What Happens to Health Care Providers After a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit?

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Medical malpractice is a serious charge brought against a health care provider by a patient who has been injured, or whose health has been compromised while under the provider’s care. Surprisingly, medical malpractice is a fairly common issue that many health care providers face over the course of their career. Oftentimes, however, these cases are settled out of court. Although this may mean that the doctor can continue to practice medicine after the case has been settled, it can damage his or her reputation and result in increased malpractice insurance premiums and other penalties, particularly if the doctor has been named in multiple malpractice lawsuits. If a patient suffered an injury while under the care of a doctor, surgeon, nurse, or other health care provider, a skilled medical malpractice lawyer can assist the victim with the claims process and ensure that his or her legal rights are protected.

How are Medical Malpractice Cases Different from Criminal Cases?

In criminal cases, the defendant’s guilt must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. However, in medical malpractice cases, the plaintiff must only be able to show evidence that malpractice occurred and that it was the cause of the plaintiff’s injuries or health complications. In addition, if an individual is convicted in a criminal case, he or she will likely face probation, steep fines, or a prison sentence.  If a doctor, nurse, or any other health care professional is found to have committed malpractice, he or she will be allowed to continue practicing medicine unless the severity of the conduct or a repeated pattern of misconduct warrants the suspension of the individual’s medical license.

To prove medical malpractice, the plaintiff and their legal team will need to hire a medical expert who can provide testimony that the defendant’s conduct fell below the standard of care. In Maryland, the plaintiff must submit a Certificate of Merit, which is a sworn statement from an experienced medical expert witness stating that the claim is legitimate and meets the requirements necessary to prove that the medical professional failed to provide the standard of care. In addition to legitimizing the plaintiff’s claim, the Certificate of Merit helps ensure that fewer frivolous medical malpractice lawsuits are filed. Ideally, the malpractice claim and the Certificate of Merit should be filed at the same time. The statute of limitations for medical malpractice lawsuits in Maryland is three years from the injury, or from the time the injury was discovered. If the claim is filed after this date, it will likely be denied.

What Qualifies as a Legitimate Malpractice Claim?

All health care providers have a responsibility to provide the appropriate standard of care that another qualified health care professional would provide under similar circumstances. Failure to meet the standard of care can result in serious health complications, which may result in the patient filing a medical malpractice lawsuit. However, it is important for patients to understand that a negative outcome does not always mean that the patient has a legitimate medical malpractice claim. The following are examples of scenarios that would warrant a medical malpractice lawsuit, as well as examples of cases that would not merit a case.

Legitimate Medical Malpractice Cases

  • Medical negligence: Examples of medical negligence that rise to the level of medical malpractice include a failure to diagnose, a delayed diagnosis, or misdiagnosing a condition; surgical errors; medication errors including prescribing the wrong medication, the wrong dosage, or prescribing a medication for which the patient is allergic; anesthesia errors; and poor follow-up care. For example, if a surgeon performed knee surgery on the wrong knee, this would be considered malpractice. In addition, if a doctor wrote a prescription for a medication that interacts with a medication that the patient is currently taking, resulting in a serious health complication, the doctor will likely be held liable for the injuries. Although doctors, nurses, and other health care providers are human and capable of making mistakes, they have a professional duty to adhere to the standard of care. Failing to do so can result in the patient taking legal action against the health care provider or the facility, or both.
  • Recklessness: This is much less common than medical negligence but can occur if the health care provider’s actions or inaction is considered reckless. For example, if a doctor performs a surgical procedure while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, this would be considered reckless behavior.

Which Types of Cases are Not Considered Malpractice?

