As patients, we place an enormous amount of trust in the hands of medical professionals. This trust should not be misplaced. Doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers have a duty, both legally and ethically, to treat every patient according to the accepted standards of their profession. In many cases, these standards are all that stand between a full recovery and death.
Medical Malpractice: A Preventable Tragedy
Even so, hundreds of thousands of patients are harmed every year due solely to medical errors. In fact, medical mistakes may be the third leading cause of death in the United States, according to patient safety experts at Johns Hopkins University Medical School. Accounting for 10% of all deaths in America, medical errors now surpass even unintentional accidents in their fatal consequences.
Thankfully, many patients survive the harm caused by medical malpractice, but the road to recovery can still be long. Injured patients often struggle to meet rising medical expenses, time off work and significant emotional trauma. But patients in Queens, and throughout New York City, have powerful legal options in the wake of medical malpractice. When patients suffer severe injuries at the hands of negligent medical professionals, New York’s medical malpractice laws provide an avenue for compensation.
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Filing A Medical Malpractice Lawsuit
Many injured patients may be able to file medical malpractice lawsuits, pursuing accountability and financial remuneration from the physicians, nurses, technicians and hospitals responsible for causing harm.
Medical malpractice is one of the most complex areas of civil law, and few patients, no matter how justified their claims, will be able to go it alone. Experienced legal counsel is almost always necessary, since malpractice insurance companies will fight every lawsuit tooth and nail. To pursue a case over doctor negligence, you and your family will need a strong basis in New York’s complicated medical malpractice laws.
Medical Malpractice Time Limits In New York
Every state establishes its own legal time limits, restricting the amount of time injured people have to file civil lawsuits. New York is no different. Medical malpractice claims in the Bronx will be governed by a 2.5 year, or 30 month, statute of limitations. In short, most patients will have only 2.5 years to file their medical malpractice lawsuit.
When that clock starts ticking, however, depends on the circumstances of the case. According to the New York City Bar Association, the statute of limitations begins to run either:
- on the date of malpractice, when the doctor’s negligent act or omission (failure to act) occurred, or
- at the end of a continuous course of treatment administered by the medical professional you plan on suing
There are few exceptions to this rule; file a lawsuit after the relevant statute of limitations has elapsed and your case will likely be dismissed. There is a “discovery rule” in New York, but this additional law only applies to one type of medical malpractice. When a surgeon accidentally leaves a foreign object inside a patient’s body, the patient has up to one year to file suit, beginning on the day they discovered (or should have discovered) the object’s existence.
Lawsuits Involving Minors
When medical malpractice affects the life of a child, New York uses different rules. The statute of limitations only begins to run when the minor reaches the age of majority, 18, and then runs for another 2.5 years. While this may seem generous, New York has established a hard limit, or “statute of repose,” which says that no medical malpractice lawsuits can be filed more than 10 years after the date of actual malpractice. This law applies to every medical malpractice case, including foreign object lawsuits and claims involving injured minors.
How Does New York Define Medical Malpractice?
Every medical professional has a legal responsibility to provide adequate care. This is an obligation, not an option, and it extends far beyond surgeons and highly-educated specialist practitioners. In New York, as in every other state, healthcare workers are bound by law to diagnose and treat patients according to an industry-accepted standard of care. When doctors, nurses or diagnostic technicians fail to uphold this standard, causing harm or death to a patient, they have committed medical negligence and can be held accountable.
You’ll notice that we haven’t mentioned a doctor’s intentions yet. That’s because, for the purpose of New York’s medical malpractice laws, intentions don’t really matter. Few physicians choose to harm their patients. Instead, most malpractice injuries are the result of carelessness, bad communication or failing to stay up on the latest developments in medical science. These mistakes can have wide-ranging consequences, shortening prognoses or causing severe suffering and additional unnecessary injuries. As a society, we’ve decided that medical professionals should be held to a high standard, whether or not they intended to inflict harm on their patients.
Medical Standards Of Care
In practice, pursuing a medical malpractice lawsuit is far more complicated than the simple definition of medical negligence we just covered. At the heart of nearly every malpractice claim is a “standard of care,” the adequate level of medical care to which patients are legally entitled.
