Medical patients count on doctors, nurses and diagnostic technicians to make the right decisions. Many of us place our very lives in the hands of medical professionals, assuming that our cases will be treated with the utmost care. Tragically, medical errors, lapses in judgement and failures of communication lead to serious patient harm on a regular basis.
Filing A Medical Malpractice Lawsuit In Brooklyn
Medical professionals have a legal obligation to diagnose and treat their patients according to the healthcare community’s accepted standards. For many patients, the rigorous maintenance of these standards is all that separates a normal recovery from devastating injuries.
After suffering a severe medical injury, many patients will face a long and difficult road to recovery. Beyond the sheer pain and suffering that may have been inflicted, many families become burdened by growing medical bills, even as victims themselves become unable to work. It’s not hard to see why. Medical errors alone cost the United States more than $17 billion every year, according to researchers in Health Affairs. With insurance premiums rising, much of this cost has been shifted onto patients, which can only increase the anxiety and hardship of recovering from a serious medical injury.
Thankfully, injured patients in Brooklyn have a powerful option, one that can hold responsible medical professionals accountable and provide long-term financial support. According to New York’s strong medical malpractice laws, patients who were injured due to the negligence of a medical professional may be eligible to pursue a medical malpractice lawsuit.
How Does Medical Malpractice Work In New York?
The legal theory behind any medical malpractice lawsuit begins with the understanding that medical professionals owe their patients a “duty of care.” When you enter a doctor-patient relationship, you can expect to be treated with an appropriate amount of attention, care and concern. You have a right to adequate medical care, just as you have a right to a diagnosis and treatment free of egregious mistakes.
This responsibility, to provide care in accordance with accepted medical standards, extends well beyond highly-paid surgical experts and specialists. In fact, every member of your medical team, from your nurses to the radiologists who read X-rays, is bound by New York State law to follow their own standard of care.
As you may have guessed, the flip-side of a legal obligation is legal liability. When patients are injured because a medical professional violated the standard of care, the responsible parties can be held accountable in court. In the legal field, a violation or breach of the standard care is known as medical negligence.
What Standard Of Care Should Have Been Followed?
Medical negligence is the cornerstone of every viable malpractice claim. However, in the real world, proving that a doctor, nurse or other medical professional acted negligently is far more difficult than the brief explanation of medical malpractice we just provided. In particular, the concept of a “standard of care” is frequently misunderstood by non-professionals.
In the abstract, a “standard of care” defines the adequate level of medical attention that patients are entitled to as a matter of course. In practice, however, standards of care change, both from doctor to doctor and from patient to patient. This should sound a lot like common sense. We wouldn’t want a doctor to treat two patients in the same way, since each patient’s condition will be affected by their own unique medical history and co-occurring conditions. By the same token, treating two very different conditions using the same techniques is obviously a bad idea, at least if keeping patients healthy is your goal. At the same time, we can’t hold obstetricians to the same standard of care that we would apply to an orthopedic surgeon, because each specialty requires a separate wealth of knowledge.
That means every standard of care will be unique, tailored to the medical professionals and patient in question. In actual lawsuits, medical professionals are often judged in comparison to their peers. Malpractice lawsuits often hinge on the question of what a reasonable doctor with similar experience and training would have done under the same circumstances. Another way to phrase the same idea is to ask whether or not you would have received the same, or very similar, care if you had walked into the office of a different doctor with the same specialty and similar education.
Identifying the appropriate standard of care is absolutely crucial to success in a medical malpractice lawsuit. As attorneys, we don’t do this on our own. Instead, we rely on the testimony of independent medical experts, who help us search through medical records and test results to identify how a reasonable and similarly-experienced medical professional should have treated our client’s medical condition.
How Did Your Medical Professional Violate The Standard Of Care?
Defining the right standard of care is only the first step to building a viable malpractice claim. After identifying what their medical professional should have done, patients will need to discover how their own doctor’s actions, or inactions, failed to maintain the standard of care.
Keep in mind that some medical errors are not instances of medical negligence. Doctors are human and, just like every human, can make mistakes. While a medical professional’s errors can have disastrous consequences, not every error will lead to a successful lawsuit. On the contrary, malpractice lawsuits are based on violations of the standard of care. Some errors can happen even though an experienced medical professional follows their standard of care to the letter.
With that being said, some medical errors are so egregious that their very occurrence may serve as evidence of medical negligence. Take so-called “never events” for instance. These are particularly outrageous mistakes, often occurring during surgery, that, as the name suggests, should never happen. Wrong-site surgery, in which a physician operates on the wrong limb, is an especially egregious example. In this case, our central question is fairly simple to answer. Would a reasonable, sufficiently-educated surgeon operate on the wrong body part? Of course not. At a minimum, we can expect our surgeons to verify which limb they should be operating on before they reach for a scalpel.
