What is Medical Malpractice?

Medical malpractice is often sensationalized in the media, and is perhaps not properly understood by the public.

If you watch an episode of a medical drama where a scalpel gets left in a patient, you may not properly understand what your rights are when you go to the hospital for surgery the next day. You can be left wondering, when it comes to the law in Louisiana, what does medical malpractice mean? What are common areas of malpractice? Which healthcare practitioners are covered?

What is Medical Malpractice?

Medical Malpractice Defined

Each state has its own definitions and laws related to medical malpractice. In Louisiana, it essentially means “a healthcare provider acted below the industry standard of care when treating a patient, and injuries resulted.” While it sounds simple, our medical malpractice laws are in fact complex, stacked against the patient, and require expert legal counsel. Some examples we outline on our website include:

  • There is a cap on damages of $500,000, plus current and possibly future medical bills.
  • Before a lawsuit can be filed in court, the case must be presented to a Medical Review Panel made up of three physicians.
  • Medical malpractice cases must be brought within one year of:
    1. the date of malpractice, or
    2. the date the patient or his/her family “discovered” the malpractice, and in no event more than three years after the date of malpractice

Areas of Medical Malpractice

Doctors are human and fallible. In addition, all medications have possible side effects, and all medical procedures have possible risks. Therefore, not all negative medical outcomes meet the definition of malpractice. When starting a new medication, or planning a procedure, ask questions, read the information sheets provided by your doctor or pharmacist, and make sure you are aware of the possible risks beforehand. Events that constitute medical malpractice can include, but are not limited to:

  • Birth Injuries: These can include injuries from improper use of forceps or vacuum extractor, inadequate monitoring, poor preparation for known issues, delayed ordering of a cesarean section, and ordering the wrong medication.
  • Delay/Failure to Diagnose: This means your physician misdiagnosed or failed to diagnose a condition in a timely manner. The delayed diagnosis caused harm, and the harm or injury can be proven to be the direct result of the mistake in diagnosis.
  • Hospital Negligence: This area covers a wide range of errors and negligence, and the negligent parties must be directly employed by the hospital where the errors took place.
  • Lack of Informed Consent: There are many shades of grey in this area of medical malpractice. At minimum, the lack of informed consent must be the direct cause of the harm or injury sustained.
  • Nursing Home Negligence: Many forms of medical malpractice can occur in a nursing home setting, including medication errors, poor monitoring and reporting, improper documentation, and procedural errors.
  • Surgical Errors: Such mistakes are frightening and can include wrong-site surgeries, wrong surgery/patient, medical tools or equipment left inside the patient, anesthesia and incision errors, and nerve or tissue damage due to errors.
  • Treatment Errors: These can include administering the wrong treatment, not offering treatment at all (or in a timely manner), prescribing the wrong medication, or using an outdated treatment.

Healthcare Practitioners Covered by Louisiana Medical Malpractice Laws

While there are many types of healthcare practitioners in Louisiana, medical malpractice law covers those who are licensed by the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners. These include “physicians, physician assistants, acupuncturists and acupuncture assistants, occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants, podiatrists, clinical laboratory personnel, clinical exercise physiologists, private radiological technologists, respiratory therapists, midwives, and athletic trainers.”

In Summary

Medical malpractice law looks deceptively simple on the surface. However, it may be difficult to sort out what does and does not constitute malpractice. In addition, Louisiana’s laws include many gray areas, limitations, and protective elements for medical practitioners that can adversely affect your ability to file a successful claim. During such an emotional and confusing time, it’s important to have both personal and professional support to help you through.

If you feel you or a loved one has been the victim of medical malpractice, document the series of events before, during, and after the incident(s) of harm, then contact an experienced attorney for a consultation.

Schedule a Consultation Today

Nelson & Hammons recognizes you have many choices when selecting an attorney. We are committed to representing all of our clients to the best of our abilities, and strive to treat each of our clients the way we would want to be treated if we were in their shoes. It would be our honor to represent you. If we can be of service, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us by either calling us at (318) 277-2401, toll free at 1-800-619-6444, or by scheduling a consultation online today.