Back to the Basics: Medical Malpractice 101

Imagine this scenario: it’s the middle of the night, and your child wakes up vomiting. Just the day before, you were thinking that the remedy for a tummy ache and a slight fever was ibuprofen and bed. Now though your child is in unbearable pain. You rush to the emergency room, where you discover that your child has acute appendicitis and surgery is required. Before being discharged from the hospital, your child develops an infection, and as a result suffers tissue damage in the abdomen. There is a two-week stay in the hospital and a huge invoice, missed school, and missed work (you use up all your vacation days), and your child still has stomach pain and trouble eating and sleeping. What can you do? Who is responsible? Do you have a medical malpractice case?

Understanding the Law

The first requirement for a medical malpractice case is proof that the doctor or hospital had a legal duty to your child. The second requirement is an actual injury. The third requirement is whether the doctor or hospital (and its staff) violated the standard of care, and the final requirement is that the breach of the standard of care must have caused the injury.

“Standard of care” is the measuring stick against which a doctor’s diagnosis or treatment is measured when determining whether or not there is a case of medical malpractice. As noted in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, “[t]here is no medical definition for standard of care, although the term is firmly established in law and is defined [in the The Legal Dictionary] as ‘the caution that a reasonable person in similar circumstances would exercise in providing care to a patient.’ ”

What measures have to be taken to prevent infection, sanitary conditions, how soon the infection is discovered, and how everything was treated are all questions determined by standard of care. To successfully pursue a medical malpractice claim, there has be proof that the standard of care was violated either by something that was done (which shouldn’t have been done), or by failing to do something (which should have been done). The question of whether the breach of the standard of care caused the infection is not always as simple as keeping the hospital clean and sterile. As reported in Science Daily, many people carry bacteria in their own bodies that pose sources of postoperative infection. Treating patients with antibiotics before surgery has become the standard of care to address this preventable threat.

In this country, there is no effective self-policing mechanism for errors in treatment and the injuries they cause. As noted physician Dr. Atul Gawande has written “medicine has offered no genuine alternative–because physicians are generally unwilling to take financial responsibility for the consequences of their mistakes.” In the same article, 55 percent of doctors polled about what they would do if they were injured by malpractice said they would sue.

Those doctors know the simple truth: people who get hurt by doctors or hospitals have only one recourse – get a lawyer.
The experienced legal professionals at Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC understand the complexities of medical malpractice case and are proud to work with families throughout Maryland on these issues. If you or someone you know may have been hurt by malpractice, contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today.