What is Hospital Malpractice?
Any kind of professional negligence which happens in a hospital or healthcare setting is termed as hospital malpractice and this includes errors committed by not only the doctors but also by other employees of the hospitals such as nurses, pharmacists, technicians and any other hospital staff.
Doctors and the other staff of a hospital are obligated to provide patients with a “standard of care”, which involves taking appropriate medical decisions and providing the patients with the most suitable care. This essentially means that all the tests and treatments prescribed for the patient are considered as being suitable for the condition of the patient and that care must be provided at the proper time.
When there is any medical negligence either by act or omission by any healthcare provider, where the care that is provided does not conform to the standards of care that are normally accepted and results in the patient’s injury, health problems which are long-term or death, this is known as hospital malpractice.
Hospital negligence involves various issues related to emergency room care, intensive care, surgery, labor and delivery care and errors related to medication. Hospital malpractice can occur in many different forms.
Hospital Malpractice Statistics in the US
According to the Journal of Patient Safety, a study published in 2014 revealed that around 210,000 to 440,000 deaths occur in hospitals across the US due to carelessness and negligence by doctors, nurses and other medical staff in hospitals, which could have been easily prevented. And, 1/6th deaths in the country can be attributed to hospital malpractice.
According to a study in, 2001 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, over 22% of the deaths of active-care patients could have been prevented. According to the 2001 report of Bureau of Justice:
- There were 1,156 medical malpractice cases that were filed in 75 countries.
- 9 out of 10 cases comprised a patient who suffered permanent disability or died due to medical negligence.
- The average damage award was around $425,000.
What Constitutes Hospital Medical Malpractice?
If a hospital commits any mistake which amounts to negligence and if the patient is injured in the process, the patient has the legal right to sue a hospital for negligence with the help of a hospital negligence attorney and get compensation. Although the laws pertaining to medical malpractice are meant to protect the patient’s rights, who have received sub-standard care; however, the first step to enforce the rights should be taken by the patients themselves.
Nevertheless, the point to note is that not all unwanted outcomes, failures of treatment or surgery can be constituted as malpractice. Most often, doctors and the other medical staff do all that they can to save the patient; despite which the patient may undergo plenty of suffering and may even die.
For a hospital malpractice case, there must be two things that need to be proved in New Jersey:
- The doctor, medical professional or staff who is treating the patient made an error.
- The patient was harmed because of the mistake.
According to the American Bar Association, hospitals, doctors, dentists, nurses, technicians and hospital workers can all be responsible and commit medical malpractice in New Jersey.
To determine if the medical professional from New Jersey committed a mistake, the court of New Jersey will refer to the medical “standard of care” and determine if there was an error and the standard of care of one area may differ from that of another. For instance, the standard of care for an 80-year old heart patient in New Jersey may be different compared to that of a 50-year old heart patient in another state.
The patient may not have a legal New Jersey medical malpractice claim if the doctor treated the patient as per the New Jersey Medical standard of care. And, even if the treatment violates the New Jersey’s standard of care, but the patient was unharmed, then the medical malpractice claim will not be valid.
Every state in the United States has a statute of limitations, which is the time period in which a civil lawsuit can be filed against the negligent hospital, doctor, nurse or any other hospital employee. And, in the case of New Jersey, the medical malpractice statute of limitations is 2 years, which means that the claim for medical malpractice must be filed within 2 years of the date of occurrence of the malpractice.
The hospital malpractice lawyer you hire can help you with this. This does not really mean the exact date of the malpractice, but it could be the date that the person was aware that he/she was injured due to the actions of the hospital, doctor or medical staff.
A person who is a victim of hospital medical negligence can claim compensation for:
- Medical expenditure incurred
- Cost of care
- Lost income
- Suffering and pain including disability, physical pain, disfigurement, emotional distress and loss of quality of life
Common Instances of Hospital Malpractice
Hospital Staff Failing to Following Physicians’ Orders
The role of nurses and other staff in the hospital are as important as that of the doctors’. And, today, the role of nurses is becoming increasingly vital in the treatment and care of patients in hospitals. They particularly have greater interactions and contact with the patients. However, in today’s scenario where there is acute understaffing of medical support staff, especially nurses, they are overburdened and this can result in the treatment and care falling below the requisite standard of care.