However, not all negative outcomes are the result of malpractice. The following are examples of scenarios that generally do not qualify as viable medical malpractice cases:

  • Patient’s condition worsens: Unfortunately, not all patients respond the same way to treatment, even if the treatment protocol has been proven to be effective in other patients. As long as the health care provider followed the standard of care, it is unlikely that the patient will have a valid medical malpractice case, even if his or her health declines.
  • Patient’s condition is untreatable: There are some illnesses and health issues that cannot be treated by modern medicine. If the doctor diagnosed the health issue correctly and in a timely fashion, and exhausted all possible treatment options, he or she cannot be held liable for the patient’s unfortunate health condition if it is terminal or untreatable.

How Common are Medical Malpractice Lawsuits?

According to a Medscape survey, close to 60 percent of doctors who responded said that they were named in a malpractice lawsuit, either individually or with others, at least once in their career. For doctors over the age of 60, that number increased to 80 percent. However, only about three percent of the claims made it to court. The vast majority of claims were settled out of court, were withdrawn, or dismissed.

How Do Doctors Deal with the Fallout of a Malpractice Lawsuit?

After a medical malpractice lawsuit has been resolved, the health care provider who was named in the lawsuit may deal with the experience in a number of different ways. For example, a doctor may choose to retire if he or she is nearing the end of his or her medical career. Others may continue practicing; however, they may proceed with a more defensive attitude and find some patients distrustful. Finally, others may be able to seamlessly move past the experience and continue to have a fulfilling and rewarding career. Most doctors who have been named in a medical malpractice lawsuit do experience some degree of stress, anxiety, fear, and guilt that they could have done something differently.

What are the Consequences of a Medical Malpractice Conviction?

If a health care provider is found guilty of medical malpractice, it can be very damaging to his or her reputation. In addition, it may trigger feelings of self-doubt and anger, which can impact the way the provider treats patients going forward. A medical malpractice charge can also lead to other serious consequences, including the following:

  • Fines and increased malpractice premiums: Doctors are required to have medical malpractice insurance, and they pay a significant amount of money toward malpractice insurance premiums. The insurance generally covers the costs associated with medical errors and damages. However, the doctor may be required to cover some of the costs if it is a larger than average case. Doctors who are found guilty of malpractice will likely face increased malpractice insurance premiums. If a health care provider has multiple malpractice convictions, the premium costs will be even higher, and it may become difficult for the doctor to continue practicing in that state.
  • Medical licensing issues: In addition to needing medical malpractice insurance to practice medicine, all doctors must have a current and valid medical license. If a doctor violates the medical code of ethics, the medical board may revoke his or her license. Doctors rarely lose their license after one malpractice judgment, but if he or she has multiple violations, their medical license may be suspended for a period. Depending on the details of the case and the number of violations, the doctor’s actions may result in the permanent loss of his or her medical license. In rare cases, doctors knowingly endanger the health and well-being of a patient, which can result in criminal charges and jail time. For example, if a doctor knowingly caused a patient harm, or discriminated against a patient on the basis of sex, race, religion, or any other protected class, the doctor may face criminal charges.

Baltimore Medical Malpractice Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Assist Clients with Medical Malpractice Claims

If you or someone you know was injured, or your health was compromised while under the care of a doctor, surgeon, nurse, or another health care professional, it is in your best interest to contact the Baltimore medical malpractice lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton as soon as possible. We will closely review the details of the case to determine whether you have a valid claim. If negligence was involved, we will walk you through every step of the claims process and ensure that you receive the maximum financial compensation you deserve for your injuries. To schedule a free, confidential consultation, call us today at 800-547-4LAW (4529) or contact us online.

Our offices are conveniently located in BaltimoreColumbiaGlen Burnie, and Prince George’s County, where we represent victims throughout Maryland, including those in Anne Arundel CountyCarroll CountyHarford CountyHoward CountyMontgomery CountyPrince George’s CountyQueen Anne’s CountyMaryland’s Western CountiesSouthern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, as well as the communities of CatonsvilleEssexHalethorpeMiddle RiverRosedale, Gwynn OakBrooklandvilleDundalkPikesvilleParkvilleNottinghamWindsor MillLuthervilleTimoniumSparrows PointRidgewood, and Elkridge.