These standards, however, are not set in stone. Nor are they fixed, true for all times and in all places. Standards of care change, depending on a healthcare professional’s specialty, experience and resources, along with unique patient characteristics. This is really common sense. We wouldn’t expect or want a doctor to treat two unique patients in exactly the same way. Likewise, we can’t expect a gastroenterologist to know everything that an obstetrician does.
Defining the right standard of care is crucial to the viability of any medical malpractice lawsuit. To do so, attorneys rely on the expert testimony of independent medical professionals. Scouring medical records, these experts help us answer a deceptively-difficult question: how would a reasonable, similarly-trained physician have acted under the same circumstances?
Medical Negligence & Malpractice Examples
Once the applicable standard of care has been identified, attorneys and medical experts will attempt to pinpoint any deviations from the standard. Medical malpractice lawsuits are often filed in relation to the following medical errors:
- Failure to diagnose
- Delayed diagnosis
- Mistakes in surgery, like operating on the wrong limb or the wrong patient
- Anesthesia errors, including over- and under-dosage
- Birth injuries, like neonatal asphyxia or Erb’s palsy
It’s important to note that many of these examples represent the potential outcomes of medical malpractice, not medical malpractice in and of itself. Practicing medicine, after all, is difficult. Even the best doctors, following all of the accepted standards, will misdiagnose patients occasionally. In short, not every medical mistake will rise to the level of negligence. With that being said, some violations are fairly straight-forward. Surgeons, for example, operate on the wrong body part at alarming rates, often due to a breakdown of communication before surgery. This is clearly negligent behavior, something no rational, well-trained physician would do. If you went to a different surgeon, you could reasonably expect better care.
Other examples of medical negligence are more complicated. When an obstetrician saves a baby’s life, but inflicts undue trauma during labor, were their interventions truly negligent? Ultimately, these are questions for a judge or jury to answer after hearing all of the relevant medical evidence, but the basic fact is fairly simple. Medical negligence occurs when a healthcare professional fails to uphold the standard of care, either acting or failing to act as a rational healthcare professional would under the circumstances.
Causation & Standards Of Proof
Causation, on the other hand, matters a great deal. To secure compensation in a medical malpractice lawsuit, patients will have to prove, not only that a doctor or healthcare professional violated the standard of care, but that the violation caused demonstrable harm.
Proving causation can be difficult, since most patients are already sick or injured before they seek medical care. When a patient passes away, for example, it can be hard to prove that medical negligence led to their death, rather than the disease for which they were being treated.
Note, however, that in New York, medical malpractice lawsuits use a lower “standard of proof” than criminal cases do. While criminal prosecutors must prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that someone committed a crime, injured patients will only have to show that their injuries were caused by negligence by a “preponderance of the evidence.” In other words, a patient will have to demonstrate that it’s more likely than not that negligence led to harm.
Medical Malpractice Damages In New York
After showing that a medical professional’s negligence led to harm, patients are required to specify, in financial terms, how they were injured. While these damages will vary based on how the malpractice impacted a patient’s life, most medical malpractice lawsuits will claim a variety of special and general damages.
Special damages are fairly easy to put a price-tag on, like:
- medical expenses, both past and future
- lost wages
- lost future earning capacity
General damages, on the other hand, are harder to quantify:
- physical pain and suffering
- emotional trauma
- physical disfigurement
- diminished quality of life
Again, these damages depend entirely on how you were injured. There’s no way to predict the worth of a personal injury lawsuit, let alone a medical malpractice claim, before a thorough case review.
New York is notable for not setting a “cap,” or upper limit, on the amount of damages that can be claimed in a medical malpractice lawsuit. Most states have established damages caps in order to keep medical malpractice insurance policies low, but New York is one of only 15 states that doesn’t limit the damages to which patients may be entitled. This is also true for a third category of damages, “punitive” damages, which are intended to punish particularly reckless behavior.
Contact A Bronx Medical Malpractice Attorney
Were you or a loved one injured by the careless actions of a medical professional? Our experienced personal injury attorneys can help.
The lawyers at Lipsig, Shapey, Manus & Moverman have dedicated themselves to protecting the rights of patients in Queens and the greater New York area for more than 8 decades. Over years of trial experience, our attorneys have secured in excess of $500 million in compensation for clients.
Legal assistance is available. Call our lawyers today for a free case evaluation. There’s no obligation, and no charge, just the answers you deserve.