As attorneys who concentrate on medical malpractice cases, we often get calls from patients who want to know if they have a claim that a lawyer could pursue for them against a doctor or hospital. The purpose of this article is to give you the basics of what an injury lawyer in North Carolina will need to know to tell you whether or not you have a case, if you, or a family member, were hurt by a healthcare provider.
The basic proof necessary to win a medical malpractice case in North Carolina starts with proving that the medical professional did something wrong and that that negligence was the cause of a particular injury to the patient. The thing that the doctor did wrong has to have risen to the level of being something that no reasonable doctor in the field would have done. We lawyers call this a violation of the applicable standard of practice for that healthcare provider. The problem is that it is not enough that I as your lawyer think that the doctor messed up or that you as the patient believed they did. To successfully pursue a case and get compensation for you I ultimately have to have an expert witness who is in the same field of medicine as the at-fault party who knows the accepted standard for that field of medicine in North Carolina and says that the doctor or healthcare provider did not meet that minimum standard of practice.
Next, to prevail on a medical malpractice case in North Carolina, you have to show that the negligence of the medical person caused a specific harm or death to the patient. The person making a claim against the healthcare provider’s insurance company in medical malpractice cannot recover for something that would have happened to them anyway even if the doctor had not failed to treat them properly. There has to be a link between the injury such as a repeat surgery or a prolonged hospitalization and the specific way in which the doctor messed up in violation of the standard of care. Often this requires a separate medical expert witness. Normally, the expert doctor would be hired by your personal injury lawyer to testify that the thing that the doctor did wrong in fact resulted in the injury. This is not always as clear-cut as you might think.
Finally, but perhaps most importantly, the harm or damage to the patient has to be severe and permanent enough to make it worthwhile to pursue the case. If the injury is not serious and is only temporary, then it is not practical to pursue the doctor or hospital for medical malpractice. This is because medical negligence cases are extremely expensive involving experts and other costs, separate from your lawyer’s time to prove the case. Unless there is a catastrophic type injury such as a death, the loss of a limb, paralysis, or some other major injury, our hands are tied as lawyers. The system is set up so that the insurance companies will fight to the bitter end making the victim’s lawyer spend tens of thousands or more on pursuing the case towards a jury trial. Only when all of the patient’s cards are on the table and the lawyer has shown that they are ready, willing and able to win the case in court is there any realistic chance of getting the case settled for a fair figure. Unfortunately, this means that we are often forced to turn people away even if they had some injury that was likely the result of a doctor’s error.