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Understanding Medical Malpractice Claims

Doctors make mistakes. The term “medical malpractice” describes the negligent or unreasonable treatment given by healthcare providers that injures or kills their patients. Determining whether a healthcare provider has been negligent depends on many different case-specific factors, and skilled investigation by experienced attorneys is necessary.

Common forms of medical malpractice include the failure to properly diagnose an injury, delays in treatment, wrong-site surgeries, errors in prescribing medication, and pregnancy and birth injuries.

If you have been injured by a doctor’s medical malpractice, you are entitled to full and fair compensation for your injuries. When you work with experienced personal injury lawyer Arlo Walsman, you can rely on his experience and zeal to get you the justice you deserve. Call Arlo at 312-313-0035 or send him an email to schedule your free case evaluation.

Common Types of Medical Malpractice

Common forms of medical malpractice include:

  • Failure to timely and properly diagnose an injury, such as cancer or blood clots
  • Delays in treatment
  • Wrong-site surgeries
  • Errors in prescribing medication
  • Pregnancy and birth injuries
  • Failure to obtain informed consent
  • Medical battery

Statute of Limitations and Repose in Medical Malpractice Cases

If you or someone you know has been a victim of medical malpractice, it is important to understand the time in which you have to file a lawsuit. Statutes of limitations and repose refer to laws that place deadlines on when an injured plaintiff or his representative must file a lawsuit against the at-fault doctor.

Statute of Limitations. In Illinois, the statute of limitations period for medical malpractice cases is generally two years, meaning an injured party must file a lawsuit within two years of his injury.

However, there are important exceptions to the two-year rule above. First, if the person injured is under 18 at the time of his injury, then the deadline to file a lawsuit is two years from his 18th birthday, and not two years from the injury. Second, if a person is under a legal disability when they are injured, then the statute of limitations period will not begin to run until his disability is removed. Common types of legal disability include incompetence, mental illness, and Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. In these examples, it is possible that the injured person’s disability may never be removed or “cured,” meaning that the statute of limitations would never expire, and the injured person’s representative would have ample time to file a lawsuit. Finally, a third important exception is called the “discovery rule.” Under discovery rule, the two-year statute of limitations period will not begin to start running until a person knows or reasonably should have known of both his injury and that it was wrongfully caused. Once this information is “discovered” by the injured party, he then has two years from that date to file a lawsuit. For example, if a person undergoes a surgery and the surgeon leaves a foreign object inside the person’s body, the person may not learn of the existence of the foreign object until months or years after the surgery. In this circumstance, the person would generally have two years after learning of his injury to file a lawsuit against the surgeon.

Statute of Repose. The statute of repose is very important to understand because it imposes a near absolute deadline on when a lawsuit must be filed, even if one of the above exceptions to the two-year rule is present. In Illinois, the statute of repose for medical malpractice cases is four years for adults and ten years for minors. This means that if a person is over 18 when they were injured by medical malpractice, they must bring suit within four years after the doctor’s alleged negligent conduct. And if a person is under 18 when they were injured by medical malpractice, they must bring suit within ten years after the alleged negligent conduct.

The only exception to the statute of repose is that the repose period will not apply if the doctor fraudulently concealed the injured party’s cause of action from the injured person’s knowledge. This may occur if a doctor lies to a patient when asked about treatment that was performed.

 Public Entities. If an injured person is bringing a medical malpractice lawsuit against a public entity, such as the University of Illinois Hospital or Stroger Hospital, the statute of limitations period is one year and the statute of repose period is four years.

*IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER. Statutes of limitations and repose can be very complicated and determining when an injured party must file a lawsuit is a very fact-intensive inquiry that will depend on the unique facts and circumstances of each specific case. The information provided above is offered for educational purposes only and should not be taken as legal advice. If you have questions about when you must file a medical malpractice lawsuit, you should consult with an attorney who can investigate the facts of your case.

Elements of a Successful Medical Malpractice Case

In order to bring a successful medical malpractice lawsuit, an injured plaintiff must prove four elements: (1) that the doctor owed him a duty of care, (2) that the doctor breached that duty, (3) that the doctor’s breach proximately caused an injury, and (4) damages.

