What Is Hospital Malpractice?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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Hospital malpractice occurs when the staff of a hospital engages in improper or negligent medical care or treatment of a patient and the patient suffers harm as a result. This means that the care does not meet the standards that reasonable professionals in the same field and community would provide. Hospital staff includes more than just the doctors. It includes the hospital’s nurses, pharmacists, technicians and other staff as well.

Types of Hospital Malpractice

Hospital malpractice can take many forms. It can be based on: (a) a mistaken diagnosis, (b) failure of the hospital staff to treat a patient, (c) failure to monitor or stabalize a patient’s condition, (d) failure to refer patients to appropriate specialists, or (e) failure to order the necessary diagnostic tests. Likewise, improper treatment such as the incorrect administration of medication (wrong medication or wrong dosage), improper use of anesthesia, improper use of medical equipment, and unnecessary or unconsented-to surgeries may be hospital malpractice. Preventable infection resulting from sub-standard hospital procedures is another common cause for hospital malpractice suits.

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Hospital Malpractice Statistics

Statistics on the number of injuries and deaths due to hospital malpractice are the subject of dispute in medical communities. There is no national system for monitoring or reporting the number of preventable injuries or deaths in hospitals, but a widely-cited 2000 report from the Institute of Medicine titled To Err Is Human estimated that 98,000 people die annually as a result of medical errors. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in July 2001 estimated that more than 22 percent of active-care patient deaths were possibly preventable.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics published a 2001 report that cited 1,156 medical malpractice suits were litigated in the 75 most populous counties. Nine out of ten of the cases involved a patient who was permanently disabled or had died as a result of negligent medical care. The win rate in medical malpractice cases was 27%, significantly lower than the 52% average in tort cases. However, the median damage award of $425,000 was much higher than the average tort award of $27,000. It is important to note that these are only the cases that went to trial, and does not include cases settled out of court.

Not every failure of treatment or of a procedure is malpractice. Often doctors and hospital staff do everything they can for a patient and the patient still suffers pain or dies. But if you believe that the care you or a family member received in a hospital was insufficient and led to harm, it is important to contact a lawyer as soon as possible. An attorney can assess your case and help you decide if it is worthwhile to pursue legal action. Most states have statutes of limitations that dictate how long you have to file a malpractice suit. A lawyer in your state can give you more information.

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