Medical malpractice lawsuits are among the most complex injury-related cases, as well as some of the highest value, highest stakes, and most aggressively contested claims. Injured patients and families often have a great deal riding on the outcome of their claims, which is why a general understanding of how medical malpractice cases work is a great starting place to learn about your rights, options, and what you can do as you seek justice and compensation through the judicial system.
At Spangenberg Shibley & Liber LLC, our Cleveland-based trial attorneys have built our reputation on winning serious injury lawsuits. Since our firm was first founded in 1946, we’ve recovered over $1 billion in compensation for our clients, many of who had challenging medical malpractice claims. For our work, we’ve been recognized among the “Best Law Firms” in Medical Malpractice and Personal Injury Litigation by U.S. News, and we work every day to uphold that distinction.
Ohio Medical Malpractice FAQ
Our medical malpractice team wants to help patients, friends, and families throughout Ohio gain a better grasp on how these cases work. Here are some answers to a few of the most common questions we receive:
Q: What is Medical Malpractice?
A: People generally understand what’s being said when the term “medical malpractice” is used, but its definition under the law and the legal standards which apply are more specific in describing what actually constitutes malpractice. Generally, medical malpractice is the failure of a medical professional – be they a doctor, specialist, nurse, dentist, or other medically licensed health care provider – to treat patients in accordance to the accepted standards, rules, and guidelines of their profession.
If that sounds pretty straightforward, it’s because that is a simplification of what malpractice means. What medical malpractice looks like, however, is something unique to each and every case. Though substandard care could mean anything from failing to accurately diagnose a rare medical condition to leaving a surgical instrument in a patient’s body, there is a general standard by which medical providers are assessed on whether malpractice occurred. That standard is known as the “duty of care.”
Q: What’s a Medical Professional’s Duty of Care?
A: Much like the legal duty you have to safely operate your vehicle, the obligation a property owner owes their guests to keep them safe from known hazards, or the legal duty a financial advisor owes their clients when handling their money, a medical professional’s duty of care is the standard by which they must conduct themselves when treating patients. As mentioned, that can be different depending on the situation: a nurse’s duty of care when assisting with childbirth is different than a cardiologist’s duty to identify a condition which can and should be diagnosed.
Generally, the law asks an essential question to determine whether a duty of care was upheld or breached:
- Did the medical professional fail to act in a manner another reasonably competent and skilled practitioner in their particular field would have acted under the same or similar circumstances?
If the answer to that question is no, it may mean that not even the best medical mind could have been able to diagnose a very rare disease given the available information. If the answer to that question is yes, it may mean the doctor, or whatever health care provider is involved, may have breached their duty of care, and that victims may have a potential case. Keep in mind, however, that doctors cannot be expected to treat or cure all ailments.
Q: How Do I Know If I Have a Case?
A: The answer to this question is that most people can’t be very certain whether they have a case, unless they’re a practicing medical malpractice attorney or a physician injured in a procedure they themselves also perform. Even then, determining the viability of any potential claim requires an in-depth evaluation, investigation, and an understanding of the applicable laws and medical standards involved. Generally, you can gain a better understanding of whether you might have a case if the following “essential elements” of a medical malpractice claim exist:
- You had a verifiable doctor-patient relationship – This element is fairly simple; victims who believe they might have a claim must have had a formal doctor-patient relationship with the physician or the provider they allege was negligent. You can’t sue a doctor for following advice you overheard them telling another patient. The existence of a doctor-patient relationship is what creates the duty of care, so you must have been treated by that doctor, or had established that relationship in some manner, such as when a nurse assists the doctor who treats you. In some cases, those who aren’t personally treated by the alleged at-fault doctor may be able to bring a malpractice claim on behalf of a loved one, which is what typically happens in cases involving wrongful death, where certain family members have rights to bring these claims.
- The medical provider failed to meet their duty of care – If you think a doctor who had a legal duty to provide reasonably skillful and competent care failed to do so, you might have a claim. Of course, you’ll need to prove what that duty of care was and how they “breached” that duty (often as a result of negligence), which are some of the most challenging aspects of these cases, and which usually require extensive work, resources, and collaboration with medical experts.
