The most common fatal medical malpractice errors are misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis, prescription drug errors, failure to treat, surgical procedure errors, and childbirth injuries. Medical errors can lead to serious injury, and can even be fatal. Medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the United States, behind heart disease and cancer. Studies indicate that there are between 250,000 and 450,000 annual deaths from medical malpractice errors in the United States.

If you have lost a loved one due to a medical malpractice error, you have suffered because of the very means tasked to help your loved one. In this case, you can file a medical malpractice claim. While these cases can be complex and difficult to prove, a medical malpractice lawyer can represent you in bringing and proving a medical malpractice case to receive compensation for your loss.

What Are Medical Malpractice Errors?

A hospital, doctor, nurse, or any healthcare provider owes patients a duty of care and is expected to provide this care at a certain standard. If the healthcare provider deviates from the quality of care that would be expected in any similar situation, causing the patient to suffer harm, then there may be medical malpractice present in the case, and the healthcare provider may be liable.

Not all harm that a patient experiences constitutes a medical malpractice claim. A bad result on its own is not the basis for a claim. A medical malpractice error only exists when the following factors are present:

  • The patient was owed a duty of care. There had to be a doctor-patient relationship for a medical malpractice claim to be valid. You cannot pursue a claim against a medical practitioner who did not treat you.
  • Breach of the duty of care. To show this, you must prove that the healthcare practitioner acted negligently. In law, negligence is defined by contrasting the conduct of the healthcare provider with the care that another similarly skilled and knowledgeable healthcare provider would have provided in the same situation. If the other similarly skilled healthcare provider would have foreseen harm to the patient, and taken steps to avoid it, but the actual provider failed to do so, then he or she was negligent.
  • Injury resulted from the breach. Even if you feel that the healthcare provider was negligent, there is no claim if no harm or injury occurs. If there is harm, negligence must be the cause of this harm, meaning that without negligence, there would be no harm.
  • The injury must result in damaging consequences. There has to be some form of damages caused by the injury. Damages are harm that is suffered for which you can claim monetary compensation. This is where the patient sustained pain and suffering, extra medical bills, loss of income, disability, or death.

Medical care does not always lead to a positive health outcome. Sometimes a patient’s condition worsens, leading to the harm described, even when the healthcare provider does everything expected of him or her, acting perfectly in accordance with the standard of care required. Dissatisfaction with the outcome does not suggest malpractice. Medical errors are only malpractice when there is negligence that causes harm, injury, or wrongful death, leading to legal damages.

Common Medical Malpractice Errors

There are hospital error statistics to consider, although a lot of errors go unreported as malpractice is illegally covered up or completely undetected. Below are some of the most common medical malpractice errors.

Delayed or Misdiagnosis

A misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis happens when a doctor fails to recognize symptoms, send a patient to a specialist, order further tests, or seek additional information. It can also happen when lab or test results are mislabelled or lost, or when there is an error in conducting a test or evaluating data from a test.

A delayed diagnosis can result in a patient receiving incorrect treatment, or not receiving correct treatment promptly. This can have severe consequences. With some illnesses, it can lead to more severe health issues such as stroke, heart attack, or infection. With other illnesses, such as cancer, delaying a diagnosis can negatively impact a patient’s chance of survival.

Diagnostic errors are the largest cause of medical errors. They impact around 12 million people in the United States each year, with around one-third of these patients being seriously harmed, and leading to approximately 40,000 to 80,000 deaths. Around one-third of all medical malpractice claims, from 2013 to 2017, were for delayed or misdiagnosis.

Failure to Treat

A failure to treat occurs when a healthcare provider fails to provide treatment for a condition. This happens when the provider releases a patient too soon from the hospital, doesn’t provide adequate instructions for follow-up care, fails to order appropriate medical tests, or does not consider the patient’s medical history.

Failure to treat is a form of negligence where the healthcare provider violates the standard of care owed to a patient within his or her care.

Surgical Errors

During surgeries, there are many mistakes that can be made, resulting in harm to the patient. There are many medical professionals involved in the operating room, each with a duty of care to the patient. Common mistakes that can occur during surgery are:

  • Tools, gauze, or other objects left inside the patient.
  • Not following correct medical practices before, after, or during the surgery.
  • Problems with the anesthesia.
  • Performing surgery on the wrong part of the body, or on the wrong patient.

It is usually the surgeon who is considered most responsible during surgery, but any medical professional who made a mistake during the surgery could be held liable.

Errors With Medication

Errors with medication can range from mild allergic reactions to errors resulting in death. These errors can happen at any stage during the prescription process. A doctor could prescribe the wrong medicine for the condition or an incorrect dosage. He or she could also fail to recognize possible allergic reactions or potentially hazardous medication interactions.

A pharmacist could make a mistake by providing the incorrect medication or accidentally switching medication with another patient. A pharmaceutical company that manufactures medication might not provide adequate warnings about possible side effects and interactions, or ensure a drug is safe before reaching the market. 

Childbirth Injuries

There are several things that can go wrong during childbirth. When an error is made, it can result in injuries to either the baby or the mother. They can be caused by negligent prenatal care, failure to recognize distress in the fetus, failure to perform a c-section when necessary, improper use of medical devices like forceps when extracting the baby, and dropping, shaking, or mishandling the baby during or after delivery.

The baby can suffer physical injuries as a result, including spinal cord, nerve, or brain damage, or broken bones. It can also suffer from cerebral palsy, and, in extreme cases, lead to the death of the baby. This is especially so where potential complications are not identified, such as the umbilical cord being wrapped around the fetus or fetal distress.

When to File a Medical Malpractice Claim

If you have a loved one who passed away due to a medical malpractice error, you may consider filing a medical malpractice claim. This will compensate you for both economic and non-economic damages. You may also consider filing a claim when medical errors lead you to sustain further illness or injury.

Economic damages are monetary losses suffered, such as medical bills, loss of financial support from the deceased person, and lost wages. Non-economic damages are for non-monetary losses, such as grief, pain and suffering, disfigurement, and loss of consortium. Nevada has a cap on non-economic damages in medical malpractice claims. The most that you can claim for non-economic damages is $350,000 as compensation.

Nevada also has a medical malpractice statute of limitations. This is a limit on the amount of time that you have to bring a lawsuit. For medical malpractice claims, you have 3 years from the date of the injury, or 1 year from the time you became aware of the injury, to bring the lawsuit.

Affidavit of Merit

Nevada law requires that whenever a medical malpractice lawsuit is filed, it is accompanied by an affidavit from a qualified medical expert. This affidavit of merit:

  • Supports the validity of the allegations in the complaint.
  • Identifies each healthcare practitioner who committed malpractice.
  • Lays out simply, directly, and concisely the wrongful acts of each healthcare practitioner.

If the affidavit of merit is not filed, the lawsuit will be dismissed.

A medical malpractice lawyer can investigate the circumstances of your case, help to identify which parties are liable, and help quantify your economic and non-economic damages. If you have a loved one who has passed away, you might consider hiring a lawyer to build and argue a case on your behalf, so that you can receive compensation for the wrongful death of your loved one.