Top 10 Common Reasons for a Malpractice Lawsuit

By Peter DePaolis

10 most common medical malpractice claims

Medical technology today is advanced, and it is explicitly designed to reduce the number of errors in the industry. Unfortunately, medical errors are still prevalent, despite technological advancements. Furthermore, medical errors are one of the leading causes of death in the United States, indicating that the problem is widespread and in need of control.

One Johns Hopkins study found that over 250,000 people die annually from medical errors, and in some cases, they estimate the numbers could be as high as 440,000. Medical malpractice is now the third leading cause of death, trailing heart disease and cancer.

While heart disease and cancer are not always preventable, medical errors certainly are. Patients are at high-risk for these devastating errors and fatalities, and the causes of medical mistakes increasing are only getting worse rather than better. Physicians’ offices are understaffed and the physicians are overscheduled. And when they rush through patient care, serious errors occur.

Patients have options for recovery after suffering from malpractice, including filing a malpractice lawsuit against the physician, hospital, or another healthcare professional that injures them or causes death to a loved one.

Whether you are a patient or a concerned family member, knowing the most common causes of these medical errors could save a life. When patients are more proactive and aware, they can ensure they receive the best standard of care – even when their physician is too busy.

Top 10 Reasons for Malpractice Lawsuits in Washington, D.C., Virginia, and Maryland

Malpractice is a form of negligence conducted by a healthcare professional. While physicians are the most commonly named defendants, other healthcare professionals can cause these injuries, including nurses, assistants, aides, pharmacy staff, radiologists, surgeons, pharmaceutical companies, and administrators.

While the reasons for malpractice lawsuits are extensive, the ten most common types of suits seen include:

Misdiagnosis or Delayed Diagnosis

One of the most common reasons for a medical malpractice lawsuit is a misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis. While sounding similar, each has unique differences. A misdiagnosis occurs when a physician blatantly misdiagnoses a patient. That patient might never know the true diagnosis, or they could receive treatment for the wrong condition. Later, the right diagnosis is made by a new physician – but often it is too late.

An example would be a patient diagnosed with gastritis. They are treated with medications, and the physician continues to prescribe those medications, even though the patient complains they have not improved and symptoms are worsening. The patient seeks a second opinion from a doctor who diagnoses them with stomach cancer. However, the stomach cancer has spread and now is too advanced for treatment.

A delayed diagnosis occurs when the physician eventually reaches the right diagnosis, but not in a reasonable time. They may put off ordering tests for the proper diagnosis while the patient suffers in agony. Another time could be where a patient visits the emergency room with chest pain, and they are told it is heartburn. While they wait, their symptoms worsen and, eventually, they suffer a massive heart attack. Had they received the proper treatment when they arrived, they would not have suffered the same complications.

Failure to Treat

Failure to treat is a type of medical malpractice that involves a negligent lapse in a patient’s care. It is also called failure to diagnose. Failure to treat occurs when a doctor sees a patient but fails to diagnose an injury or illness – thus failing to recommend treatments or care. Dismissing a patient’s presentation of symptoms, failing to order the correct tests and failing to refer the patient to a specialist could all lead to failure to treat.

Childbirth Injuries

The fatality rate in childbirth, considering the U.S. is a medically advanced country, is high. In fact, some third world countries have better rates than the U.S. One study found that 700 mothers die in childbirth each year in the U.S. This rate is higher than in countries like Germany, France, Japan, and the United Kingdom.

The study also found that half of the deaths were preventable, and most were due to a relaxed safety protocol in hospitals, busy doctors, and failures to diagnose.

Childbirth injuries and deaths are tragic. Even if there is no injury or death to the mother, a child born and suffering serious injuries may have long-term disabilities as a result – such as a congenital disability. Negligence can start during prenatal care or happen during the delivery itself.

Some common childbirth injury claims include:

  • Failure to perform a timely C-section
  • Failure to diagnose or detect congenital disabilities
  • Failure to diagnose or treat a disease that is contagious to the fetus
  • Neglecting medical conditions of the mother that can affect the child
  • Failure to use proper delivery procedures, resulting in physical injury to the child

Medication Errors

Sadly, America is a country heavily reliant on prescription medications. Therefore, it is no surprise that another common cause of malpractice lawsuits in this country is due to medication errors. These errors can include:

  • Prescribing the wrong medication or wrong dosage
  • Dispensing the wrong medication
  • Dispensing medication at the wrong concentration
  • Prescribing medications with dangerous interactions
  • Prescribing medications the patient is allergic to
  • Giving inadequate instructions for how to take the medication

Medication errors happen at the physician and pharmacy level. They might occur when the physician writes the prescription, while other times the pharmacy may dispense or mix the wrong medications for the patient. Sometimes, they happen in the hospital when staff administers medications intravenously.

