Medical Malpractice FAQs

Q. What is medical malpractice?

A. Medical malpractice, also called medical negligence, includes personal injury claims against doctors, hospitals, nurses, nursing homes, dentists, chiropractors, pharmacists, pharmacies, podiatrists, psychologists and psychiatrists, and ophthalmologists.  It can also include claims in some cases against managed care organizations (HMO's).  Medical negligence is the failure of a healthcare provider, such as a doctor or the others described above, to meet a minimum acceptable standard of care in treating or making decisions about the treatment of a patient.

Many people incorrectly believe that "malpractice" is conduct that is worse or more severe than simple negligence or carelessness. That is not usually the case. Medical malpractice is ordinary negligence or carelessness by a doctor or other healthcare provider that causes injury to the patient.  It is no different from the negligence or carelessness by a motorist who does not pay attention and runs a red light causing injury.

Q. What are examples of medical negligence?

A. In general terms, medical negligence can include:

(a) Misdiagnosis of a condition or failure to diagnose a condition;
(b) Improper treatment;
(c) Failure to treat or a delay in treatment;
(d) Failure to perform appropriate follow-up treatment;
(e) Prescription errors;
(f) Failing to provide important information to a patient or failure to get appropriate consent for a procedure;
(g) Leaving a foreign object in the body (such as surgical sponge or a medical tool);
(h) Nursing errors such as failing to following a doctor's orders for treatment;
(i) Nursing error in failing to report a change in the patient's condition to the doctor; and
(j) Failing to properly monitor a patient while undergoing surgery.

Q. What damages are available in a medical negligence case. 

A. The same damages are available in a medical negligence case as would be available in any personal injury case.  These include:

(a) Pain and suffering depend upon the nature of your injury and whether it is permanent;
(b) Past and future medical expenses;
(c) Past and future pain, suffering and mental anguish;
(d) Loss of income;
(e) Loss of ability to earn in the future;
(f) Compensation for any scars or disfigurement from the injury;
(g) Past and future caretaking expense;
(h) The spouse of the injured can claim damages for loss of consortium which is the loss of services and affection one's spouse. If the case involves wrongful death, compensation for the loss of the value of the life of the deceased.

This is a general discussion of some of the damages which can be claimed in a medical negligence case. Each case has to be analyzed to determine the appropriate damages for that case.

Q. Are there time limits for filing a medical malpractice case?

A. If you or a member of your family has been injured by a doctor or other healthcare provider, you should contact an attorney as soon as possible.  Pennsylvania law provides a very short period of time to file a claim for medical negligence. The time limit for filing a lawsuit is called a "statute of limitations." The statute of limitations for medical negligence is generally two years from the date of the negligent act.  There are very limited exceptions to this time restraint. Medical negligence cases are time consuming to evaluate. We cannot file a case until we have appropriate medical support.  Consequently, do not delay in contacting an attorney.  You may be unable to find an attorney willing to review a medical negligence case if the statute of limitations is about to expire. Even if you do not fully understand the extent of your injuries, you should contact an attorney promptly.  Many people wait to see if they will get better and allow the statute of limitations to expire.

Q. How do I know if I have a good case?

A. Determining whether there has been a failure to meet that minimum standard of care almost always involves expert testimony. This means we hire experts in the appropriate fields to review the medical records and other information to determine if there has been a violation of the standard of care.  Not all bad results which occur during medical treatment are the result of medical negligence.  Doctors and other healthcare providers cannot guaranty a perfect result.  The best doctors providing the absolute best care cannot always cure a condition or restore a patient's health completely.

 To determine if you have a good case involves reviewing all pertinent information and medical records.  Before a case is filed in the proper court, we review the information with a doctor. This process is expensive.  It is not unusual for the review to costs thousands and thousands of dollars to obtain all of the relevant records and have them reviewed by an appropriate expert doctor. If the case proceeds to trial, we will obtain and present the testimony of experts from the appropriate medical specialties.

