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The Anatomy of a Medical Malpractice Case

By Hardwick & Pendergast, P.S. on June 28, 2019

Medical malpractice occurs when a healthcare professional or medical facility injures a patient through negligence—outside of the “accepted” standard of care. When you’re a patient, checked into a hospital, every person working at or for the hospital owes you a professional duty. Medical malpractice does not have to be the result of a harmful act, such as operating on the wrong body part; it can also be the result of failure to diagnose or treat a condition, or a failure to do so in a timely manner.

Here is how a medical malpractice claim would break down in Washington State. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to contact the medical malpractice lawyers at Hardwick & Pendergast, P.S., by dialing (888) 228-3860.

There Was a Violation of the Standard of Care.

There are two characteristics that need to be established; the first being a breach in the standard of care. The medical standard of care can be defined as how a reasonably competent, knowledgeable, and skilled medical professional would act in a similar situation.

For instance, when a 55-year-old man shows up at an emergency room complaining of severe chest pain, the accepted response by a competent physician would be to order an electrocardiogram (ECG) to examine the electrical activity in the heart; blood tests to detect certain enzymes associated with a heart attack; a chest X-ray to show the condition of the lungs and heart; and a computerized tomography (CT scan) to detect a blood clot in the lungs. In other words, the standard procedure for a middle-aged man with chest pain would be to test for a heart attack. If the presiding doctor did not order the above diagnostic tests, and decided that the man was merely suffering from indigestion, when he actually did suffer a heart attack, would be a violation of the medical standard of care, and thus be considered negligence.

Let’s look at another example. It is well known by the obstetrics community that a mother who attempts a vaginal birth after having a previous cesarean section (called VBAC) is at increased risk of uterine rupture, due to the scar tissue in the uterus. Now, suppose the attending OB/GYN orders nurses to start the laboring mother on a Pitocin drip, which increases both the force and speed of her contractions. This is dangerous to both mother and baby—while a uterine rupture can require an emergency hysterectomy to save the mother’s life, the baby may suffer serious brain damage in the time in takes to deliver her via C-section. By going against accepted practice and negligently using a labor-inducing drug, which is known to cause uterine rupture, the OB/GYN has violated the standard of care.

That Violation Caused Measurable Harm to the Patient.

The second characteristic in a medical malpractice claim is establishing that the patient’s injury was caused by the negligence. If negligence was committed but caused no injury, no worsening of illness, and no psychological trauma, there would be no grounds for a medical malpractice claim.

Examples of Medical Malpractice

Any time a medical professional’s negligence results in injury or death to a patient under his or her care, a lawsuit is warranted. The following are some of the more common reasons that “med mal” claims are filed in the U.S.:

  • Failure to fully assess a patient’s medical/health history.
  • Medication errors: wrong medication, wrong dosage, failure to see to see negative interactions with other medications, etc.
  • Failure to diagnose, giving the wrong diagnosis, or not giving a diagnosis in time.
  • Failure to order proper diagnostic tests.
  • Inaccurate reading or analysis of lab results.
  • Ordering unnecessary surgery
  • Surgical errors: wrong procedure performed, wrong site surgery, etc.
  • Due to an unsterilized instrument, room, or poor wound care, the patient acquires an HAI—healthcare-associated infection.
  • Failure to warn of possible risks or complications.
  • Anesthesia errors.
  • Premature discharge of patient.
  • Inadequate follow-up or aftercare.

The Importance of an Attorney in a Medical Malpractice Claim

Medical malpractice claims are complicated affairs, involving scientific knowledge, multiple defendants, and their insurance companies. An experienced medical malpractice attorney will be able to identify all possible defendants, know the legal procedures to get your case underway, and be able to accurately calculate the amount of compensation to pursue. Plus, they will have access to the expert medical witnesses needed for a successful outcome. Most of all, your attorney will take care of the numerous details of your case while you focus on coping and healing from your injuries. Due to the complex nature of these lawsuits, not just any lawyer will be adept at handling such claims. You will need a legal team that has handled such cases before.

If you feel that you or a family member has been the victim of medical malpractice in Washington, you may be entitled to significant compensation through a civil lawsuit. To find out more about your legal rights and options, call the experienced legal team at Hardwick & Pendergast, P.S., for a free case evaluation. Our firm has been successfully representing Seattle area medical malpractice victims since 1997. Let us put our skills and experience behind your claim.

We only get paid if we win you the compensation you deserve. For a free consultation, call our Renton office at (425) 228-3860.

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