- The provider’s substandard care was the cause of your alleged injury – It’s not enough to prove that a medical professional was negligent in providing treatment. You’ll also have to prove “causation.” In civil lawsuits (torts) like medical malpractice claims, you will have to connect the alleged act of negligence to your injuries, as the primary cause or as a contributing factor. Further, you have to prove that negligence / mistake / substandard care more likely than not caused your injuries. The more likely than not is a way of saying “by a preponderance of the evidence,” which is the burden of proof used in civil injury claims, and which is a lower burden than beyond a reasonable doubt used in criminal matters.
- You suffered damages as a result – There is no claim without damages. You must demonstrate how the provider’s negligence resulted in you (and / or your loved ones) suffering actual damages. In medical malpractice cases, these damages can be far-reaching and life-altering, and may include physical pain, emotional suffering, lost income or future wages, past and future medical expenses associated with the injury, and other financial and non-economic damages.
Q: What Are Some Common Medical Malpractice Claims
A: Medical malpractice claims are all unique, but there are some common types of cases that can better illustrate the concepts we’ve been trying to explain. For example, our firm handles cases involving:
- Birth injuries caused by a doctor who improperly used forceps when delivering a baby, or a nurse who failed to accurately evaluate a fetal heart monitor to detect clear indications of fetal distress.
- Illnesses which could have been effectively treated, mitigated, or prevented had a doctor not made a misdiagnosis, or failed to diagnose a condition they could and should have identified.
- An infection caused by a doctor leaving a medical instrument in a patient’s body, or a nurse not properly sterilizing certain tools or surfaces.
- Administrative errors which cause patients to undergo a procedure they did not need, such as an amputation.
- Medication and prescription errors, which may include giving the wrong dose or type of drug to a patient.
- Injuries caused by surgical errors which reasonably skillful doctors wouldn’t have made.
Q: When Should I Start My Case?
A: As soon as possible. Medical malpractice claims require not only time to vet and evaluate in order to determine whether they’re viable enough to move forward, but also to investigate, research, collaborate with experts, and prepare an effective strategy. Time is also important for the preservation of evidence, and because there are time limits in place, known as the “statute of limitations,” beyond which you won’t be able to file a claim and recover damages if they expire.
In Ohio, the statute of limitations in medical malpractice cases can be tricky, but – per Oh. Rev. Code § 2305.113(A) – is generally 1 year from the date you discovered the injury (or illness), or 1 year from the date you were last treated by the provider you claim was negligent, whichever is later. Although there may be some cases where the statute of limitations varies (i.e. depending on who the responsible entity or victim was), the time limit for bringing a medical malpractice claim in Ohio is quite strict.
Q: Do I Need a Lawyer?
A: That’s a question you must ultimately answer. There’s no law requiring you to have an attorney, but there is a reason why people work with attorneys, especially in difficult cases like medical malpractice. Attorneys act as your advocates, and handle the legal aspects of your difficult claim while you focus on recovering and repairing your life.
Because not every attorney handled injury cases, and not every injury attorney handles medical malpractice cases, you’ll want to be sure the lawyer you choose does. Ask about their experience in this practice area, their case results, and how they work these cases. For example, do they have the resources to take on major corporate entities, hospitals, and insurance companies who care more about protecting their bottom line than paying victims fairly? Do they have access to medical experts who can provide support for your claim or testimony in court? Working with an attorney is strongly encouraged, but working with the right attorney can make all the difference.
Have More Questions? Call (216) 600-0114
Our nationally recognized medical malpractice team at Spangenberg Shibley & Liber LLC is readily available to answer your questions. During a free and confidential consultation, we can review your case and help you determine if you might have a potential claim. We can also discuss what we can do to guide you through the legal process, and how we can fight for the compensation you deserve.
Call (216) 600-0114 to speak with a lawyer. Spangenberg Shibley & Liber LLC serves clients in Cleveland and throughout Ohio.