Medical malpractice claims are getting harder for plaintiffs to win. In fact, research shows that the rate of successful medical malpractice cases dropped by almost 56% between 1992 and 2014. This is why having the representation of an experienced NYC medical malpractice attorney is important, now more than ever.
If you or a loved one has been injured because of a mistake made by a medical professional, you may be able to receive compensation for your losses by filing a medical malpractice claim. Before filing a claim, it is useful to have an understanding of what you will have to prove during the claim process, as well as the laws regarding medical malpractice cases in the state of New York.
Elements to a Malpractice Case
There are four elements of a successful medical malpractice claim. To win compensation for an injured patient and their family, a lawyer will have to prove the following:
1. That There was a Doctor-Patient Relationship
In order to establish that a doctor’s negligent care caused a patient harm, it must be shown that there was a doctor-patient relationship. According to a ruling in the case QT, Inc. v. Mayo Clinic Jacksonville, 2006, a doctor-patient relationship is “a consensual relationship in which the patient knowingly seeks the physician’s assistance and in which the physician knowingly accepts the person as a patient.” This basically means that the defendant (physician, medical professional, hospital or a clinic) was in some way related to your medical care. Proving that there was a doctor-patient relationship is fairly easy with the help of medical records.
2. That There Was Negligence
Demonstrating negligence is a crucial element of a successful medical malpractice suit. In determining whether a medical caregiver or facility was negligent, their behavior or decisions are judged against what is called a “standard of care.” The standard of care is determined when you ask the hypothetical question, “was the medical care provided for the patient the same as what would be provided by a reasonably competent medical professional or facility under the same circumstances?”
For example: A 50-year-old man arrives at an emergency room, complaining of chest pains. The standard procedure in such a case would be for the presiding physician to screen the patient for a heart attack. This would involve ordering:
- An electrocardiogram (ECG) to measure the electrical activity in the heart and determine if it is functioning normally
- Blood tests to detect proteins and enzymes that are present during a heart attack
- A chest X-ray to check the condition and shape of the heart, lungs, and major blood vessels
- A computerized tomography (CT scan) to see if you have a blood clot in your lungs.
Ordering these procedures and accurately analyzing the results would be considered the standard of care for any patient under similar circumstances. If the presiding doctor didn’t order the above diagnostic tests, or inaccurately analyzed the results, that would be considered beneath the standard of care, and thus be considered negligence.
3. That the Negligence Caused Injury or Death
The next step is linking the doctor or caregiver’s negligence with an injury or illness you wouldn’t have suffered had the doctor not made a mistake. If a caregiver or medical facility was negligent, but the negligence was not responsible for the patient’s injury or death, such as an underlying medical condition, then there is no basis for medical malpractice. Proving that negligence was the cause of the patient’s injury can be difficult, and often involves the testimony of expert witnesses. An experienced medical malpractice attorney will have access to expert medical witnesses who can bolster their case.
4. That the Injury Resulted in Damages
The final steps require proving that the injury resulted in damages or losses. This would include:
- added medical bills caused by the injury
- lost wages from missed work
- physical pain and suffering
- mental anguish and emotional duress
- loss of earning capacity
- scarring and disfigurement
- permanent injury or disability
In a case where the injury caused death, the patient’s surviving family can sue for such damages as:
- funeral and burial expenses
- medical bills
- pain and suffering of the victim before death
- loss of future income
- loss of future benefits (retirement, healthcare, etc.)
- emotional losses (marital consortium, affection, guidance, companionship, etc.)
Unlike most states, which limit the amount a victim can recover in a personal injury claim, New York does not have a cap on the amount of damages you can receive in medical malpractice cases.
As mentioned earlier, medical malpractice claims have become more difficult to win. They are complicated affairs, often involving multiple parties and insurance companies, and there is a time limit on when you can file a claim. Within New York, you may file a medical malpractice claim within two and a half years of the injury or death. Medical malpractice lawsuits are not the kind of cases you want to tackle without a legal team that has extensive experience in this area of law and the resources to prepare your claim. If you suspect you or a family member has been the victim of medical malpractice in the New York City Metropolitan Area, contact Wingate, Russotti, Shapiro & Halperin, LLP, at (212) 986-7353 for a free case evaluation. Our firm will represent you for no upfront fees or expenses. We only get paid if we win your case.
Edited: This article was updated January 1st, 2020.