Intuitively, you probably feel like you understand medical negligence. But as a legal term, things get more complicated. Medical negligence occurs when a healthcare professional fails to provide a reasonable level of care for a patient. Depending on your circumstances, this can happen in a number of different ways, and at the hands of many different professionals.
If you’re able to prove that you were a victim of medical negligence, you’ll likely be entitled to a compensation claim—usually one that covers any expenses you incurred as a result of the negligence as well as compensation for your pain and suffering. But what really counts as medical negligence? And how can you prove that it happened?
Who Can Be Responsible for Medical Negligence?
There are many different professionals who can be responsible for medical negligence. Any healthcare professional responsible for providing care to patients can be held accountable for negligent behavior or actions. Physicians tend to get the most attention, but pharmacists, dentists, specialists, nurses, and even some types of hospital staff can be found medically negligent.
What Counts as Medical Negligence?
So what types of actions “count” as medical negligence?
There’s a broad spectrum of decisions, actions, and behaviors that could be considered medically negligent, so long as they meet three major conditions:
●Violation of reasonable care. First, the action must fall outside the boundaries of a standard of “reasonable care.” This can be tricky to precisely define, since reasonable care can vary from practice to practice, and can change over time. If a physician does something they know to be risky without disclosing the risks, that falls outside reasonable care. If they fail to diagnose an illness when they had plenty of evidence suggesting the illness was present, that could also be considered a violation of reasonable care.
●Causation. Next, the healthcare provider’s action or inaction must be causally linked to the end result (i.e., the patient’s additional harm). In other words, it must be proven that the healthcare provider’s decision or action was directly responsible for the events that followed. If this is ambiguous, like if the healthcare provider’s decision was only one of a series of factors that led to a negative outcome, this can be difficult to establish.
●Harm. Finally, the patient must come to some kind of harm as a result of that negligent decision. This could be immediate injury or harm as a result of an action (like injury during poorly performed surgery), or further degradation of an illness that wasn’t properly identified.
These are just a few examples of actions or instances of inaction that could result in a finding of medical negligence:
●Misdiagnosis or missed diagnosis. If you’re misdiagnosed with an illness, or if you have an illness that isn’t diagnosed, it could count as medical negligence. In this case, if a healthcare provider has all the evidence necessary to make the correct diagnosis but they make the wrong one, it can make matters much worse due to lack of treatment or wrong treatment.
●Wrong treatment. Speaking of wrong treatment, this is a very common example of medical negligence. If a doctor or pharmacist prescribes a treatment outside of reasonable care expectations that makes matters worse, it’s an incident of negligence. For example, if you’re given an incorrect medication that makes your condition worse instead of better, the person who prescribed it or filled it could be found responsible for the damage.
●Poor or erroneous treatment. Medical negligence can also occur due to poor-quality treatment, or due to a mistake during a treatment. For example, if a surgeon makes an error during your procedure that results in further damage, it could feasibly count as medical negligence.
●Failure to take action. Healthcare professionals can also be found medically negligent if they fail to take a reasonable action to treat a patient. For example, if a doctor doesn’t take a patient’s symptom complaints seriously and doesn’t offer a strong enough treatment, it could count as medical negligence if that decision causes further harm to the patient that could have otherwise been prevented.
A Note on Locations and Terminology
This article shouldn’t be taken as legal advice, but provides a high-level view on medical negligence that can help you when making medical decisions or when deciding when to seek the help of a lawyer. Do note that different countries and different legal systems have varying definitions of what “medical negligence” is, and in some cases, have other concepts for healthcare-related infractions.
If you feel you were the victim of medical negligence, it’s important to speak with a lawyer right away. Many medical negligence lawyers offer free consultations for prospective clients, and some even reduce or eliminate fees in non-winning cases. Get professional advice before making any decision.
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