Generally speaking, all physicians in Illinois have a duty to use reasonable care when treating their patients. Reasonable care is defined as the amount of care and skill commensurate with that ordinarily possessed by members of the doctor’s profession.

With respect to breach, the injured plaintiff must show that the doctor’s conduct was negligent or unreasonable. Put differently, the plaintiff must show that the doctor’s conduct fell below the standard of reasonable care. The breach can be an act or omission by a doctor.

With respect to causation, the plaintiff must show that the doctor’s breach was the cause in fact, and proximate cause, of the plaintiff’s injury. In some cases, this may be easy to prove (such as a wrong site surgery), but in other cases, such as medication errors, proving causation may be very fact intensive and require expert testimony.

In order to file a medical malpractice case in Illinois, the injured party’s attorney must file a complaint which alleges facts that establish the elements above. The plaintiff’s attorney must also file an affidavit and the report of reviewing healthcare professional. In the affidavit, the injured party’s attorney must swear or affirm that he has consulted with a doctor about the case, and that the doctor has determined that the case has merit.

How Much is my Case Worth?

The value of any case, and the injured party’s monetary recovery, depends on many different factors. The most important consideration is the nature and extent of the injured party’s injuries. Other important factors include the injured party’s medical expenses, pain and suffering, and emotional distress.

A. Compensatory Damages

Persons injured by medical malpractice are entitled to monetary compensation for their medical expenses, pain and suffering, disability or loss of normal life, emotional distress, disfigurement, and lost wages.

Medical Expenses. An injured plaintiff is entitled to recover the full amount of any medical bills, regardless of whether the injured plaintiff had health insurance that paid all or part of the bills.

Pain and Suffering, Loss of Normal Life, and Emotional Distress. These elements of damages are hard to precisely calculate, as there is no easy formula to determine the monetary value of an injured plaintiff’s pain and suffering following an accident. However, when placing on value on these types of damages, one important legal consideration is the nature, extent, and duration of the plaintiff’s injuries.

For example, a person who fractured a bone in an accident and had to have surgery to repair the injury would generally be entitled to more money for pain and suffering than someone who only suffered injuries such as muscle sprains or strains. Similarly, a plaintiff’s whose medical treatment lasts longer may be entitled to more compensation than a person who only received limited treatment.

Disfigurement. If a plaintiff suffers disfigurement from a car accident such as scars or burns, he may recover damages for the disfigurement. However, there is no easy way to calculate disfigurement damages. Generally, important considerations are the location and visibility of the scars and their size. Another consideration is whether the scars impair the plaintiff’s regular movement and function of their body, such as large scars over joints.

Lost Wages. An injured plaintiff can recover money for any wages he lost as result of his injuries from a car accident. This includes the work that the plaintiff had to miss in order to attend doctor’s visits and other medical appointments.

Future Damages. An injured plaintiff is also entitled to recover for damages that are reasonably certain to arise in the future. For example, in the case of catastrophic injuries, a plaintiff may introduce evidence that he will need future nursing care, doctor’s visits, and medical procedures, or that he will experience continued loss of normal life due to the permanence of his injuries. A catastrophically injured plaintiff will commonly hire expert life care planners to evaluate his medical condition and testify at trial about the future medical care that he will need.

Punitive Damages. Punitive damages are available in car accident cases if a defendant’s conduct was willful or wanton. Both the Illinois Supreme Court and legislature define willful and wanton conduct as “a course of action which shows actual or deliberate intent to harm or which, if the course of action is not intentional, shows an utter indifference to or conscious disregard for a person’s own safety or the safety or property of others.” For example, driving under the influence of alcohol is willful and wanton conduct that will subject a defendant to punitive damages.

