The two leading causes of death in the United States are heart disease and cancer. The third? Medical negligence. Medical negligence as defined as a medical error in diagnosis, dosage of medication, treatment, or post-treatment care. Every year, between 80,000 and 160,000 deaths in the United States are attributed to doctors’ diagnostic errors. The majority of medical malpractice claims are related to these diagnostic errors. Between 15,000 and 19,000 medical malpractice suits are filed against doctors in the United States annually.
So what exactly is medical malpractice? When a patient’s treatment does not meet a recognized "standard of care" and results in personal injury, medical malpractice has occurred. The standard of care is defined as the treatment that a medical professional of the same or similar level of education and expertise would have provided under similar circumstances. It’s important to note that just because a doctor deviated from the acceptable standard of care in treatment of a patient, the patient is not necessarily able to claim medical malpractice. The patient must have suffered personal injury as a result of a doctor’s negligence in order to claim medical malpractice.
A commonly used example of medical malpractice is that of a patient who had the wrong arm amputated after a doctor checked the wrong chart before performing the procedure. This is an example of gross negligence and represents a blatant deviation from the standard of care. In a similar vein, if a patient is not informed of the risks of a surgical procedure beforehand, and experiences a personal injury as a result of the procedure, then the doctor is liable. This is called failure to provide informed consent. Had the doctor informed the patient of the material risks, the patient may have chosen not to go forward with the procedure, and therefore would not have suffered the personal injury.