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Questions about Medical Negligence

What is medical negligence?

Medical negligence is negligence committed by a doctor, nurse, technician, or other medical staff whose performance of duty deviates the prescribed standard of practice of those with similar training and experience resulting in unwarranted injury or complication to a patient. Medical negligence usually covers a wide range of areas such as wrong diagnosis, failure to diagnose, errors during surgery, absence of follow-up tests or treatment, acquired infections or failure to monitor vital signs. In order for you to have a sound case of medical negligence or malpractice, the following four fundamentals should be present:
  • Duty
  • Medical negligence
  • Patient injury
  • Causation

In West Virginia, a person with chronic renal failure on dialysis died due to complication of a staph infection. Could this be due to medical negligence?

You could claim medical negligence against the medical facility that treated the patient. You would need to prove that the standard of care was below the required norm and led to complications and eventually death. Standard of care is defined as the care that should have been provided by any reasonable, qualified doctor under similar circumstances. If the person had received proper quality treatment this outcome could have been avoided. In order to determine whether the standard of care was violated, you will need to consult with another medical practitioner who will check the medical records to ascertain whether the treatment went below accepted standard/norm. Under the section W. Va. Code Sec. 55-2-12, as per the statute of limitations, you have a two year time period within which you can sue for malpractice.

I faced bad side effects from anti-depressant pills which were prescribed by my psychologist and psychiatrist. Who can I sue, the doctor or the manufacturing company of the drugs?

The decision on whom to sue depends whether the doctor who prescribed the drugs knew the problems it was causing but did not take any action to correct the situation or failed to correctly diagnose the problem itself. In such a scenario, you could possibly sue the doctor for medical negligence. The only way the manufacturing company could be sued is if they have been negligent in providing fair warnings on the drugs to inform the consumer of the dangerous side effects. Usually medications undergo rigorous testing before they are sold in the market and in most cases the warnings are conspicuously displayed.

I was admitted in the emergency room for a condition and later discharged. After a few days and tests, I was re-admitted for observation but no treatment was administered. I have incurred high medical expenses due to this. Can I sue for medical negligence and recover my money?

In this case the doctor and hospital staff have been proactive in admitting you to the hospital to provide care for a disease they have discovered through your test results. In this case you have not faced any injury or harm due to lack of proper medical care and treatment. If anything, they have been overprotective. It is unlikely the money spent on this could be recovered by filing a case of medical negligence as there has been no negligence. In order to try and recover your money, you could possibly file a petition of “declaratory judgment” with the court.

I underwent a successful operation but returned to the hospital to address some minor complications. At this time the hospital staff fractured my neck vertebrae while trying to adjust the reclining chair I was seated on. Can I claim damages from the hospital?

Medical negligence occurs when a medical caregiver fails to exercise due care and diligence that an ordinarily prudent person would exercise in similar situations. The hospital staff should have been aware of the manner in which they operate the chair so the patient would not get hurt. You would need to prove—in legal terms—“causation” which means you must establish the fact that the fracture was a result of the sudden movement and not due to any other reason. If you are able to prove this injury then you can claim compensation for medical bills, pain, and suffering.

In most cases, the hospital will also make a record of such type of events in which they are glaringly at fault because they recognize their potential liability. Usually they are willing to negotiate a settlement which involves reducing the amount on the medical bills. But since you have suffered severe injuries, you could hire a lawyer to sue for more than just a reduction of medical expenses, suing as well for your entire expenses and damages for pain and suffering.

After entrusting yourself to a doctor in the hope of improved health, dealing with any medical negligence can be very frustrating. The law on medical negligence aims to assist victims of such problems to recover monetary damages and hopefully improve the health outcome as well. A legal expert may be able to help clarify any doubts you have about your rights with respect to medical negligence.
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