What to Expect when Bringing a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit

A. Investigating the Case

The first step in a medical malpractice case is for the plaintiff’s lawyer to thoroughly investigate the facts of the case and the client’s injuries. This is done by interviewing the injured plaintiff, the plaintiff’s family, and any other witnesses to the doctor or hospital’s negligence. Second, the lawyer will obtain and review the plaintiff’s medical records from the doctor or hospital that committed the malpractice, as well as any other medical providers that treated the plaintiff. In reviewing the records, the goal is to: (1) identify specific examples of a doctor’s negligence, (2) understand the full nature and extent of the plaintiff’s injuries, and (3) determine whether the plaintiff needs and future medical treatment to recover from those injuries. A medical malpractice lawyer will also send the plaintiff’s medical records to a consultant so that the consultant can write a report regarding the merits of the case.

Once a clear picture emerges regarding a doctor’s negligence and the full nature and extent of the plaintiff’s injuries, the plaintiff’s lawyer may submit a demand letter to the doctor’s malpractice insurance carrier. The demand letter will educate the insurer about the plaintiff’s theory of the case and give a full description of the injuries the plaintiff suffered as a result of the doctor’s negligence. The demand letter will also demand a specific sum of money to settle the plaintiff’s claim. If the doctor accepts responsibility and wishes to pursue settlement, then the plaintiff’s attorney and the doctor’s insurance company can enter settlement negotiations before a lawsuit is filed.

B. The Litigation Process

If the doctor refuses to accept responsibility, then the lawyer will file a lawsuit against the doctor. If the injured plaintiff is still alive and is competent to bring the suit personally, then the suit can be brought in the plaintiff’s name. If the plaintiff is still alive but has an appointed guardian, then the suit will be brought by the guardian on behalf of the plaintiff.

If the plaintiff has passed away, the lawyer must determine who the proper plaintiff will be to represent the decedent’s estate. If the decedent had a will, then the plaintiff will be the executor of the decedent’s estate. If the decedent did not have a will, then the lawyer will need to have a special administrator appointed by the court to represent the decedent’s estate.

Once a lawsuit is filed, the plaintiff must serve the defendant doctor with a copy of the complaint and summons. Once the doctor is served, he or must hire an attorney to file an appearance on his behalf and file an answer admitting or denying the allegations of the complaint. Once the doctor is served and an answer is filed, the parties will engage in discovery.

Discovery involves both written and oral discovery. Commonly used written discovery tools are interrogatories and requests to produce documents. Interrogatories issued by the plaintiff will ask the defendant doctor to identify witnesses to the allegations of the complaint. They will also ask for information about the doctor’s insurance policy. Interrogatories issued by the defendant will also ask for the identity of witnesses to the allegations of the plaintiff’s complaint such as the plaintiff’s family members. The interrogatories will also ask for information about the plaintiff’s injuries and treatment. Requests to produce documents will ask the opposing party to disclose documents that may be relevant to the case, such as pictures of the plaintiff’s injuries, and any medical records and bills.

After written discovery is complete, the parties will engage in oral discovery, during which each party will depose the other party’s witnesses. For the plaintiff, this usually involves deposing the doctor and any of the doctor’s staff that may have assisted him. A skilled plaintiff’s attorney will use depositions to develop a roadmap for cross-examining the witnesses at trial and will also seek to elicit admissions from the witnesses that the defendant doctor was negligent.

The defendant doctor will usually depose the plaintiff if he or she is still alive, and any members of the plaintiff’s family who have knowledge of the plaintiff’s injuries or death.

Once depositions of the lay witnesses are complete, the parties will disclose the names of the expert witnesses that they have hired to give opinions at trial. Commonly, a plaintiff will retain an expert in the same field of medicine as the defendant doctor, so that the expert can testify exactly what the doctor did wrong or failed to do. A plaintiff may also retain an expert witness to testify about the nature and extent of his injuries. In cases concerning catastrophic injuries, the plaintiff may hire life care planner to testify about the medical care that the plaintiff will need in the future, and the cost of that care.

Throughout the litigation process, the parties may attempt settlement negotiations. However, if settlement negotiations are unsuccessful, then the case will proceed to trial before a jury. The Arlo Law Office always prepares every medical malpractice case as if it is going to trial, and always stands ready, willing, and able to try a case before a jury.