Philadelphia Medical Malpractice Attorneys
We trust that doctors, EMTs, nurses, surgeons, anesthesiologists, and other health care professionals will support and care for us in our times of need. It is when we are sick, weak, and scared that we need the utmost attention and consideration, but unfortunately this support is not always provided. When doctors are careless, under-qualified, or when instances of medical negligence occurs innocent patients can be seriously injured or even killed.
If you were harmed by your doctor through medical negligence, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries, suffering, and medical expenses. The Philadelphia medical malpractice attorneys at Reiff & Bily have more than 34 years of experience representing injury and wrongful death victims, and are prepared to handle even highly complex multi-party claims. We fight aggressively for maximum compensation and offer free initial consultations, so call us today at (800) 861-6708 to learn more about your legal options.
In Pennsylvania, what is Considered Medical Malpractice?
After a bad medical outcome where a diagnosis was missed, a mistake was made, or some other event that resulted in a bad outcome or a reduced chance for survival, an individual or their family members may be understandably angry and upset. They may regret certain decisions or wish that that they and the doctor had approached the medical issue in a different manner. However, medical malpractice requires more than simply a bad medical outcome or a bad medical result. Actionable medical malpractice requires certain behaviors on the part of a doctor, surgeon, nurse, or other medical professional that fall below a certain standard.
Thus, besides having a bad medical result, meaning that the patient has suffered damages due to actions or inaction of a medical professional, there are two other elements a medical malpractice victim must prove. Assuming that a duty of care exists, the three necessary elements to sustain a successful medical malpractice claim are:
- A violation of the appropriate medical standard of care
- The violation of the standard of care is the actual cause of the medical injury or increased risk of death or injury experienced
- The full and total extent of injury and loss suffered as a result of the medical negligence
Generally, the standard of care in Pennsylvania requires a doctor, surgeon, or nurse to have the same level of medical knowledge as a similarly situated medical professional. Generally, this requires doctors and other medical professionals to continually update their skills and knowledge so that they apply generally accepted methods and practices in their treatment. Thus, typically the plaintiff must show that “a reasonable degree of medical certainty” exists that the standard of care was breached bringing about the harm. Mitzelfelt v. Kamrin, 584 A.2d 888, 891 (Pa. 1990).
This means that when pursuing a medical malpractice claim the plaintiff must, generally, show that a breach occurred by proving that a colleague, associate, or otherwise similarly situated peer of the medical professional would not have proceeded in a similar fashion. Alternatively, a plaintiff may endeavor to prove that the failure to order a certain diagnostic test such as a mammogram, CT scan, MRI, or blood test fell below the accepted standard of care. Typically, due to the nature of medical practice, an array of experts presenting credible medical testimony are necessary to show that there was a deviation from the standard of care.
Proving Causation and Medical Negligence Damage Claims
Aside from proving a breach of the standard of care, proof that the negligence was the factual or actual cause of the injury is necessary. This too, is typically established through the testimony of expert witnesses. In matters where breach of the standard of care is established or conceded, opposing counsel and experts may argue that the breach was merely incidental or coincidental to the injuries. Thus, it is important to have an attorney who understands and can anticipate certain defenses counsel for the medical professional may raise.
The medical malpractice victim must also prove the full extent of his or her damages in a medical malpractice claim. Damages suffered by the patient may include the actual physical injuries suffered, the pain and suffering caused by the injuries, lost wages, decreased future earnings, a decreased chance of survival or a shortened lifespan, and many other problems. In many medical malpractice injury cases, defense counsel may argue that the error merely aggravated a pre-existing condition. In other cases they may attempt to show that the injuries suffered by the plaintiff are not as severe and debilitating as claimed. Therefore, victims of a medical mistake are often well-served by having a lawyer who can prepare them for the often intense and anxiety-inducing cross examination and other attempts to impeach your and the medical expert’s credibility.
How Long Do I Have to Bring a Medical Malpractice Claim?
In Pennsylvania, the general rule is a plaintiff has two years, under 42 Pa. C.S. § 5524(2), to bring a medical malpractice claim. However, potential inequitable and harsh results that would otherwise be brought about by this rather short time period to bring a claim, are somewhat mitigated by the discovery rule. Under the discovery rule, a plaintiff actually has two years from the time he or she knows or reasonably should know that an injury has occurred, the act or omission that caused the injury, and the nexus – connection – between the conduct and the injury. The classic case of delayed discovery of a medical injury is a medical implement or tool that is left behind after surgery. The injured party may not discover the source of the injury for months or years until additional diagnostic testing or an emerging medical issue reveals its presence.
