The questions on this page were answered by our team of Virginia Beach & Norfolk personal injury attorneys. The questions are categorized by practice area such as car accidents, medical malpractice, wrongful death, etc. If you have specific questions about your situation, contact our firm to set up a free consultation with an actual attorney.
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What are common emergency room medical errors?
The most common emergency room errors that a Virginia malpractice attorney handles include:
- Delayed diagnosis
- Diagnostic testing errors, such as failing to conduct needed tests or conducting the wrong ones
- Discharging patients too soon
- Laboratory mistakes
- Lack of staff communication
- Medication errors
- Missed diagnosis
- Poor patient monitoring
- Radiology mistakes
- Refusing to treat a patient who has no health insurance (this is referred to as “patient dumping”)
- Slow triage which results in patients waiting too long before they are seen by medical staff
What are the most common causes of emergency room malpractice?
One of the most common causes of emergency room malpractice is understaffing. This leads to support staff, nurses, and ER physicians being required to work long hours. An ER doctor will typically treat dozens of patients in one shift, quickly diagnosing and prescribing treatment and then moving on to the next one, almost like an assembly line.
Another serious issue that can cause malpractice is that when a patient shows up in an emergency room, especially one who is seriously injured and not able to effectively communicate, the treating physician often has little knowledge about what that patient’s medical history is. This can lead to serious medical problems, especially if the patient has any existing medical conditions, allergies to medications, etc.
Does medical malpractice occur in hospital emergency rooms?
According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), emergency rooms around the country treat more than 140 million patients each year. This means there are approximately 400,000 people visiting ERs every single day. Unfortunately, the atmosphere in many emergency rooms is frequently chaotic which often contributes to incidents of malpractice.
Emergency rooms depend on triage when deciding how and when patients should be treated. Each member of the ER team – admissions personnel, nurses, doctors – determine what the level of urgency each patient has. For example, a patient is brought in by ambulance, suffering from internal bleeding and other injuries as a result of a car crash. That patient will be brought in for treatment immediately over another patient who has come in with a sprained ankle who has been waiting to be seen for an hour.
Hospitals need to have written policies and procedures in place which set a standard of care all staff must adhere to and to make sure facility staff are trained in these procedures in order to ensure they consistently make accurate triage decisions. Violation of this standard of care can cause a patient’s injury or illness to worsen or cause a new – and preventable – condition. When this occurs, the injured patient could have a medical malpractice case against the hospital.
When does the statute of limitations on a Virginia medical malpractice claim start ticking?
Any Virginia medical malpractice attorney will tell you that statute of limitations questions do not always have simple answers. As a matter of law, victims of medical malpractice have two years to file a claim. The clock starts ticking on either the day a negligent or reckless act harmed the patient, or on the day that the harm caused by a health care provider or medical provider caused harm.
Harm to a patient can be immediately obvious. Operating on the wrong person or body part, for instance, is hard to miss. But sponges or surgical implements left inside a patient may remain undetected for years while the person undergoes treatment for symptoms but receives no accurate diagnosis of the actual problem.
Similarly, birth injuries may not produce recognizable symptoms until a child is older than 24 months, and a misdiagnosis of cancer may not be evident until an autopsy is performed.
Consulting with a malpractice lawyer will help a patient or family understand whether their claim can proceed without getting dismissed for being outside the statute of limitations. Enlisting the help of an attorney will also make sense because one of the first arguments a health care provider or medical facility will make is that the victim missed the legal window for filing a claim.
Does the cap on medical malpractice damages mean my hospital and therapy bills with not be paid?
During 2018, Virginia law places a hard cap of around $2.5M on total damage awards to victims of medical malpractice. No matter what happened or how much lifelong care a person requires as a result of malpractice, the most he or she can recover for medical bills, pain and suffering, and continuing care is less than $3M.
The statutory cap on medical malpractice awards does not, however, apply to punitive damages. These are noncriminal penalties assessed against health providers or medical facility owners who should have known that their behavior or policies and procedures put the patient at risk for death or disability. A jury can award any amount of punitive damages it believes the malpractice victim deserves.
