We trust that doctors, nurses, surgeons, anesthesiologists, and other healthcare professionals will support and care for us in our times of need. Unfortunately, even at world-renowned hospitals and healthcare systems, this support is not always provided. When doctors are careless, negligent, or underqualified, innocent patients can be seriously injured, permanently disabled, or even killed. Medication errors, surgical errors, and failures to diagnose life-threatening illnesses, such as cancer or heart disease, are just a few examples of what can go wrong when a doctor commits medical malpractice in Philadelphia or other parts of Pennsylvania.
If you were harmed by your doctor due to medical negligence, you may be entitled to compensation for your medical bills, pain and suffering, lost earnings, and other damages. The Philadelphia malpractice attorneys at The Reiff Law Firm have nearly four decades of experience representing injury and wrongful death victims in Pennsylvania and are prepared to provide the aggressive, hard-hitting representation you need when you are up against medical malpractice insurance companies and their attorneys. We have successfully represented tens of thousands of accident and injury victims, and possess the practical know-how, the investigative tools, and the medical resources to handle your claim effectively. We devote ourselves entirely to our clients, and will work tirelessly to hold your doctor or hospital accountable for the harm you suffered.
Our Pennsylvania malpractice attorneys represent patients throughout Philadelphia and the surrounding counties. For a free legal consultation about how we may be able to help you and your family if you were hurt by a medical error, contact us online, or call The Reiff Law Firm at (215) 246-9000 today.
Do I Have a Medical Malpractice Case?
After a poor medical outcome that resulted in injury, illness, or a reduced chance of survival, the patient or their family members may be angry and upset. They may regret certain decisions or wish that the doctor had approached the medical issue in a different manner.
However, it’s important to understand that medical malpractice requires more than just a bad medical result. In order for the patient to have a “cause of action,” or the legal basis for bringing a claim, the doctor, nurse, or other provider must have taken actions that fell below certain standards of care.
There are four basic elements to a medical malpractice lawsuit. If the following elements seem to apply to your situation, you may have a case against your doctor, hospital, or other parties who were involved in your treatment:
- The doctor, or other healthcare professional, owed the patient a legal duty of care.
- The doctor violated, or “breached,” the appropriate medical standard of care.
- This breach is the cause the patient’s injury, illness, or death.
- The patient suffered harm as a result of the doctor’s medical negligence.
Generally, the standard of care in Pennsylvania requires a doctor, surgeon, or nurse to have the same level of medical knowledge as a similarly situated medical professional. Typically, this requires doctors and other medical professionals to continually update their skills and knowledge, so that they apply generally accepted methods and practices in their treatment. Thus, typically the plaintiff must show that “a reasonable degree of medical certainty” exists that the standard of care was breached bringing about the harm. Mitzelfelt v. Kamrin, 584 A.2d 888, 891 (Pa. 1990).
Of course, patients are not expected to interpret or apply the foregoing legal standards on their own. On the contrary, proving negligence is a complex, strategy-driven effort that depends on the effective use of highly technical evidence. The Philadelphia malpractice lawyers of The Reiff Law Firm can help determine whether you have a claim when you contact our law offices for your free legal consultation.
How Do You Prove Medical Negligence?
Aside from proving a breach of the standard of care, it is also necessary to provide proof that the doctor’s negligence was the actual cause of injury, as opposed to an unrelated event. In matters where a breach of the standard of care is established or conceded, opposing counsel and experts may argue that the breach was merely incidental or coincidental to the injuries. Thus, it is important to have an attorney who understands and can anticipate certain defenses that counsel for the medical professional may raise.
The victim must also prove the full extent of his or her damages in a medical malpractice claim. Damages suffered by the patient may include, but are not limited to:
- The actual, physical injuries suffered.
- The pain and suffering caused by the injuries.
- Lost wages resulting from the medical injury.
- Decreased future earnings, or reductions in earning capacity.
- Decreased chance of survival or a shortened lifespan.
In many malpractice injury cases, defense counsel may argue that the error merely aggravated a pre-existing condition, or assert that the injured person is “exaggerating” their injury. At The Reiff Law Firm, we understand how devastating and exhausting a medical injury can be and will fight vigorously to maximize the worth of your malpractice claim by showing the full extent of the injury’s current and anticipated effects on your daily life.
What is the Time Limit to Sue for Malpractice in PA?
In Pennsylvania, the general rule is that a plaintiff has two years, in accordance with 42 Pa. C.S. § 5524(2), to bring a medical malpractice claim. Generally speaking, failure to bring a claim within this time limit, which is known as the “statute of limitations,” will result in the claim being barred, leaving the victim with minimal recourse. However, in certain cases, the “discovery rule” can mitigate the harsh consequences that sometimes result from this short time period to file a claim.
Under normal circumstances, a plaintiff has two years from the date of injury in which to bring a claim. By comparison, the discovery rule allows the plaintiff two years from the date that he or she discovered the injury, or reasonably should have known that an injury occurred.
The classic case of delayed discovery of a medical injury is a medical implement or tool that is left behind inside the patient’s body after surgery, often a sponge or piece of gauze accidentally left inside the abdominal cavity. In such a scenario, the patient may not discover the injury until months or even years have passed, depending on when the issue is revealed by pain, illness, or diagnostic testing.
