Long Beach Medical Malpractice Lawyer
Medical malpractice describes any situation in which a doctor or healthcare professional causes harm to a patient. Physicians take an oath to do no harm, and when they violate this oath due to negligence, carelessness, or thoughtless treatments, patients can suffer serious effects and even life-threatening complications. Southern California residents should understand their rights and what constitutes medical malpractice. If you or somebody you love was harmed by a doctor, physician, or other healthcare professional, consult a Long Beach medical malpractice lawyer to learn more about your available legal options.
California’s Medical Malpractice Law (MICRA)
Anyone considering a medical malpractice lawsuit in California needs to understand the elements of California’s Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA), the state law aimed at maintaining the highest possible quality of care across the spectrum of California healthcare providers. MICRA also provides California medical patients with various rights and protections, all of which may have a bearing in a Long Beach medical malpractice claim.
It’s also important to note that MICRA can actually be a roadblock for some claimants, particularly those with very little income. MICRA caps noneconomic damages at $250,000, but there is no limit on economic damages. Noneconomic damages can include loss of fertility or loss of motor function, loss of a limb, or even the death of a child. This means that lower-income claimants’ recovery is very limited since they stand to lose very little in terms of lost income after a medical injury.
MICRA includes the following provisions:
- Patients with justifiable medical malpractice claims are entitled to unlimited economic damages for all medical costs related to the medical malpractice.
- MICRA also allows for unlimited compensation for lost income, lost future earning potential, and any other economic losses resulting from medical malpractice.
- Unlimited punitive damages. Punitive damages often come into play when a defendant’s behavior was particularly extreme or intentionally reckless. As the name implies, punitive damages are a punishment for the defendant aimed at discouraging similar behavior in the future from the defendant and others.
- Noneconomic damages of up to $250,000. Noneconomic damages are more difficult to prove than economic damages. This cap helps stabilize medical liability insurance costs and supporters claim it has increased access to healthcare in California. However, there are many critics of MICRA that argue it has had the opposite of its intended effect.
The elements of MICRA can help a plaintiff in a medical malpractice case determine the types of compensation he or she can claim. It’s vital to consider the noneconomic damages cap when determining the potential value of a claim. If the claimant’s noneconomic damages are greater than his or her economic damages, MICRA may hurt more than help. A low-income plaintiff who loses a spouse due to medical malpractice may not gain very much in economic damages and will likely feel his or her noneconomic damages more acutely but can only receive up to $250,000 in compensation. If you have additional questions regarding medical malpractice laws in California, talk to a dedicated Long Beach medical malpractice lawyer.
How Long Do You Have to File a Medical Malpractice Claim in California?
A person who wants to file a medical malpractice claim in California must do so within the statute of limitations, or time limit for filing a claim. In California, the statute of limitations for medical malpractice claims is one year from the date of the injury-causing incident in question. However, some injuries do not manifest noticeable symptoms until after some time has passed. In these cases, the statute of limitations begins on the “date of discovery,” or the date the claimant noticed the symptoms of the injury. This relatively short window means it’s crucial to act quickly to start a medical malpractice claim.
What Constitutes Medical Malpractice?
Medicine is an inherently uncertain field, and honest mistakes happen, even when physicians exercise the utmost care and account for every reasonable possibility. The deciding factor between malpractice and an unsuccessful procedure is essentially whether or not another reasonable, equally-skilled person in the same position would have taken the same actions. Doctors assess patients by analyzing their symptoms and creating a list of possible diagnoses. The medical community recognizes certain accepted practices for reaching accurate diagnoses and providing treatment. When doctors stray from accepted practices without justification, they are committing malpractice.
If you think you have a malpractice claim, consider whether or not your situation meets the following criteria:
- The plaintiff had an official doctor-patient relationship with the defendant. You cannot sue for medical advice given offhandedly, and you may only sue health care professionals that directly provided treatment.
- The defendant was negligent in some way. Physician or healthcare professional negligence can take many forms, and the plaintiff will have to show the court how the defendant satisfied this requirement.
- The doctor’s negligence caused injury or illness. Some medical conditions are complex and many malpractice cases involve patients who were already injured or sick. Plaintiffs must prove that the doctor’s negligence and not the original health problem caused the injury or illness in question.
- Actual injuries and/or damages occurred. You cannot sue if you suffered no harm, even if the doctor made a mistake. Plaintiffs must be able to prove they suffered physical pain, emotional distress, incurred additional medical costs, and/or lost wages due to the defendant’s actions.
If your situation satisfies these criteria, you should speak to a Long Beach personal injury lawyer experienced in medical malpractice as soon as you are able. Your attorney will help you meet the filing deadlines with the court and help you build your case. One of the most important aspects of your case is determining the manner in which the defendant was negligent.