Another way to defeat Virginia’s hard cap on medical malpractice is to file separate claims against every health care provider or medical facility that failed to meet its duty to protect the patient’s life and well-being. Pursuing more than one claim is not always possible, though, because a court may order that claims be combined into a single lawsuit.
Your Virginia medical malpractice lawyer will know whether the facts of your case merit seeking punitive damages or filing multiple claims against different providers and facilities.
Who can commit medical malpractice?
A provider-patient relationship creates a duty of care. Failing to meet that duty by acting negligently or recklessly constitutes medical malpractice.
What this means in practical terms is that any medical professional who diagnoses, treats or takes care of a patient in a hospital or nursing home can potentially be held liable for medical malpractice. The facilities where patients seek care can also be found liable for malpractice when a provider’s negligence or recklessness resulted from insufficient policy guidance, training or supervision.
An incomplete list of people and organizations that can face medical malpractice claims includes
- Facility managers
- Facility owners
While medical assistants and pharmacy technicians can commit medical malpractice, those paraprofessionals will rarely be named in lawsuits because their work is directly overseen by doctors, nurses or pharmacists. That situation actually makes a doctor, nurse or pharmacist responsible for meeting the duty of care.
Can I file a lawsuit if my baby was born with cerebral palsy?
While it’s estimated that doctors are not responsible for 90 percent of cerebral palsy cases, doctor errors do cause 10 percent of them – or 1 in every 10 children. It’s possible that the doctor caused a brain injury during labor or delivery, and that this injury led to cerebral palsy.
A long labor or lack of oxygen during labor can paralyze the brain, causing cerebral palsy. The longer amount of time the injury occurred, the more serious the injury. A lack of oxygen for one minute is much more severe than 10 seconds without sufficient oxygen.
Doctors should be able to plan for these types of events. That’s why pregnant women seek prenatal care. Doctors have the ability to determine the size of a baby while it’s in the womb and determine if the mother will be able to give birth naturally without issues.
In addition, if the baby does unexpectedly experience distress during labor and delivery, medical staff should be monitoring the baby at all times and be ready to step in at a moment’s notice. Every second that the baby is in distress means a higher risk of experiencing cerebral palsy or other issues.
If you believe your doctor caused your baby’s cerebral palsy, contact a medical malpractice lawyer to determine your rights to compensation.
How is standard of care defined in a medical malpractice case?In medical malpractice cases, negligence is determined by whether or not your doctor met the medical standard of care. The definition of this term is not clear cut, but it refers to the care that a competent doctor in the same field would perform in the same situation. How is this determined? In medical malpractice cases, expert witnesses are often used. These witnesses are doctors who are in the same field as the doctor who allegedly caused the medical malpractice. The expert witness analyzes what the doctor did and determines what – if anything – led to the victim’s injuries. The goal of the expert witness is to show how the doctor deviated from the standard of care and how this deviation caused the doctor to breach his or her duty and lead to injuries and damages for the victim. If it can be proven that the doctor did not follow the standard of care, then he or she can be found negligent. The doctor may be forced to pay for various damages caused to the patient.
In a medical malpractice case, involving a doctor's surgical error, if it is obvious the doctor was negligent, is it necessary to obtain a surgeon on our side of the case who said that it was an error?
In a surgical error case it is virtually always required that our side, the side representing the injured victim, retain a medical doctor in the same field as the surgeon, who must give an opinion that the surgeon violated applicable medical standards. Virginia and many states require that the expert who says malpractice occurred, practice in the same field, and have been practicing in recent time close to when the negligent occurred as well. In other words, a surgeon that we retain must also be practicing and must be familiar with the area where the medical malpractice allegedly occurred.
How much does it cost to pursue a medical malpractice case?
Pursuit of a medical malpractice case can be extremely expensive. The initial review of your medical records by a doctor often will cost between $1500 and $2500, and pursuit of a case all the way through trial may be upwards of $30,000. For these reasons, we have to be extremely careful in the cases we agree to take, because our firm usually fronts the costs of litigation for our clients.