Thanks to a very effective and coordinated campaign by the medical liability insurance industry, a lot of people think that true cases of medical negligence, or medical malpractice, are rare. This is reflected in the relatively low rate of plaintiff’s verdicts in medical malpractice cases brought in Massachusetts courts. (“Plaintiff’s verdicts” are verdicts that find in favor of the plaintiff and against the hospital or doctor that committed the medical negligence alleged. In my more than twenty years’ of experience as a Massachusetts medical malpractice attorney and Massachusetts personal injury attorney, that is not true at all. Medical negligence occurs all the time – with alarming frequency. In my career as a Massachusetts medical malpractice lawyer, I have seen repeated cases of shocking medical negligence.
These cases have ranged from flagrant failures by doctors and nurses to diagnose an obvious disease process, to removing the wrong organ, to overall poor medical procedure. I have seen patients who presented to their doctor with obvious symptoms of a heart attack, told that they are suffering from indigestion, and later died from that heart attack. I’ve seen patients whose symptoms of cancer were misdiagnosed as benign, later die of that disease after too much time had passed, the cancer had spread and the patient lost the chance to treat that cancer, and died as a result.
Most people like to think that doctors – especially their doctors – are immune from fault – almost flawless. Of course, that’s not true. No professional is immune from fault or error. The truth is, nearly 100,000 patients die each year from medical errors. And that figure reflects only officially reported cases – many times that amount are never even reported at all, due to patients and their families either not possessing enough information to proceed ahead with a legal action, or by just being intimidated by the overall, complex healthcare industry. When medical negligence occurs, devastating results can follow – often ending in the death of a loved one. The lives of the victims of medical negligence, and their families, can be forever altered or destroyed.
But just What Constitutes Medical Malpractice? This isn’t easy to answer in a short, quick sentence, but very generally, medical malpractice consists of errors (of several different types) committed by a medical professional (usually a doctor, nurse, a hospital, etc.) which cause resulting harm to a patient. The harm suffered is usually physical, but it could also be emotional. The error(s) that the doctor, other medical professional, or hospital is alleged to have made, must be shown to be the type that a similarly-situated doctor or medical professional would not have made, under the same or similar circumstances. Broadly speaking, this is the ‘Standard of Care’ that the defendant in such a case is held to, when a jury (or judge) decides if the defendant is liable for damages. This “standard of care” that a doctor or other medical professional is measured against in a medical malpractice law suit, can be several of several types, but such standards are generally widely-known in the medical profession. Examples of this include failure to diagnosis a disease (such as cancer or heart disease,) which leads to death or loss of the opportunity to cure the disease when it was at an early stage that was treatable, or failure to diagnose a condition due to routine tests or procedures not being ordered. Failure to notice fetal distress during delivery, casing injuries or perforations to adjacent organs during surgery, even leaving surgical instruments in a patient, are all not unheard of.
As this new blog develops over time, I will be writing about actual cases of Massachusetts medical malpractice, to document and better illustrate the details this field of law. I hope you’ll become a regular reader of this blog, and let us know of questions we can answer for you in the areas of medical negligence and personal injury in Massachusetts. For now, one thing I’d like to say is that while I believe that most doctors and medical professionals are well-intended, that does not mean they are beyond fault or flawless, and I believe it would be healthier for both the general public, as well as the medical profession, if more people acknowledged this.