Lack of Informed Consent

It is a physician’s responsibility to give a patient all the information he or she needs to make an informed decision about having a surgery before the operation. The doctor must offer facts about the procedure, its potential risks and benefits, what the patient risks by not having the procedure, and potential alternatives. If the patient did not receive enough information, he or she might not have given informed consent, even if the patient signed the release forms. This could expose the health care center to liability for subsequent surgical errors or complications.

Surgical Errors

Surgical errors are common, despite regulations. Most are not life-threatening, but they are still debilitating and dangerous. Common reasons for surgical error claims include operating on the wrong side of the body, operating on the wrong patient, post-operative infections, bleeding, anesthesia errors, and brain damage during sedation.

Anesthesia Errors

Anesthesia is common in surgery as well as with outpatient procedures. For example, a person’s annual colonoscopy requires anesthesia. Dental work also may use sedation.

Anesthesia errors can be devastating, especially when a proper medical history is not taken or the patient is not properly monitored. Patients can suffer from drug interactions, brain damage from a lack of oxygen, organ failure, heart attacks, and even allergic reactions.

Poor Post-or Preoperative Care 

A patient’s ability to successfully survive an operation depends on his or her post- and preoperative care. Health care practitioners receive special training on how to prep a patient for an operation. This can include telling the patient not to eat a certain number of hours before the operation, assessing the patient’s physical fitness for the surgery and choosing the correct anesthetic. After an operation, a patient requires attentive care and support to prevent infection and facilitate healing. Negligent patient care before or after surgery could increase the risk of complications, infections, illnesses, and mortality.

Emergency Room Mistakes

Emergency room (ER) settings differ significantly from typical hospital environments. ERs may see hundreds of patients per day, all dealing with urgent or life-threatening medical emergencies. ERs can easily become disorganized, chaotic and dangerous. Negligent staff members or doctors may rush treatment, misdiagnose patients, fail to treat injuries, prescribe the wrong medication, mix up patients or make other mistakes that ultimately harm patients. The ER could be liable for mistakes its staff members make, as well as for dangerous environments.

Defective Medical Devices

Even if every staff member at the health care facility performs his or her job correctly, a patient could suffer a serious injury if life-saving medical equipment breaks down or malfunctions. Defective medical devices may stop working part way through an operation, for example, suddenly halting oxygen flow to the patient. These issues may trace back to a defectively designed or manufactured product (manufacturer liability) or a failure to maintain equipment (hospital liability). Either way, someone else could be responsible for the injured patient’s damages due to a medical device malfunction.

What Are the Odds of Winning a Medical Malpractice Suit?

Studies show physicians and hospitals win most medical malpractice lawsuits, not patients. State laws make it difficult for plaintiffs to win claims against health care providers to protect the integrity of the medical industry. Too many settlements and verdicts against providers could bankrupt a local hospital, leading to a lack of medical care for the community.

For this reason, many states impose strict rules and high standards of proof on patients that try to pursue compensation. You can improve your chances of winning a medical malpractice lawsuit by hiring an attorney. Our lawyers can help you craft a legal strategy that will optimize your odds of achieving a settlement or verdict for the damages you suffered due to medical malpractice.

What Is the Average Settlement for Medical Malpractice?

An average medical malpractice settlement does not exist. Every case is unique, with results ranging considerably for each plaintiff. That being said, Koonz McKenney Johnson & DePaolis LLP has won multimillion-dollar awards for past medical malpractice victims, including a $2.55 million verdict for a woman with a brain injury from a surgical mistake. Our medical malpractice lawyers know how to navigate these claims to build strong cases against powerful opponents.

Finding an Advocate for Medical Malpractice

After an injury from a medical provider, victims should speak with an advocate who has experience handling these types of cases. Medical malpractice might be familiar, but navigating the laws is not.

It is a highly complicated area of the law, and a patient is going against big insurance companies and sometimes hospitals with teams of attorneys. Therefore, they need a law firm ready to fight for their right to compensation.

Speak with an advocate from Koonz McKenney Johnson & DePaolis LLP, now. Schedule a free case evaluation at one of our three locations or contact us online with your questions.

About the Author
Peter DePaolis joined the firm in 1980 and has since represented a large number of individuals involved in automobile collisions, truck accidents, bus crashes, defective products, and medical malpractice cases. A significant portion of Mr. DePaolis’ practice is devoted to working on behalf of people suffering from asbestosis, mesothelioma, and other asbestos-related cancers. He has led his firm’s fight against the asbestos industry and has recovered over $30 million in damages for asbestos victims and their families.