When you visit a doctor for medical care, you are entrusting them with your health, which is one of your most valuable assets. It is only reasonable to expect your medical professional to provide you with expert care. This includes not just doctors, but nurses, dentists, psychologists, social workers, physical therapists and more. When your health and well-being are on the line, you want to have confidence that you are in good hands.
Unfortunately, health care professionals don’t always uphold their end of the deal. In some cases, this is simply due to an unfortunate mistake. However, in others, it could be the result of medical malpractice, meaning that the doctor or other health care provider breached their contractual agreement to provide competent medical care to the patient.
Here in the state of Maryland, the procedures surrounding medical malpractice claims are detailed and complex. They provide the rules of the process, explaining who can file a claim, when they must do so, what qualifies as malpractice and what the limits are in terms of financial settlements in malpractice cases. They also delineate facilities and professionals that fall under the category of “health care provider.”
Read on for everything you need to know about medical malpractice cases and what you can do if you believe you are a victim of malpractice in Maryland.
Medical Malpractice Basics
In a malpractice case, the patient claims that they were injured or otherwise harmed by their medical professional’s failure to meet the standard of care required by the medical profession. If that sounds a bit confusing, allow us to break it down for you.
Types of Medical Malpractice
Although there are many different incidents that can be deemed malpractice, they tend to fall into one of several categories:
- Delayed or Misdiagnosis – In order to diagnose medical issues, doctors must order and correctly interpret various tests. In delaying diagnosis, a doctor could be putting the patient at risk of developing complications. Misdiagnosis can cause delays as well, as the patient may receive treatment for the wrong condition, possibly making matters even worse.
- Surgical Mistakes – Surgical errors are among the most common malpractice lawsuits. Of course, any surgery comes with a certain level of risk, even with the simplest procedures. However, a surgical mistake becomes malpractice when the surgeon doesn’t follow basic standards of care, like if they perform surgery on the wrong area of the body or leave a surgical instrument or another item inside the body.
- Defective or Misused Medical Equipment – When a piece of medical equipment is defective or contains a defective part, it may not function as it should, potentially putting the patient in danger. Similarly, medical equipment can cause harm if the medical staff uses it incorrectly.
- Medication Errors – When your doctor writes you a prescription for a medication, you trust the pharmacist to give you the correct medication with the proper instructions for using it. However, as with any other medical professionals, pharmacists can make mistakes, delivering the wrong medication, dosage or instructions. They could also give the patient a medication that contains an ingredient to which the patient is allergic, possibly causing a serious reaction.
- Labor and Delivery Complications – Childbirth is not without risks, and medical professionals who deliver babies should be prepared to handle complications as they arise. Misdiagnosing or failing to recognize potential risks could put both the baby and mother in danger. It could even lead to permanent damage to the child.
- Breach of Informed Consent – Doctors have a duty to their patients to give them all the information they need to make informed decisions about their ongoing medical care and treatment options. Failing to do so could result in the patient going through unnecessary or extreme procedures when other options may have been available.
Responsible Parties in Medical Malpractice Cases
As mentioned above, any health care provider can be held liable for medical malpractice. This includes:
- Physical therapists
- Social workers
Medical malpractice extends to the facilities that provide medical care as well, including:
- Doctors’ offices
- Urgent care facilities
- Assisted living facilities
- Nursing homes
Causes of Malpractice
If a medical procedure doesn’t deliver the results you had hoped for, it can be tempting to blame the doctor for malpractice. However, medical procedures are not 100-percent effective, and your body may simply not have responded to that particular treatment. To qualify as malpractice, the health care professional must have neglected their duty to give you adequate care.
For example, a facility may not keep accurate records, which could cause your doctor to miss a critical red flag in your medical history. Similarly, doctors, nurses and other staff may not communicate with each other enough, potentially causing patients to miss treatments or receive the same treatment more than once.
In some cases, it could be that your medical professional is not physically at their best, like if they are fatigued. This is often the case in understaffed medical facilities where the staff is overworked, making them more likely to make mistakes or knowingly cut corners. Finally, as unfortunate as it is, some disreputable doctors abuse drugs or alcohol before seeing patients, which can significantly affect their ability to provide adequate care.
Filing a Medical Malpractice Claim
A medical malpractice case must meet two primary requirements in order to be deemed valid in the state of Maryland:
- The act of malpractice must have been committed by a health care provider or facility, like those listed above. In addition, you must have been under that provider’s care at the time. For example, if you visited a doctor in their office and they gave you incorrect medical advice, this could qualify as malpractice. If you met that doctor in a social setting, on the other hand, it would not constitute malpractice as you were not officially the doctor’s patient at the time.
