Data from a 2017 report found that 21% of U.S. citizens have experienced medical malpractice. Under medical malpractice laws in Virginia and most states, certain factors need to be present to be considered a malpractice case.
Medical malpractice overview
John Hopkins estimates that about 250,000 fatal medical errors occur annually, and they rank third as a top cause of death in the U.S. Medical malpractice occurs when a doctor fails to follow a basic level of care, causing harm to the patient.
An example of medical malpractice is a misdiagnosis, which means the doctor found a condition but diagnosed the wrong one. Misdiagnosis commonly occurs from conditions with overlapping symptoms, such as mistaking a heart attack for a panic attack.
Leaving objects inside the body after surgery, such as sponges, is another error that may cause significant harm. Data estimates that retained surgical instruments may occur in up to one in 18,000 surgeries. Other types of medical malpractice claims include performing wrong-site surgery, administering incorrect medicine dosage, failing to warn and failing to follow up.
Elements of a medical malpractice case
To count as medical malpractice, one required element that must be present is an established doctor-patient relationship. It does not include when a person overhears medical advice or when an off-duty doctor treats a patient at an emergency scene.
The doctor must have been negligent, meaning another similar doctor would not have made the same mistake. The doctor breached their duty of care, and the breach caused the patient harm, such as missed work and more medical bills. The patient must also suffer real harm; sometimes, even if the doctor made an error, they can’t sue without damages.
It’s not reasonable to expect perfection from doctors, but patients should get quality care. While patients can seek to recover damages at a trial, it’s possible for doctors to agree to settle out of court.