Q.  How quickly should I contact an attorney?

A.   To be safe, you should talk to an attorney as soon as possible, especially if the injuries are severe or a death has resulted.  All too often valuable evidence disappears, witnesses move, memories grow dim and the practical ability to prove your case may diminish.  If you are still being treated by a physician, an attorney can also provide you with guidance concerning your medical care and help you deal with unpaid bills and getting needed treatment. 

Q. What about attorneys fees and the costs of pursuing a medical malpractice case?

A. Ogg, Murphy & Perkosky takes medical malpractice cases on a contingency basis.  Frequently as much as $100,000.00 or more in expenses are advanced by firms handling this type of litigation.  The expenses are principally related to the need to hire obstetrical experts, pediatric neurologists, neonatologists, economists, life care planning experts and other experts and the deposition and travel costs associated with deposing all of the experts for both the Plaintiff and the Defendant.   Of course if our firm is not successful, we have to absorb the expenses and there is no obligation on the part of the client to reimburse the expenses unless there is a damage recovery.  Damage recoveries in these cases can be very high also since they try to compensate for the injuries and any future care and medical expenses for the victim.  A contingency fee means that we advance the costs of the case and you do not have to pay anything unless we obtain a settlement or judgment for you.  In other words, we do not require you to pay any money at the beginning of the case.  We get paid only if you win.  Attorneys' fees are deducted from the gross amount of the settlement or judgment, as are costs.

Q.  Are there alternatives to going to court?

A.   Alternate dispute resolution (ADR) is a growing area of the law.  Is it generally voluntary but can be court ordered.  There are two types of ADR.  One is mediation, which is a settlement conference conducted by a trained mediator.  Any settlement negotiated in mediation must be agreed to by all sides.  Arbitration is another form of ADR.  In this instance the parties agree upon an arbitrator (normally an attorney and frequently a former judge) who will serve as the judge and jury and decide issues of fault and award damages.  The findings of the arbitrator are normally binding on all parties

Q.   Is technology important to my case?

A.   Technology is more and more important in today's world.  Lawyers now use case management software to track deadlines and to provide reminders, as well as document damages, witnesses, and valuable case data.  Research available over the Internet and CD's replace the massive legal libraries that once were necessary.  Interoffice e-mail and Internet e-mail allows for rapid and efficient communication -- often better then utilizing the telephone.  Letter and documents may be e-mailed, edited, and returned, avoiding the delays of the mail and the inability to edit fax transmissions.  Laptop computers can carry images of massive numbers of documents and depositions.  During trial, the laptop and digital projector can be used to present video depositions, exhibits and visual aides to assist the jury in understanding often complex and technical issues.  Generally, the more complex the case and the more serious the damages, the more technology can be used to maximize the odds of winning and the amount of the verdict.  You should ensure that the firm you hire has the necessary technology to present your case in the most effective way possible.
 
Q. How long will it take to resolve my case?

A. Medical malpractice cases are complex and require thorough investigation.  It is not unusual for initial investigation of a case to take sixty days to six months or even longer.  During this investigative part of the case, we obtain all medical records, organize and analyze the medical records and, in some cases, consult with appropriate doctors.  Once we determine that your case involves provable negligence, we give the healthcare provider notice that you intend to make a claim.  We attempt to resolve some cases without filing suit. If the case cannot be settled without filing suit, we take them to Court and resolve it before a jury.

Q. What should I look for in hiring an attorney to represent me in a medical malpractice case?

A. Medical malpractice cases are time consuming, complex and expensive. It is important you select a law firm with the resources, both in terms of staff and finances, to aggressively pursue your case.  It is also important that your attorneys have experience in taking medical malpractice cases to trial and, of course, winning.  When selecting an attorney to represent you in a medical malpractice case, ask the attorney about his/her experience.

Q.   Why should I hire Ogg, Murphy & Perkosky?

A.   Ogg, Murphy & Perkosky is one of the few firms in the State of Pennsylvania with a department devoted to pursuing medical negligence claims.  Phil Ignelzi, Amy Acheson and Mike Murphy each have over ten years of experience in handling medical cases and are assisted by other attorneys who also have valuable experience in this area.  In this complex and expensive area of litigation, Ogg, Murphy & Perkosky has the resources to hire the necessary expert witnesses and the staff to aggressively pursue your claim.

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