Any negligence or mistake by a nurse with respect to patient care, which results in injury or death can constitute a nursing error or hospital malpractice. And, this can be caused due to several reasons, including a nurse:
- Not following the doctor’s orders.
- Failing to monitor a patient.
- Giving the wrong medication to the patient.
- Not calling a doctor for immediate help.
- Not performing a medical procedure properly.
One of the most common mistakes that are made by nurses is medication errors. A report in the Archives of Internal Medicine stated that 1 in 5 doses of medication given by nurses in around 36 nursing homes or hospitals in the country was the incorrect drug, the incorrect dose or given to the incorrect patient at the incorrect time.
A case in point which resulted in the death of a patient due to hospital staff not following the doctor’s instructions was a case where an employee gave an Alzheimer’s patient who could not eat solid food, a meat and cheese sandwich against the doctor’s orders. The patient was left unattended along with the sandwich, who inhaled the sandwich and died 5 days later as a result of pneumonia caused due to inhalation of food.
The hospital had not been able to protect the patient’s health and did not follow the specific diet prescribed by the doctor and the patient’s plan for care was not followed properly, which resulted in the death of the patient. An AA citation was issued by the California Department of Public Health and the hospital was fined $50,000 after the investigation.
Ignoring Good Medical Practice and Common Sense
Any injury or harm that is caused due to the standard of care or ignoring good medical practice by the doctor, nursing staff or employee of the hospital can amount to hospital malpractice.
The family of Ben Serico, an assistant professor at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, won a $6 million in a lawsuit for medical malpractice against Ben’s former doctor. Dr. Rothberg did not identify the cancer when a colonoscopy was performed in 2007. The disease was discovered 2 years later by another doctor, but it had worsened by that time and in December 2011 Ben died when he was 62.
Patient Falls in Hospitals and Medical Centers
Each year, around 700,000-1,000,000 people fall in hospitals around the United States, of which around 51% of the falls result in serious injuries. A fall can cause internal injuries, lacerations or fractures. And sometimes, falls can also cause the death of the patient.
When you speak about patient falls, one usually associates falls with the elderly. However, that is not the case and patients of all ages suffer from falling unnecessarily when they are under the care of doctors, nurses or hospital employees.
Usually, patient falls occur from stretchers, cots and beds or when the patient is being shifted to the shower or bathroom by a hospital employee of the nurse. Several falls occur when the patient is being shifted from the bed to the wheelchair and from the wheelchair to the bed.
Patient falls are categorized as “never events”, which means that falls should not happen in hospitals, nursing homes or any nursing facility.
Marian Wolff sued Saint Clare’s Hospital in Dover for negligence when she fell and injured herself in 2010. After waiting for the hospital staff to help her and after repeatedly calling for help, Marian fell asleep on the toilet commode and fell off the commode onto the toilet floor. This caused Marian to fracture her spine.
Most Common Hospital Malpractice Conditions
- Complications due to anesthesia
- Communication errors between the hospital and physician
- Emergency room errors
- Delayed diagnosis
- Informed consent errors
- Medication errors
- Hospital infections
- Wrong diagnosis and incorrect treatment
- Nursing errors
- Prescription errors
- Surgical errors
- Failure to treat disease
- Failure to prescribe the correct tests
- Failure to screen the patient
- Failure to keep the patient stabilized
- Incorrect usage of any medical equipment or device
- Failure to check with the specialist
- Birth injury due to doctor or nurse negligence
As we discussed earlier, while a failure in treatment or any unwanted outcome does not necessarily mean that medical malpractice has occurred; however, if you do suspect that there has been a case of medical malpractice, then you should definitely act on it and contact a hospital malpractice lawyer of your state immediately.