An exception to this general rule prescribing the time limits to bring a medical negligence claim, injuries occurring as a result of alleged medical malpractice to a child or teenager who has not yet reached the age of 18 is tolled. 40 P.S. § 1303.513(f). The tolling statute allows for minors who suffered a medical injury to bring a medical malpractice claim that would otherwise be barred.
However, the discussion regarding the time limits to bring a medical negligence action would not be complete without discussing Pennsylvania’s Statute of Repose. The statute of repose is part of the Medical Care Availability & Reduction of Error Fund (MCARE). The rule holds that despite the leeway provided by the discovery rule under the statute of limitations, all claims stemming from an act of alleged medical negligence must be brought within seven years. One specific exemptions to this rule include foreign objects left behind during or in the course of surgery. 40 P.S. § 1303.513(b). An exemption to the seven year rule set forth by the statute of repose is also exempted in the case of medical injuries to children.
Finally, if there is a wrongful death component to the medical malpractice suit, this claim must be brought within two years of the injury. The same holds true for claims with a survival action component. The only exception to the statute of limitations for these claims is when an affirmative misrepresentation or fraudulent concealment delays discovery of the injury or its source.
What Are Common Types of Medical Malpractice Injuries & Claims?
By law, doctors and other healthcare professionals must supply their patients with a certain level of care. If a doctor negligently fails to provide adequate care and consequently injures or kills a patient, he or she may be held financially liable.
There are many different forms of doctor negligence, but all have the potential to be extremely dangerous for patients. In addition to the physical injuries and emotional damage that medical malpractice can cause, the victims also typically suffer tremendous financial setbacks.
Medical errors that carry particularly severe consequences include birth injuries (birthing malpractice), surgical mistakes (surgical malpractice), prescription drug and medication errors (medication malpractice), misdiagnosis, and failure to diagnose. The risks and injuries that these types of malpractice can result in include:
- Birthing Malpractice: Birth injuries can leave newborns with permanent disabilities. When a doctor, OB/GYN, nurse or other medical professional provides sub-standard medical care during a mother’s pregnancy or delivery, negligence can cause conditions like Erb’s palsy or cerebral palsy. The risk of cerebral palsy is increased if the mother suffers an infection during or before childbirth, or if oxygen supply to the newborn is compromised.
- Surgical Malpractice: Errors committed by surgeons, anesthesiologists, or nurses before, during or after surgery can result in serious injuries or death. Surgical errors include operating on the wrong organ, operating on the wrong side of the body, providing sub-standard post-operative care, and administering the wrong medication. Anesthesia errors can include a failure to recognize allergic reactions or the administration of too little or too much anesthesia. Anesthesia errors can lead to tracheal damage, brain damage, paralysis, and stroke.
- Prescription Drug and Medication Malpractice: This form of malpractice occurs when a patient is prescribed the wrong dosage of medication or is given the wrong drug, increasing the risk of deadly drug interactions or an untreated condition growing worse. Prescription drug malpractice also covers a wide variety of medication errors such as mislabeling a prescription or supplying incomplete or incorrect patient information, such as a patient allergy.
- Cancer Misdiagnosis: This occurs when a doctor, such as a radiologist or oncologist, negligently fails to diagnose cancer or otherwise delays a cancer diagnosis which another doctor would have noticed under the same circumstances. The misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis may limit the treatment options available to the cancer patient, which could dramatically affect the patient’s recovery outcome, or even reduce the patient’s life expectancy.
Medical malpractice cases include a wide variety of medical errors, and are not limited to those listed above. The most important factor to note is that a healthcare professional’s negligence, either by act or omission, caused a patient a severe and often life- changing injury.
What is the First Step in Filing a Medical Negligence Action in Pennsylvania? What Role Do Expert Witnesses Play?
As a threshold issue set forth in Rule 1042.3 of the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure, a signed certificate of merit must be filed within 60 days of the filing of the complaint. While the certificate of merit may be set forth based “based solely on allegations that other licensed professionals for whom this defendant is responsible deviated from an acceptable professional standard,” it is more common for an “appropriate licensed professional” to set forth a written statement alleging “a reasonable probability that the care, skill or knowledge exercised or exhibited in the treatment… fell outside acceptable professional standards and that such conduct was a cause in bringing about the harm.” Alternatively, the certificate of merit may allege that such testimony is unnecessary to prove the claim. An “appropriate licensed professional” is not required to be the same doctor or expert witness who will testify at trial. However, the individual must be an, “expert with sufficient education, training, knowledge and experience to provide credible, competent testimony.” A common legal pitfall at this stage of trial is alleging that an expert is not necessary only to find later in the proceedings that the burden cannot be carried without expert testimony. Unfortunately for plaintiffs in this situation, the certificate of merit is binding and they are unlikely to be able to prove their claim due to the failure to fully consider the full extent of proof required at this initial stage.