Types of Medical Malpractice
Most medical malpractice cases involve one or more of the following types of healthcare professional negligence:
- Delayed diagnosis or failure to diagnose. Doctors must make every effort to quickly and accurately assess their patients’ conditions. Any unreasonable delays can exacerbate a dangerous medical condition or delay life-saving treatments.
- Improper treatment. Doctors must follow accepted medical community standards. A defendant is guilty of malpractice if he or she treated a patient in a manner no other reasonable doctor would.
- Informed consent violations. Patients have the right to make informed decisions about their health care and treatments. Doctors must fully inform their patients of all the risk associated with a proposed treatment so patients can make educated decisions about their health care. Misleading patients or failing to inform them of the associated risks of a procedure or treatment plan can have disastrous results.
Your Long Beach medical malpractice attorney will assess the facts of your case and consult with experts in the medical field who may testify on your behalf as expert witnesses. It’s also vital for plaintiffs to remember that most medical malpractice claims must submit to review panels, and the statute of limitations for filing a medical malpractice lawsuit is much narrower than other lawsuits – sometimes as short as six months. Additionally, many states limit the amount of money plaintiffs may receive in medical malpractice case awards. California limits non-economic damages to $250,000.
How to File a Medical Malpractice Claim in California
Although some people may assume that a lawsuit is a relatively easy way to secure a large monetary settlement, medical malpractice cases are notoriously time-consuming and expensive for claimants. A prolonged case can cost more in legal fees than it yields in an award, so claimants should think their options over carefully before committing to a medical malpractice claim.
Before filing a medical malpractice claim, the injured person should speak with his or her physician about the issue to see if there is any immediate remedy. In most cases, a doctor or medical professional will be willing to perform corrective or remedial procedures at little to no cost. This reduces the chances of a malpractice claim and can improve relationships with patients. If a doctor is unable or unwilling to take corrective action on his or her own volition, the patient should proceed with the claim.
If the conversation with the potential defendant is unfruitful, the injured person can contact the appropriate medical license review board for more information. In some cases, the board will issue warnings or penalties for physician misconduct. The board should also be able to provide the patient with suggestions for his or her next steps.
If the injured person decides to proceed with the claim, he or she must do so within the one-year statute of limitations for medical malpractice claims in California. It’s also wise to secure a “certificate of merit” from another physician to ensure your case is valid before continuing. A second opinion from another medical professional will help determine if the potential defendant indeed deviated from acceptable standards in the medical community. If the second medical professional agrees that malpractice has occurred, he or she will provide the injured person with a certificate of merit, which the injured person’s Long Beach medical malpractice attorney will then add to the case file.
Most medical malpractice claims never reach the trial phase due to their time-consuming and expensive nature. Most claimants settle outside of court. Medical malpractice insurance carriers are notorious for rejecting a large amount of malpractice claims, so settling outside of court may be in the plaintiff’s best interests. The plaintiff’s attorney will help negotiate an acceptable settlement figure for the plaintiff. If the two parties reach a mutually agreeable settlement, the claim ends. If not, the claim will proceed to trial.
Compensation for Victims of Medical Malpractice in Long Beach
Compensation for medical malpractice claim plaintiffs exists in two forms: economic and noneconomic damages. As previously mentioned, California’s MICRA law caps noneconomic damages at $250,000. There is no cap on economic, or measurable, losses. Damages capable of exact calculation include:
- Medical expenses related to treating the medical injury or correcting the claimed malpractice. This can include remedial surgeries, extended hospital stays, physical therapy, and the costs of ongoing care. Future medical expenses related to treating the patient’s injuries also factor into this type of compensation.
- Lost income. If the malpractice in question prevented the claimant from working for an extended time, he or she can recover the wages lost during that time. The plaintiff typically must supply proof of employment and pay stubs to prove his or her claimed lost wages.
- Lost earning capacity. Some medical malpractice incidents may leave victims unable to work in the future. These victims can sue for the income they would have reasonably expected to earn. California follows a “present value” rule for calculating lost future earning potential. This means the court determines a lump sum figure that reasonably reflects the future wages the plaintiff could have earned.
The plaintiff’s Long Beach medical malpractice lawyer will likely have an expert witness testify as to the extent of a plaintiff’s lost earning potential. Economic experts will be able to justify the plaintiff’s claimed economic damages, and medical expert witnesses can testify as to the plaintiff’s prognosis and future medical concerns.
Noneconomic damages are less flexible, and the total amount a plaintiff may receive in noneconomic damages in California is only $250,000. This includes loss of consortium or the companionship and affection a spouse or partner loses after the death of a partner or spouse. It can also include loss of limbs, loss of vision or other senses, and other intangible damages.
Free Consultation with a Medical Malpractice Lawyer in Long Beach, CA
Medical malpractice cases are often time-consuming and very complex, so you’ll want to consult the best malpractice attorney to handle your case. The law office of Harting Simkins & Ryan, LLP is here to help. Contact us to speak with a member of our legal team and schedule a free case evaluation to discuss your medical malpractice case.