- The malpractice must directly result in further pain or injury, disability or death. It is sometimes possible to win a malpractice case even if you haven’t exhibited any negative effects yet, but only in unique circumstances.
Once you have ascertained that your case meets those requirements, you can submit your claim to the Maryland Health Claims Arbitration Office. You’ll also need to obtain a certificate of merit from a medical expert, verifying that your doctor’s actions breached the expected standards of care and caused your injuries or ongoing pain. You’ll need to file this document within 90 days of submitting your initial claim.
Navigating the Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations refers to the amount of time you’ll have to file your claim. In Maryland, the statute of limitations for medical malpractice cases is five years from the date the incident took place or three years from the date the error was discovered. In some cases, you may not be aware of any complications for months or even years after a procedure.
If you don’t notice any symptoms until more than five years after a particular procedure, you will have passed the statute of limitations and will no longer be able to file a malpractice claim. On the other hand, if you discover the error four years after the procedure, you’ll then have an additional three years to file a claim as the date of discovery takes precedence over the date of the incident in these cases.
Your Next Steps after Medical Malpractice
If you suspect that you may have been the victim of medical malpractice, follow these crucial steps:
- Preserve Your Health – Your health is the most important factor here, so do not go back to the same doctor or medical facility for ongoing care. Seek out a second opinion from another physician or specialist as soon as possible so they can correct the mistake and restore your health as much as possible.
- Adhere to Your New Treatment Plan – After you have seen a new doctor, follow their instructions as closely as possible. Not only is this important to your health, but also to your case. You need to be able to prove that your injuries or other medical complications were the doctor’s fault, not your own. Be sure to keep copies of any documents your new health care provider gives you as well as any documentation for new prescriptions.
- Start Gathering Information – Start by getting a copy of your medical records from your previous health care provider and any specialists you have seen recently. These documents should contain detailed information about any symptoms you experienced, diagnostic test results, doctors you worked with, medications prescribed and more. It can also be helpful to write down everything you can remember about your experience and any ongoing symptoms or injuries you have. The more information you can bring to your case, the stronger it will be.
- Contact a Medical Malpractice Attorney – Medical malpractice cases can be incredibly complex so you’ll need an experienced lawyer to assist with your case. Most attorneys and law firms offer free consultations so there is no risk or obligation in finding out whether or not you have a case. Your malpractice lawyer can help you build your case and ensure you don’t miss any important filing deadlines. Once you have hired an attorney, they’ll handle the logistics of your case for you. All you’ll need to do at this point is cooperate with their requests and focus on your recovery.
What to Expect from Working with a Medical Malpractice Attorney
At your initial consultation with your malpractice attorney, the two of you will go over all of the details of your case. This way, the attorney can determine whether your case is valid and start formulating a plan for arguing your case in court. In some cases, your lawyer may be able to settle your case out of court, but they should be prepared for litigation if necessary.
After validating and accepting your case, your malpractice lawyer will file the necessary documents with the court and assist you in obtaining your certificate of merit from a medical expert. Be sure to choose an attorney who specializes in medical malpractice as they’ll be familiar with the intricacies of the laws and requirements surrounding these types of cases. The last thing you want is for the court to reject your claim over a technicality that could have been avoided.
Over the course of your case, your attorney will handle all communication with your former health care provider. It is best not to attempt to contact them on your own as this could jeopardize your case. Similarly, it is a good idea to take care with what you post on social media. If you are claiming that a doctor’s error left you with horrible neck pain, you definitely should not be posting photos of yourself riding roller coasters, for example. Don’t post about your injuries or the lawsuit either.
Your lawyer will negotiate with your medical providers in an effort to settle your case out of court. However, this may not result in the best possible financial settlement for you so it may be necessary to take your case to trial. If this is the case for you, your attorney will argue your case in front of a judge to help you achieve a more favorable resolution than the negotiations produced.
Find Out If You Have a Valid Medical Malpractice Claim
Here at Ingerman & Horwitz, we specialize in personal injury cases including allegations of medical malpractice. Our team will be happy to schedule a free consultation to discuss your case and determine whether you have a valid claim. We’ll work tirelessly on your behalf to help you get the settlement you deserve. Of course, we cannot guarantee a particular outcome but we can promise that we will do everything in our power to get the results you want. Reach out to us today to learn more about our legal services and book your free, no-obligation consultation with a Maryland malpractice attorney from our firm.