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Medical Malpractice

A Guide to Medical Malpractice: Errors and Statistics

October 15, 2021

Medical malpractice often leads to some of the most serious injuries and health problems that people can face. Unfortunately, many people don’t even realize that they have suffered due to medical malpractice, and it’s far more common than people realize. 

Some Chilling Statistics for Patients and Their Families

While the vast majority of health care providers go to great lengths to ensure the safety of their patients, mistakes can still happen. In fact, they may happen more often than you think. A Johns Hopkins study concluded that medical errors were the third-highest cause of death in the United States, accounting for 10% of all deaths in the country. The study criticized the CDC’s method of accounting for these deaths and claimed that medical errors are an under-recognized cause of death.  

The Center for Patient Safety has reported extensively on the cost of medical errors, both in terms of lives and economically: 

  • An estimated 98,000 people die every year due to medical errors in hospitals.
  • There are 1.7 million preventable infections each year due to substandard health care, many of which result in death. This includes approximately 250,000 central line bloodstream infections (CLABSI), which carry a death rate between 12-25%. These infections also often result in extended hospital stays that cost an additional $56,000 per infection.   
  • Medication errors result in more than 770,000 injuries and deaths per year, resulting in a cost of $5.6 billion annually. 
  • Medical errors as a whole result in $19.5 billion in health care costs each year. 

Medical malpractice can result in severe injuries and lifelong health issues that can change patients’ lives forever. In addition, many of the additional costs that arise from medical malpractice are borne by the patient.  

Procedures That Are Most Likely to Result in Medical Malpractice

Medicine can achieve incredible results that can save or extend the lives of patients. But, unfortunately, some of these procedures are very complex, which increases the likelihood that a mistake will occur. Here are some of the medical procedures that are more likely to result in medical malpractice: 

  • Heart surgeries – Heart surgery often involves stopping the heart and draining it of blood so that the surgeon can perform the procedure. During this time, the patient depends on mechanical pumps to circulate their blood through their body. Catastrophic injuries can arise when an error occurs during heart surgery. 
  • Organ transplants – Organ transplants are very complex procedures and require a great deal of care before, during, and after the transplant. A mistake at any stage of the transplant process can cause issues with the transplant and lead to additional, life-threatening health issues. 
  • Surgeries involving heat or lasers – The tools used in these surgeries can cause serious injury when they come into contact with an unintended part of the body. 
  • Plastic surgeries – Errors during plastic surgery can result in nerve damage, extreme blood loss, infection, and even disfigurement. 

While routine, non-invasive medical procedures are far less likely to result in medical malpractice, it is important to note that mistakes can happen in any treatment. Outside of surgical errors, medical malpractice can occur in the following contexts: 

  • Childbirth injuries, such as spinal cord injuries, hemorrhages, or cerebral palsy. 
  • Medication errors, where a patient is prescribed the wrong medication or the incorrect dose. 
  • Diagnosis errors, such as diagnosing a patient with the wrong illness or unreasonable delays in arriving at a diagnosis. 

Whether your treatment was minor or involved extensive surgery, your healthcare provider has a legal duty to ensure your treatment meets the standard of care.

Medical Malpractice Claims Stats

People who have suffered as a result of medical malpractice often feel isolated and alone. However, the truth is that as many as 41% of patients believe that they have suffered as a result of a medical error. 

  • It is estimated that between 15,000-19,000 medical malpractice lawsuits are filed every year.
  • Experts have estimated that malpractice lawsuits filed against OBGYNs account for 20% of all malpractice cases.
  • Between 1996 and 2010, more than $38 billion in compensation was awarded to plaintiffs in medical malpractice lawsuits. 
  • Perhaps unsurprisingly, New York state has the highest number of medical malpractice cases. Between 2009 and 2018, medical malpractice claims in New York resulted in over $7 billion in compensation. By comparison, Wyoming paid out over $51 million and Montana over $119 million during the same period.
  • 96% of malpractice claims are settled without going to court. 

While these statistics may suggest that it’s easy to bring a successful medical malpractice claim, the reality is that these cases are incredibly complex. Most require the help of an expert to identify precisely where and how the malpractice occurred. As a result, most non-lawyers wind up settling their claim for far less than they are worth because they don’t have the legal knowledge and experience necessary to get the compensation they deserve.   

Why Aren’t Some Medical Malpractice Claims Ever Pursued?

There are several reasons why some claims are never pursued. For example, some patients have a close relationship with their doctor and will decide it is easier to just “let it go.” However, no matter how wonderful the doctor may be on a personal level, a mistake was made that caused the individual harm. The best way to make that right is to file a claim.

Another reason some people choose to avoid litigation is because they are concerned (or even scared) that any additional medical care they seek will be poor quality. While that concern is certainly understandable, it is important to note that doctors have an obligation to properly treat you and your condition and uphold the standard of care required.

What About Informed Consent? How Will that Affect my Claim?

Before a doctor performs any kind of medical procedure, he or she is required to advise the patient of the associated risks. Additionally, the physician should also inform the patient of alternative treatments, if any. If a doctor fails to advise and inform the patient prior to performing the procedure and an injury occurs or the patient suffers negative side effects, the patient may be entitled to file a claim. Note that signing a waiver does not automatically get the doctor “off the hook” for any mistakes made and is not a guarantee of informed consent. The doctor may still be held legally responsible.

If you suffered harm from medical malpractice, contact the law firm of Ragain and Clark. Our offices are located in Billings, MT, as well as, Powell, Cody, Basin and Worland, WY. 

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