The Most Common Causes of Malpractice Suits Against Physicians

A doctor wearing rubber gloves holds a patient's hand and forearm.

Doctors are trusted members of society who take an oath to do no harm when they treat their patients. Additionally, physicians in the United States have a legal duty to provide a certain standard of medical care to patients. This includes sufficient patient care as well as patient safety.

When doctors fail to uphold that duty, and accidentally or purposefully cause harm, the consequences can be dire. These mistakes and errors constitute medical malpractice.

Individuals who suffer harm at the hands of a physician often have the right to seek compensation for damages related to their injuries.

Many malpractice claims arise because of medical mistakes such as misdiagnosis, surgical errors, and improper administration of medication. If you have been a victim of medical malpractice, then contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney as soon as possible.

Below, we provide information about medical malpractice, common causes of medical malpractice lawsuits, and finding the right medical malpractice lawyer to help you hold accountable the doctor who harmed you.

What Is Medical Malpractice?

The law and medical profession define medical malpractice as any act or omission by a doctor during treatment of a patient that strays from the accepted norms of practice in the field and causes injury to the patient.

Medical malpractice is a form of negligence, which is the litmus test for most personal injury cases.

With regard to medical malpractice, law firms, courts, and medical professionals typically examine a particular act or omission that has led to injury and decide whether another doctor in the same circumstances would have conducted themselves in the same way to provide the best standard of care to a patient.

Most Common Causes of Malpractice Suits

Many injuries, illnesses, and scenarios can form the basis for a medical malpractice lawsuit. Some of the most common causes of malpractice suits include:

  • Misdiagnosis
  • Childbirth Injuries
  • Failure to Treat
  • Medication Errors
  • Surgical Errors
  • Anesthesia Errors
  • Defective Medical Equipment

Misdiagnosis

Doctor filling out a diagnostic form by a patient's bedside. A misdiagnosis error could be considered medical malpractice.

Diagnosis is the foundation of medicine and patient care, which is also the likely reason errors in diagnosis are the most common type of medical error leading to medical malpractice lawsuits.

According to Baylor University College of Medicine, more than 12 million people suffer from misdiagnosis of some type across the United States each year.

Diagnostic errors include a wide range of missed opportunities to make the right diagnosis in a timely fashion. A physician might completely miss a diagnosis, provide the wrong diagnosis, or take far too long to diagnose the correct disease or condition, leading to injury, illness, or death from inappropriate tests and treatment.

Childbirth Injuries

Bringing home a newborn is supposed to be a joyous time for parents, but preventable childbirth injuries can quickly erode joy. Birth injuries can occur as a result of medical malpractice at the hands of a healthcare professional during pregnancy, labor, and delivery.

Some scenarios that can lead to severe or fatal childbirth injuries include:

  • Poor prenatal care, including the failure to perform proper tests during pregnancy
  • Failure to recognize or treat a distressed fetus
  • Improper administration of pregnancy-related medications
  • Failure to perform a necessary c-section
  • Improper use of forceps, vacuums, and other birthing tools
  • Waiting too long to cut the umbilical cord or cutting it before the newborn can receive oxygen-rich blood.

The result of the above and other situations can cause a wide array of developmental issues, brain injuries, and dangerous infections, among other complications, for fetuses and newborns who fall victim to medical malpractice.

Failure to Treat

The failure to provide treatment for a patient often goes hand-in-hand with misdiagnosis or the failure to diagnose. Yet, in other cases, the failure to treat is a result of an intentional decision by a physician.

Doctors who fail to treat their patients can worsen their patients’ condition, and in some cases failure to treat leads to serious injury or even death.

Examples of this form of malpractice include the failure to:

  • Monitor a patient’s medical condition
  • Perform necessary medical tests
  • Refer a patient to a specialist
  • Treat a medical condition in a timely fashion, if at all
  • Inform a patient of all their treatment options
  • Provide medical care due to insurance company issues

Medication Errors

A mixture of pills and medication capsules of different shapes and colors is poured out of a prescription bottle. In correct dosages or prescriptions can amount to medical malpractice.

Medication errors historically were a result of doctors’ notorious, illegible handwriting and/or a pharmacist’s inability to decipher the correct medication and dosage from a handwritten prescription.

Today, the vast majority of prescriptions are entered into a computer program and submitted online to a local or mail-order pharmacy. This takes the guesswork out of reading a prescription, but it does not prevent physicians and their staff from mis-transcribing letters or numbers or inputting the wrong information.

