Liable Healthcare Providers in a Malpractice Claim
If you’ve suffered an injury or developed a damaging condition while under the supervision of your healthcare providers, you’re in a vulnerable state. You came to be healed, and now you have new damage to worry about. You’ll be living in doubt and wondering whom you can trust as you try to assess the extent of these new injuries, or of complications to old ones. It might help you, in this difficult time, to pinpoint exactly which healthcare providers might be legally responsible for your damages. An experienced medical malpractice attorney with a background in healthcare can walk you through these questions – but while you wait for that initial consultation, you can learn more about the different healthcare roles, and which healthcare provider might be liable in your situation.
Understanding breach of duty in malpractice cases
It’s important to understand that a negative outcome does not immediately constitute medical malpractice. Physicians have limited power, knowledge, and control; they can do their best to heal you, but not every treatment or medication will have its intended effect.
Healthcare providers do have a duty to provide a patient with care that meets the standards of the community within which they practice. They have committed a breach of duty if they provide care that fails to meet these standards. Breach of duty is a prerequisite for medical malpractice; after you’ve established breach of duty (and causation), the value of your suit depends on the extent of your damages.
Standards vary by community, and according to the conditions that you have. A rural doctor will not be able to provide the same level of treatment as a doctor at Mount Sinai; likewise, there are different standards of care for people with broken arms and people with pancreatic cancer. Because of this, you need to retain an attorney with a comprehensive knowledge of the standards of care and best practices in your community.
General practitioners and specialists
Your general practitioner (or family doctor) is the doctor you see most often – at least yearly, if you’re in good health, and whenever you have an issue that you need to diagnose. That general practitioner might pinpoint your condition to a certain location or practice area and refer you to a specialist who can diagnose you with greater accuracy and precision.
When you suffer from a medical condition, you present with certain physical signs and traits, and will also complain of certain symptoms; doctors train for years to be able to recognize these traits and symptoms, and are responsible for making reasonably accurate diagnoses based on the evidence they gather from you, through observation and testing. If enough signs and symptoms are present but a healthcare provider fails to diagnose you, and this leads to a worsening of your condition, this failure to diagnose will be actionable: you have a medical malpractice suit. Whether the liable party is your general practitioner or a specialist you visited will depend on the specifics of your case. You should consult with an experienced medical malpractice lawyer without delay.
Emergency Room operators
While a general practitioner or specialist may be liable for a failure to diagnose, this is not the case with emergency medical providers. EMTs and ER doctors are only liable for treating your emergency medical conditions. These healthcare providers do not know you as well as your general practitioner, and may not have the specialization needed to diagnose your condition. People often leave the ER with instructions to return to their general practitioners or with a referral for a specialist to get a proper diagnosis.
ER doctors are not entirely immune from malpractice suits, of course. Because ER doctors have no prior history with the patients they see, because their responsibilities cover emergency treatment but do not extend to diagnosis, and because they perform in rapidly paced, high pressure environments, you must prove not only negligence, but “reckless disregard” for your health and safety to bring a malpractice suit successfully.
Pharmacists and doctors prescribing medication
Pharmacists and pharmacological researchers have made amazing advancements in medicine in recent years. Rigorous controls in the US help to ensure that potentially dangerous drugs don’t get to market, and any potentially dangerous drugs that do are carefully and thoroughly labeled. However, as the number of available drugs increases, pharmacists and doctors who prescribe medications need to be vigilant about possible reactions and side effects. Important and effective drugs, like coumadin (used to prevent blood clotting), can have disastrous effects if doctors don’t monitor a patient’s intake closely.
Your doctor may have committed malpractice if he or she prescribes you a medication without advising you of possible side effects and reactions, or if the drug has serious known dangers for people with your conditions or other prescriptions.
A pharmacist, however, only has to fill your prescription correctly. If a pharmacist gives you the wrong prescription and this causes damages, the pharmacist will be liable.
If the prescription error was your doctor’s, the pharmacist should be able to help you avoid this potential disaster – but the onus is on you to ask questions.
Surgeons and the surgical team
Your surgical team has an obligation to avoid “wrong site surgeries.” Before any surgery takes place, the surgical staff must take a “time out” to ensure that you are the right patient, that they are aware of the correct body part on which to operate, and that all agree to begin the procedure. (You may be unconscious during this “time out.”) If you underwent an unnecessary surgery or a surgery on the wrong body part, the entire surgical staff may be liable for your damages.
Surgeons may also be liable for surgical fires. Surgical fires can occur wherever there are igniters, accelerants, and fuel in proximity. Surgical fires can happen inside your body. These are beyond the surgical staff’s control. The surgical staff will, however, be liable for damages caused by surgical fires outside the body.
To prove the liability of your surgical staff for any damages suffered while in their care, you may need to depose witnesses and call on expert testimony. You will need to retain the counsel of an experienced medical malpractice attorney in Tampa, FL.
Anaesthesiologists and nurse anaesthetists
Anaesthesiologists and nurse anaesthetists are responsible for giving you medication to lessen your pain before, during, or after surgery, or for rendering you completely unconscious for an operation. While an anaesthesiologists may not be present during an operation, they are still responsible for administering the correct dose of medication, and the nurse anaesthetist will be responsible for monitoring that dosage. The anaesthesiologist is, in turn, liable for the conduct of the nurse anaesthetists. If these medical providers fail to meet the standards of their profession, you may have a claim for medical malpractice. If you suspect this is the case, meet with a medical malpractice attorney.
Obstetricians and healthcare providers present at a birth
Injuries that occur during birth are devastating. They can end or irreparably alter a child’s life before it has begun. Obstetricians or any other medical professionals present at a birth are responsible for ensuring that this does not happen.
In all other malpractice cases, the statute of limitations is two years from the time of injury or damage. We cannot expect children, though, to be as self-aware or as articulate as adults; in many cases, children suffering from undetected birth injuries are unable to express this for several years. Because of that, the malpractice statute of limitations for birth injuries is extended until the child’s eighth year.
If you suspect your child isn’t developing properly, bring your concerns to your child’s pediatrician, obtain the child’s medical records, and seek second opinions – learn as much as you can, as quickly as possible. Your child’s future is at stake. If it becomes clear that your child is suffering from a birth injury, contact a malpractice attorney.
One of the more common birth injuries comes from a condition called retinopathy of prematurity (ROP). When babies are born before 38-40 weeks of gestation, the optic nerve will not have developed properly. Irregular growth of the optic nerve can cause swelling that can detach the retina, leading to blindness. Luckily, there are well known and highly successful procedures for taking care of premature babies’ swelling optic nerves. If a doctor fails to identify ROP or fails to perform these procedures on your child, you may have a malpractice suit.
Knowledge and experience to fight for your right to the highest standards of care
Tampa Medical Malpractice Attorney Betsey Herd of Morgenstern & Herd, P.A. has over 20 years of combined legal and medical experience. With a Master’s degree in cardiovascular physiology, experience in healthcare management, and a track record of securing settlements of over $1 million, Betsey Herd brings a formidable combination of medical knowledge and litigation experience to every case.
If you or a loved one has been a victim of medical malpractice, don’t hesitate to call our offices and schedule a free consultation. In the meantime, you can continue to educate yourself by exploring the legal resources on our blog and video pages.