shouldn’t be one of them.

Unfortunately, patients sometimes do emerge from a medical visit or procedure with new health problems.

When doctors, nurses, and other health professionals breach the standard of care for their profession, it’s called medical malpractice.

In the United States, when patients suffer injuries as a result of medical malpractice, they are entitled to recover financial compensation for their damages. While the rules governing the claims process can vary from one jurisdiction to the next, the general principle are the same.

There is a lot to know about medical malpractice, though. As a legal issue, it is complex. Patients sometimes wonder whether their situation qualifies, or whether pursuing a claim would even be worth it.

As medical malpractice lawyers serving Olympia, Tacoma, Port Orchard, Puyallup, and the surrounding areas, we often hear from people who’ve suffered from medical mistakes but aren’t quite sure if they are eligible for compensation, or who want to know how much money they might recover before deciding whether to take legal action.

The information below serves as a general introduction to medical malpractice, and it will help you understand (as a general matter) when the law applies.

That said, there is no substitute for talking with legal counsel one on one. Every legal situation — and every medical condition — is unique. The only way to know whether you have a viable claim or how much you might recover is to discuss the matter with an experienced personal injury attorney directly.

At Fuller & Fuller Attorneys at Law, we proudly offer free, no-obligation consultations to injured patients who need to know more about their rights under the law. Please contact our office to talk with an attorney or experienced staff member today.

What Is Medical Malpractice? Does It Happen Often?

Medical malpractice is generally defined as a health care professional’s deviation from the standard of care. To successfully bring a claim for medical malpractice, the patient must be able to show all the following:

  • That the health professional owed a duty of care
  • That the health professional breached the duty of care (e.g. by failing to exercise the skill or care that a reasonable doctor would have exercised in the same situation)
  • That this breach caused the patient’s injuries
  • That the patient has suffered damages as a result

An experienced medical malpractice attorney can help patients prove each of these elements using evidence, including the testimony of an expert witness (typically another doctor in the same field).

While medical malpractice might sound like something rare and extreme, the truth is that it’s common — alarmingly common.

The Journal of the American Medical Association reports that medical negligence is the third leading cause of death in the United States (right after heart disease and cancer).

Doctors, hospitals, and medical organizations pay out a combined $3 billion-plus in medical malpractice claims, settlements, and judgments every single year in the U.S. alone, averaging one payout every 43 minutes, according to Forbes.

In fact, ABC reports (by way of the AMA) that more than 60% of doctors over the age of 55 have been sued at least once for making a medical mistake.

Meanwhile, the Journal of Patient Safety estimates that accounting for both reported and unreported incidents, tens of thousands of Americans may die of preventable medical mistakes every single year.

So if you believe you’ve suffered a medical injury that deviated from the applicable standard of care, you certainly aren’t alone.

Some Common Examples of Medical Malpractice

Medical malpractice can take many forms. Some of the most common examples include:

  • Misdiagnosis (or failing to diagnose a serious condition such as cancer or heart attack)
  • Surgical errors (e.g., leaving foreign objects inside the body, operating on the wrong limb, etc.)
  • Anesthesia errors
  • Providing treatment or performing a procedure without informed consent
  • Premature discharge
  • Birth injuries
  • Failure to reasonably monitor a patient or prevent falls during a hospital stay
  • Medication errors (e.g., prescribing too much or too little, errors in administering medications, failure to screen for counteractions, etc.)

These are only a few examples, and they can occur in many contexts: hospitals, emergency rooms, nursing homes, or during pregnancy and delivery, among many others.

Are Medical Mistakes Always Considered “Medical Malpractice”?

No. Medicine is a science, but it isn’t always an exact science. Despite their best abilities, doctors aren’t always able to cure patients, and many bad results are one of the known risks of having a procedure.

The question in a medical malpractice case boils down to this: did the doctor (or care provider) behave unreasonably? In other words, would a reasonable doctor have acted in the same way? Would the injury or illness have happened under a reasonable doctor’s care?

As Washington medical malpractice attorneys, we often look to expert testimony from doctors and other medical experts to help us answer these questions.

Other kinds of evidence might be helpful too, such as standards and guidelines issued by the American Medical Association and/or individual state Boards of Medicine. As a patient, your own testimony, documentation, and medical records can prove useful too. The sooner you talk to us, the better.

Another consideration is whether the patient suffered a severe injury as a result of the medical malpractice. Medical malpractice cases are so long and difficult that, as a practical matter, it’s hard for many moderately injured patients to get justice.

Who Is Responsible for Medical Malpractice?

The responsible parties in a medical malpractice claim might include:

  • Individual physicians, nurses, midwives, or other healthcare professionals
  • Physician’s groups & clinics
  • Hospitals
  • Urgent Care centers
  • Emergency Room departments (including free-standing Emergency Rooms)
  • Insurance companies (including malpractice insurers)
  • Pharmaceutical corporations
  • Medical device manufacturers
  • Other medical entities

The specific facts and circumstances of your situation will determine who might be liable for your damages.

How Much Can Injured Patients Recover in a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit?

Because everyone’s claim is different, it is impossible to predict a specific outcome for any given legal matter in advance.

However, you should know that, in many cases, patients who have suffered harm as a result of medical malpractice may be entitled to substantial financial compensation. Medical care tends to be costly, and that is certainly true of the ongoing care that injured patients often must receive. The injured party is entitled to pain & suffering compensation.

The law recognizes other types of damages too, such as lost wages due to time away from work. In the case of wrongful death, certain family members may be entitled to bring a claim for their own loss of love and support, in addition to losses on behalf of the estate.

While we cannot guarantee a particular outcome, when you schedule a free consultation with the medical malpractice lawyers at Fuller & Fuller Attorneys at Law, we can carefully review your situation and help you understand how much money people in similar situations have recovered. We understand that having some sense of the damages you might be able to recover is an important part of your decision about how to proceed next.

What About Tort Reform? Are Medical Malpractice Cases Tough to Win?

It is true that medical malpractice litigation is challenging, and the trials can be demanding. But when you are represented by an experienced medical malpractice attorney team like ours at Fuller & Fuller Attorneys at Law, we can shoulder that burden for you. By hiring a seasoned lawyer, you can leave the stress behind and focus on getting better instead.

For that matter, many of our firm’s medical malpractice claims are resolved through private, out-of-court settlements. You may be able to recover without ever going to trial.

Nevertheless, at Fuller & Fuller Attorneys at Law, we do prepare most cases as if they are bound for trial, and we are ready and willing to go there if that’s what medical malpractice justice demands. It’s important that the attorneys on the other side understand that we’re serious — and we are.

Long before litigation begins, we can help you understand whether you have a viable claim for medical malpractice and whether it’s worth pursuing.

Schedule a Free Consultation Today: Medical Malpractice Claims in Olympia, Tacoma, Port Orchard, Puyallup, and the Surrounding Areas

Before you accept a settlement agreement from a doctor, hospital, or insurance company — or before you decide whether to take legal action — make sure you understand your rights.

Don’t let a doctor’s carelessness cause you an unfair financial struggle. Contact an experienced medical malpractice lawyer and learn more about your options.

At Fuller & Fuller, Attorneys at Law, we promise to:

  • Offer you a free case evaluation if we think you have a claim
  • Give you honest guidance
  • Never charge you a fee for our services unless and until we recover damages for you
  • Answer your questions and treat you with care
  • Advocate for you and pursue your claim diligently
  • Demand every penny you’re owed, always fighting for maximum compensation

by Fuller & Fuller Attorneys at Law
Last updated on - Originally published on

Posted in: Medical Malpractice