Additionally, doctors might prescribe the wrong dosage of a medication for a patient, which can have disastrous results like harmful side-effects and reactions. Medication errors also occur when a physician does not get a complete patient history or fails to review a patient’s history before writing a new prescription.

Some medications do not interact well — or a patient might have a history of allergies to — particular types of medication. This can lead to sickness, which in many cases, can be reversed by stopping the medication. However, when no one catches the error, it can result in severe injuries or death.

Surgical Errors

Medical technology has reduced the risks associated with surgeries over the decades, but technology cannot do much to intervene when a surgeon makes a mistake. A patient who has to undergo surgery risks a multitude of potential surgical errors, which can include:

  • Leaving surgical tools inside the body such as clamps, drains, retractors, cotton swabs, and surgical sponges
  • Performing surgery on the wrong patient, often as a result of not double-checking the patient’s identity prior to surgery
  • Performing surgery on the wrong area of the body or performing the wrong procedure on the right area of the body
  • Performing unnecessary surgeries without exhausting other treatment options, often a result of doctors not staying up-to-date on the latest research. This is extremely common with knee surgeries

Surgical errors are especially dangerous for patients because it can take days, weeks, or months for a patient to experience symptoms in some cases. All the while, their body is struggling and likely experiencing more damage from the error, and fixing the error typically requires at least one more surgery.

Doctors have a legal duty to discuss in their entirety your medical condition and treatment options to obtain informed consent before treatment. This ensures you understand the risks and possible outcomes of procedures and medications administered to you. If informed consent was not given, you may have a medical malpractice claim.

Anesthesia Errors

An anesthesiologist places a mask on a patient. Anesthesia errors are a type of medication error that is a coomon cause of malpractice suits among physicians.

An anesthesia error is a common reason for medication error, but it gets special treatment because it’s associated with surgery. Patients who need surgery or opt for elective surgery have real fears about waking up in the middle of the procedure and experiencing excruciating pain.

A recent study honed in on the frequency and nature of anesthesia errors and found that drug administration errors were the most common. In fact, 1 out of every 211 surgical patients experience a drug administration error.

Researchers found that the most common types of anesthesia errors include anesthesiologists administering the improper dosage or wrong medication, or improper administration because of inexperience, unlabeled syringes, mislabeled syringes, and misuse of the pump.

Allergic reactions to the anesthesia can also cause complications or death and are often associated with doctors failing to take a complete medical history or reviewing a surgical patient’s reported allergies to certain types of medication.

Defective Medical Equipment

Medical equipment or medical devices that fail at critical times can put patients’ lives at risk. In many cases, the product manufacturer has some liability for injury or death, but doctors may also face malpractice suits when medical equipment fails.

Heart monitors, ventilators, defibrillators, and other critical medical equipment can fail because of a manufacturing defect. Physicians have a responsibility to monitor their patients who suffer from things like heart attacks or heart disease, which includes maintaining and monitoring equipment.

If a healthcare provider uses old equipment that fails on a patient, they open themselves up to liability for injuries.

The same is true of medical devices, such as implants, pacemakers, stents, and prosthetics. Improper use of devices can cause a defect, making the doctor responsible for injuries.

For example, when a surgeon implants a pacemaker into a heart patient, the device must be sterile. Failure to sterilize can cause life-threatening infections and cause the body to reject the pacemaker.

The pacemaker failed, but the failure was not necessarily a consequence of anything the manufacturer did or did not do. Instead, the doctor bears the blame for the patient’s health complications.

Finding a Lawyer Who Can Help

Pursuing a medical malpractice suit requires legal skill and know-how. Medical professionals have some protections under the law, so you need the right legal team in your corner to guide you through the process and build a strong case against the physician or other healthcare provider who caused you harm.

David Bryant has extensive experience advocating for injured victims, including those who were harmed as a result of medical malpractice, or who have lost loved ones due to negligence. His continued dedication to client advocacy and professional excellence has led to the recovery of millions of dollars in verdicts and settlements on his clients’ behalf.

Contact David Bryant Law today for a free consultation to discuss the details of your medical malpractice case and to learn how he might assist you in the aftermath of your preventable injuries.

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David G. Bryant is certified to practice in all state courts in Kentucky, and federal courts in the Eastern and Western districts of Kentucky, Southern District of New York, Southern District of West Virginia, Northern District of Ohio, Middle District of Tennessee, and Western District of Pennsylvania. He is licensed to practice before the United States Supreme Court and the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.