Medicine is an imperfect science. While most doctors spend 10 to 14 years honing their skills before entering private practice, they still make mistakes. Sometimes, these mistakes result in harm to their patients. But when do errors rise to the level of medical negligence?
The injury attorneys at Graham Law receive many calls requesting consultations for potential medical malpractice lawsuits. These cases can be complex and challenging to win. Most Ohio malpractice claims result in no payment.
Government Data on Medical Professional Liability
Doctors and other medical professionals carry liability insurance that provides financial coverage if they face a medical malpractice lawsuit.
According to the Ohio Department of Insurance, fewer than 1 in 4 malpractice cases result in payment to the plaintiff.
The Ohio Department of Insurance (ODI) keeps data on closed medical professional liability claims. The latest report provides useful context for understanding medical malpractice cases.
- 3,001 claims closed in 2018. More than 75% closed with no payment.
- 65% of the claims were abandoned or dismissed.
- 6% ended in a settlement.
- 8% ended in a verdict for the defendant.
- Of the nearly 25% of claims that ended in a payment, the average payment was $305,610.
- In Southeast Ohio, the average payment was $196,387.
- Over 70% of claims involved three malpractice categories:
- Diagnosis-related (e.g., failure to diagnose, misdiagnosis, and delayed diagnosis);
- Medical treatment (failure to treat, delay in treatment, and improper treatment); and
- Surgery-related (improper surgery performance and delay in surgery).
The report concludes by stating that, after 14 years of data collected, around 77% of claims close with no payment to the plaintiff. In addition, claims that go to trial are more likely to close with no payment (i.e., plaintiffs are more likely to receive payment if they resolve their case outside of court).
Requirements For a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit
The above data is meant to show that patients face an uphill battle when pursuing a medical malpractice case.
This is not to say that medical errors and accidents (known as “iatrogenic harm”) are uncommon. In fact, a recent study from Johns Hopkins suggests medical errors are the third-leading cause of death in the U.S.
But as STAT News points out, only a fraction of iatrogenic harm cases ever become legal claims for compensation. Over the past two decades, the healthcare industry has promoted reforms that cut in half the number of malpractice claims and total compensation paid to injured patients.
Medical malpractice lawsuits are much more difficult to file than other types of personal injury lawsuits in Ohio. For starters:
- Medical negligence lawsuits must be filed within one year from the date of the patient’s injury.
- Ohio medical malpractice law requires plaintiffs to submit an “Affidavit of Merit” when filing a claim. This document must be authored by a medical expert with relevant knowledge and attest that there is sufficient evidence to support the plaintiff’s claim.
Failure to provide the appropriate documentation, within the one-year filing deadline, could result in a medical malpractice lawsuit being dismissed. But even if these requirements are met, the burden of proof is on the patient to prove their injuries. And this isn’t easy.
- To prove a medical malpractice claim, it is necessary to show that the patient’s treatment fell below the acceptable standard of care. Typically, this is shown through expert testimony, which is why an affidavit is required at the onset of the case.
- Failure by a medical professional to meet the standard of care is not sufficient to win a medical malpractice case. The patient must also demonstrate, through a preponderance of the evidence, that the injury was more likely than not the result of medical negligence.
- Finally, the patient must demonstrate that they suffered damages from a medically negligent injury.
Note that Ohio caps non-economic damages (i.e., pain and suffering) in medical malpractice cases at $350,000 per plaintiff.
When to Contact a Medical Malpractice Lawyer
Every medical procedure has inherent risks that a patient accepts when they undergo a procedure. Even if a medical provider gives the patient high quality care, a bad outcome can occur. Furthermore, just because a bad outcome occurs, it doesn’t mean it is due to an error.
But if a claim is viable, it’s important to start working with a medical malpractice attorney as soon as possible due to time constraints and evidence standards.