There are birth injury medical malpractice cases. There are other medical malpractice cases. And then there are all the other lawsuits, like personal injury cases. What is the difference? Read on to learn the important factors that distinguish one from another.
Generally speaking, personal injury cases involve someone suffering an injury as the result of someone else’s negligent action or omission. An “injury” can be physical (eg, a broken leg), emotional (eg, depression), or reputational (eg, customers no longer come to your store because of your damaged reputation).
And while “injury” describes damages to your body or mind or heart or good name, actual “damages” is a broader and more conceptual term. You can have economic damages. These are damages that are quantifiable, such as lost wages (eg, you had to stop working for six months to recover from your injury so you lost six months of wages). Other obvious examples of economic damages are medical bills and co-pays, pharmaceutical costs, and drugstore purchases – all expenses you had to undergo to treat the injury caused by the defendant.
In addition to economic damages, you can collect non-economic damages. These are damages that are real, but not easily quantifiable. For instance, pain and suffering are non-economic damages. They are to compensate you for the inconvenience, the physical discomfort, and the emotional anguish you suffered following the injury. Other examples of non-economic damage include loss of enjoyment of life, scarring and disfigurement, and emotional distress.
In addition to the injury in your personal injury lawsuit, you also must establish that the defendant was negligent. Negligence is, simply put, the failure to take appropriate care in doing something.
Sometimes it’s easier to understand this concept of negligence with concrete examples. In the context of a car accident, let’s say a truck driver drove through a red light and hit a car that was driving through the intersection when it had the green light. The truck driver was negligent because he didn’t take care to stop at the red light, as he should have. So, in that case, it was the truck driver’s action that caused the accident.
But sometimes someone is negligent when they fail to act at all. The next example demonstrates this negligence by omission circumstance.
In the context of a slip and fall, perhaps a box of beads fell on the floor of an art store and the beads spilled all over the aisle and no one cleaned up the beads as they should have. A man was walking through the aisle, focusing on the paints on the shelves, and stepped right onto the beads. The beads caused his feet to slip and he falls hard on his back. The art store would be considered negligent for failing to sweep up the scattered beads. So, it was the art store’s failure to act – its omission – that caused the person’s injuries.
How does medical malpractice differ from personal injury negligence? There’s one key difference: medical malpractice is when negligence occurs in the context of medical treatment. In other words, the wrongdoer is a healthcare provider, such as a doctor, nurse, hospital administrator, hospital staff member, or even the hospital itself – as a corporate entity.
And while the identity of the defendant is a key distinguishing factor between a standard personal injury case and a medical malpractice case, there are other very important distinctions:
In a medical malpractice case, instead of asking whether the defendant simply failed to take care, the question is more about what the reasonable professional standard of care was for the defendant to follow. And in order to measure that, your medical malpractice attorney would have to hire a good expert to review the medical records and make that determination.
Need for Expert Testimony
As stated, your medical malpractice attorney will need to hire a good expert to review your medical records and determine whether or not your healthcare provider was negligent, or failed to meet the standard of care. And not only do you need a medical expert to help prove that medical negligence occurred in your case – you need a medical expert who practices the same field of medicine as the healthcare professional who harmed you. For instance, if your injuries occurred during orthopedic surgery, your medical malpractice attorney will likely discuss the case with an expert who is an orthopedic surgeon.
Typically, there are more medical records in a medical malpractice case compared to a standard personal injury case and the records are more complex. The question isn’t simply is the plaintiff injured, yes or no? The medical records are instead evaluated to determine both liability and injury. In other words, was the patient injured and did a healthcare provider contribute to the cause of the patient’s injury? Thus, it is essential that your attorney help you collect and preserve all forms of evidence including blood work, radiology reports, medical records, prescription history, intake forms, discharge instructions, etc.
Collection of Evidence
The evidence in a medical malpractice case is often different from a standard personal injury case in that, in many cases, you’d have to get the evidence from the defendant. In other words, if your injury occurred in the hospital where the defendant was your doctor, you’d need your medical records to help determine whether there was in fact medical malpractice. So, your medical malpractice attorney would have to ask the defendant to supply a good portion of the evidence. Naturally, this is not always easy and often the defendant will not hand over all the essential evidence immediately. This is why you need to hire an experienced medical malpractice attorney who knows what to ask for and how to ask for it (and then, if necessary, how to file a motion to compel the defendant to produce it).
Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations is the time you have to file a lawsuit. In a standard personal injury case, like, for instance, a car accident, this is two years from the date of the accident. In other words, the day you first encountered the defendant and were injured is the day the clock starts ticking, and you have two years to file a complaint. But, in medical malpractice cases, your injury might not occur the day you first encountered the defendant. In fact, you may be treating with the defendant for days, weeks, months, or years before your injury occurs. Also, you are not required to file the lawsuit within two years until you knew or should have known that your injury was the result of the defendant’s negligence. For instance, say you had abdominal surgery and were discharged from the hospital and felt fine. But within days, you start to become feverish and very ill. An x-ray determines that the abdominal surgeon accidentally left a surgical tool in your abdomen and it caused an infection. While the negligent act occurred the day of your surgery, the statute of limitations doesn’t begin to toll until the day you discover that the negligent act occurred. It’s a totally different timetable.
Birth injury cases are similar to medical malpractice cases in that they occur in the context of a medical setting and the defendants are doctors, nurses, hospital staff, etc. They are also similar because they require expert review and testimony and complex review of medical records.
Birth injury cases, though, are arguably more complex than medical malpractice cases for the following reasons:
–Evidence. In birth injury cases, your birth injury lawyer needs to evaluate both the baby’s and the mother’s medical records. These include fetal heart monitoring strips, the mother’s blood pressure readings, the prenatal medical records, the delivery report, bloodwork, etc.
–Statute of Limitations. In birth injury cases, the parents have two years after the child turns eighteen to file the lawsuit. However, the parents’ right to file the lawsuit for a birth injury case is two years from the date of birth. This is the law in Pennsylvania. In order to make sure you don’t lose your right to sue, it is thus imperative to contact an experienced Pennsylvania birth injury attorney.
Because birth injury cases are more complex than a run-of-the-mill personal injury case and often more complicated than other types of medical malpractice cases, it is advisable to connect with a birth trauma lawyer in Pennsylvania who has the background and experience to help you navigate this highly specialized and complex area of law.
The experienced birth injury, neonatal and cerebral palsy lawyers at VSCP Law can help.