Even so, around 4,000 patients become the victims of a wrong-site surgery every year, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Chances are good that most of these patients will have adequate grounds for a medical negligence lawsuit after they have recovered enough to pursue legal action.
Few cases of medical negligence are this clear-cut, but the basic legal theory remains the same: when a healthcare professional violates their standard of care, either acting or failing to act as a reasonable medical professional would have in a similar situation, they have been negligent.
Did Medical Negligence Cause Your Injuries?
Convincing evidence of negligence isn’t enough to win a medical malpractice claim. In addition to a finding of malpractice, patients will have to prove “causation,” that their injuries were caused by the medical professional’s negligence. This step is often more difficult than you may expect, since most of us turn to doctors after we have already become injured or developed a health condition. When a cancer patient dies, how do we know whether or not their death was the result of a medical professional’s negligent conduct – and not simply the effects of cancer?
In medical malpractice lawsuits, New York’s courts apply the standard of proof known as a preponderance of the evidence. Instead of proving your case “beyond a reasonable doubt,” as a criminal prosecutor would, you will have to demonstrate that it’s more likely than not your injuries were caused by a doctor’s negligence.
How Were You Harmed?
The final step in preparing a medical malpractice lawsuit is to define how you were harmed by a medical professional’s negligence. In legal terms, you’ll need to specify damages, things you lost due to your doctor’s inappropriate conduct. Damages are highly-specific to each case, but most demands for compensation fall into one of two general categories:
- Special Damages – easily-quantified losses like additional medical expenses, lost wages and loss of future earning potential
- General Damages – difficult-to-quantity, but no less important, losses like pain and suffering, emotional trauma and a diminished quality of life
Keep in mind that the actual amount of damages will vary from case to case. It’s very difficult, if not impossible, to accurately predict the value of a personal injury claim before an extensive case review.
In contrast to many other states, New York has not set a limit, or “cap,” on the damages that can be secured in a medical malpractice lawsuit. In short, the amount of damages that a patient can receive is decided entirely by a judge or jury, rather than being limited from the outset by the legislature. This is true even for punitive damages, which are meant as a punishment for especially egregious misconduct.
Do I Need A Brooklyn Malpractice Lawyer?
While private individuals can, in principle, file medical malpractice lawsuits on their own, you should be aware that malpractice is likely the most complicated area of civil law. Keep in mind that proving a medical malpractice claim requires more than a thorough understanding of New York State law. To successfully pursue a case, you will also need an adequate understanding of medicine, human health and various treatment options. There’s a good reason why medical malpractice attorneys rely on the testimony of independent medical experts.
Likewise, note that the medical professional you intend to sue won’t be going it alone. Faced with a lawsuit, every doctor or nurse will be assisted by a malpractice insurance company, organizations that often possess vast resources and have decades of experience defending against claims like your own. Medical malpractice is an area of the law that requires experience, knowledge and skill, much like the field of medicine itself.
We believe that every injured patient should contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney immediately. Be aware that laws can change drastically from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Selecting a lawyer with successful experience handling cases where you were injured is the best option.
New York’s Statute Of Limitations On Medical Malpractice
As in every other state, New York has established a “statute of limitations” to govern the filing of medical malpractice lawsuits. This law restricts the amount of time that injured patients have to file a claim.
In Brooklyn, medical malpractice lawsuits are held to a 2.5 year (30 month) statute of limitations. In most cases, this time limit will begin to count down on the date of actual malpractice, the day when a medical professional’s negligent misconduct occurred. There is a notable exception, however. When a patient’s injuries are the result of a continuous course of treatment, the statute of limitations can begin to run from the date that the course of treatment was completed.
New York’s statute of limitations is strictly observed. Submit your lawsuit after the statute of limitations has run out and it’s all but certain that your claim will be thrown out. While New York is home to a “discovery rule,” which allows patients additional time if there was no reasonable way for them to discover evidence of medical negligence, it only applies to one type of case. The discovery rule can only be applied when a surgeon mistakenly leaves a foreign object inside a patient’s body.
When a surgeon accidentally leaves a foreign object inside a patient’s body, the patient has up to one year to file suit, beginning on the day they discovered (or should have discovered) the object’s existence.
When Children Are Harmed By Medical Malpractice
Malpractice cases that involve injured children are governed by a different rule in New York. When a minor is harmed by medical negligence, the statute of limitations only starts once the child has reached 18 years of age. Theoretically, the time limit continues normally after that, lasting 2.5 years from the victim’s 18th birthday. In practice, a separate law, known as the “statute of repose,” can cut the time period short. New York’s statute of repose says that no medical malpractice lawsuits can be filed more than 10 years after the date of actual malpractice.