Aside from often making up an integral part of the certificate of merit, an expert’s testimony at trial is often essential to the pursuit of a medical malpractice claim. However § 1303.512 of MCARE sets forth a default rule is that “no person shall be competent to offer an expert medical opinion in a medical professional liability action against a physician” unless they have sufficient:
Such that they can provide knowledgeable and credible testimony. These requirements to give medical testimony include possession of an unrestricted U.S. physician’s license and engagement “within the previous five years from active clinical practice or teaching.” Additional qualifications apply to expert witnesses who are to provide testimony relating to the standard of care and breach thereof. These individuals must:
- Have substantial familiarity with the applicable medical standard of care.
- Practice within the same subspecialty as the defendant or in a subspecialty with a similar standard of care.
- If the defendant is board certified, the expert witness must have the same or similar certification.
While exceptions and certain catch-all provisions can apply to the above, use of an expert that does not meet these qualifications may open the door to attacks on the individual’s credibility to testify in a matter of this type. A medical expert that is successfully impeached and found to be unqualified to testify may leave the plaintiff unable to prove essential elements of their case. Thus, the guidance of an experience attorney can often prevent foreseeable legal pitfalls of this type.
Our Case Results: Medical Malpractice Claims Our Attorneys Have Handle
We have represented a number of clients who have suffered from a variety of medical negligence claims such as:
- Cancer Misdiagnosis
- Failure to obtain patient’s informed consent
- Failure to adequately screen
- Wrong Surgical Site Errors
- Pelvic Mesh Injuries – Transvaginal Mesh Surgery
- Failure to Diagnose
- Defective medical device
- Heart Attack
- Hospital Negligence
- Anesthesia Errors
- Wrongful Death
- Anesthesia errors
- Re-use of a single-use medical device
We have recovered millions of dollars in compensation for our clients, that may have been in similar situations to yours. The lawyers at Reiff & Bily strive to get our clients maximum compensation. Some of our notable medical malpractice results include:
- $1,539,803.50 Medical Malpractice Verdict: Our client was injured when a laparotomy sponge was left inside her during a hysterectomy. The plaintiff sued her doctor and the hospital after the malpractice error resulted in an abscess, months of suffering, and required another surgery to extricate the sponge.
- $5.7 Million Dollar Award: Our client was injured during a diagnostic procedure. He suffered a life-altering brain damage, that required a lifetime of medical care. After spending time investigating the case, we discovered that a medical record had been changed, implying an attempt to cover up the medical error.
- $1,450,000 Medical Malpractice Recovery: A woman with depression that was referred to a psychiatrist by her health care provider’s HMO referral booklet (HMO) was drugged and sexually assaulted by the doctor. Evidence later revealed that the psychiatrist was not a licensed doctor and the health care facility never checked his credentials.
- $800,000 Medical Malpractice Award: Jury awarded plaintiff damages after surgeon left 40 X 60 cm fabric towel in the abdomen after an exploratory laparotomy and the repair of an abdominal aortic aneurysm. The hospital was also a defendant in the medical malpractice lawsuit.
- $650,000 Medical Negligence Settlement: Delayed diagnosis of breast cancer in a 32 year old woman. Settled immediately prior to trial for $650,000.
However, it is important to note, the past results are merely illustrative of possible outcomes. All matters are contingent upon different, unique sets of facts and circumstances. Furthermore, the conduct and approach of the judge and performance of witnesses can vary and significantly impact trial results. Furthermore, juries in Pennsylvania are free to weigh the facts presented on the basis of their own judgment. Jurors may also choose to believe or disbelieve certain evidence or testimony. Thus, there are many factors that can impact the decision.
Contact Our Medical Mal Practice Lawyers for a Free Legal Consultation
At Reiff & Bily we understand how difficult being a victim of medical negligence can be, and are here to help you fight for compensation for your injuries, losses, and to prevent the medical professional from inflicting similar harm on others. We may be able to recover monetary compensation for your current and future medical costs, pain and suffering, and other associated damages. Call our Philadelphia medical malpractice attorneys at (800) 861-6708, or contact us online for a free consultation.
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