A discussion regarding Pennsylvania’s time limits to bring a medical negligence action would not be complete without mention of Pennsylvania’s “statute of repose.” The statute of repose is part of the Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error Fund (MCARE). The rule holds that, despite the leeway provided by the discovery rule under the statute of limitations, all claims stemming from an act of alleged medical negligence must be brought within seven years, with several exceptions. These exceptions include:
- Injuries caused by foreign objects left inside the patient’s body after, or during, the course of surgery.
- Medical injuries to children.
How Often Do Medical Errors Cause Patient Deaths and Injuries?
Unfortunately, serious medical mistakes are more common than most individuals realize. A recent study led by researchers from Johns Hopkins Medicine revealed medical errors to be the third leading cause of death in the United States, accounting for an estimated 250,000 fatalities each year: a figure surpassed only by deaths related to cancer and cardiovascular disease. Nonfatal injuries are even more common.
There are many different forms of doctor negligence, but all have the potential to be extremely dangerous for patients. In addition to the physical injuries and emotional damage that medical malpractice can cause, the victims typically suffer tremendous financial setbacks. Medical errors that carry particularly severe consequences include:
- Birth Injuries (Birthing Malpractice)
- Failure to Diagnose (Delayed Diagnosis)
- Medical Misdiagnosis (Incorrect Diagnosis)
- Prescription Drug and Medication Errors (Medication Malpractice)
- Surgical Mistakes (Surgical Malpractice)
Birth Injury Malpractice
Birth injuries can leave newborn babies or their mothers with permanent disabilities. When a doctor, OB/GYN, nurse, or other medical professional provides substandard medical care during a mother’s pregnancy, C-section delivery, or vaginal delivery, negligence can cause conditions like Erb’s palsy, cerebral palsy, bone fractures, or brain injuries to the baby, whether caused by physical trauma or oxygen deprivation. A fetus or baby can also be seriously harmed by overdose with certain medications, such as Pitocin (oxytocin), which is used to induce contractions. The mother is also at risk of birth injury hazards, such as preventable blood loss (postpartum hemorrhage or PPH) or infection of the C-section site.
Surgical Errors and Anesthesia Mistakes
Errors committed by surgeons, anesthesiologists, and nurses before, during, or after surgery can result in serious injuries or wrongful death. Examples of surgical mistakes include:
- Administering the wrong type or amount of medication during, after, or prior to surgery.
- Leaving an object inside the patient’s body. This type of medical error, which is known as “unintended retention of foreign objects” (URFO), is more common than many people realize. According to The Joint Commission, a non-profit organization which certifies and accredits healthcare organizations in the United States, “From 2005 to 2012, 772 incidents of URFOs were reported to The Joint Commission’s Sentinel Event database. Sixteen deaths resulted from these incidents.”
- Making a mistake when administering anesthesia or keeping the patient under sedation. Anesthesia errors can include a failure to recognize allergic reactions or the administration of too little or too much anesthesia. Anesthesia errors can lead to tracheal damage, brain damage, paralysis, and stroke.
- Operating on the wrong organ, operating on the wrong limb, or operating on the wrong side of the body.
- Providing sub-standard post-operative care, leading to preventable infections and other complications.
Pharmacy Mistakes and Medication Malpractice
This form of malpractice occurs when a patient is prescribed the wrong dosage of medication or is given the wrong drug, increasing the risk of deadly drug interactions or an untreated condition growing worse. Prescription drug malpractice also covers a wide variety of medication errors, such as mislabeling a prescription or supplying incomplete or incorrect patient information, such as a patient allergy.
Cancer Misdiagnosis and Radiology Mistakes
This occurs when a doctor or specialist, such as a radiologist or an oncologist, either:
- Negligently fails to diagnose cancer, or misdiagnoses of cancer as a different condition.
- Delays a cancer diagnosis which another doctor would have noticed under the same circumstances.
The cancer misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis may limit the treatment options available to the cancer patient, which could dramatically affect the patient’s recovery outcome, or even reduce the patient’s life expectancy.
Medical malpractice cases cover a wide variety of medical errors and are not limited to those listed above. The most important legal factor in a malpractice lawsuit is that a healthcare professional’s negligence, whether by act or “omission” (failure to act), caused a patient to suffer an injury, illness, or death.
Our Philadelphia Malpractice Lawyers Can Help
By law, doctors and other healthcare professionals must provide their patients with a certain level of care. If a doctor negligently fails to provide adequate care and consequently injures or kills a patient, he or she may be held financially liable. The patient may be able to recover compensation for medical treatment, pain and suffering, decreased earning capacity, loss of income, and other hardships resulting from the medical mistake.
At The Reiff Law Firm, we understand how painful and devastating being a victim of medical negligence can be. We are here to help you fight for the maximum compensation for your injuries, and to prevent the medical professional from inflicting similar harm on others. To discuss a potential malpractice claim in a free and completely confidential legal consultation, call our Philadelphia malpractice attorneys at (215) 246-9000, or contact us online.