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Medical Malpractice in Washington

Medical Mistakes Kill and Injure People

Medical mistakes by doctors and other healthcare professionals create medical malpractice claims. Medical mistakes are more common than most people think:

  • A study several years ago reports that medical malpractice is the 3rd leading cause of death in the United States, following cancer and heart disease.
  • Studies have shown that between 250,000 and 400,000 deaths each year are caused by medical malpractice.
  • Those numbers mean that more than 10% of deaths in our country result from serious medical errors. Many of those deaths are preventable.
  • Even more common are serious non-fatal but life-altering injuries from medical malpractice.

Despite the shocking numbers, recovering compensation for medical malpractice is challenging because of the complex legal and medical issues which must be handled in these cases.

What Is Medical Malpractice?

Medical malpractice is also known as medical negligence. It involves negligence by a medical professional (doctor, nurse, dentist, or other medical professional) or a medical facility.

  • Proving medical malpractice in any situation requires more than a patient who is unhappy with the outcome of treatment. It requires more than a showing that a doctor made a mistake.
  • Medical negligence involves breach of the doctor's duty to provide medical care according to standards in the medical profession.
  • Malpractice involves demonstrating that the negligence injured a patient and fell short of a specific medical standard of care.

The requirements to establish a medical malpractice claim include showing:

  • The existence of a doctor-patient relationship, which establishes the medical duty of care
  • A breach by a medical professional of the medical standard of care applicable to the specific situation
  • An injury (or death) of the patient that was caused by the professional’s breach of the standard of medical care

The most challenging part of a medical malpractice case often is establishing which medical standard of care applies in this circumstance and then proving that the standard of care was breached. Expert testimony is necessary to demonstrate those elements of a case.

What Errors Qualify as Medical Malpractice/Medical Negligence?

Many different circumstances in medical treatment can give rise to a medical malpractice claim. Some are more common than others and include but are not limited to:

  • Failure to diagnose
  • Misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis
  • Medication errors, including dosage and improper consultation
  • Improper or inadequate testing
  • Failure to monitor
  • Improper treatment
  • Surgical errors
  • Pregnancy or delivery errors causing birth injuries and defects
  • Nurse and hospital errors
  • Anesthesiology errors

Medical malpractice can result from these and other situations involving diagnosis and treatment by a medical professional or healthcare facility.

Damages in a Medical Malpractice Action

Both economic and noneconomic damages can be recovered in a medical malpractice action. Compensation includes reimbursement for:

  • Medical costs created by the malpractice, including doctor, hospital, therapy, medication, and emergency fees
  • Ongoing medical treatment and medications
  • Lost wages or income and loss of future earning capacity
  • Pain and suffering
  • Loss of quality of life resulting from permanent injuries or disability

General tort rules apply to compensation for injuries caused by medical malpractice:

  • Washington does not limit the amount of compensation that an injured party can receive in a medical malpractice action.
  • A formula is used to calculate noneconomic damages, based on the injured person’s income and lifestyle.
  • Damages can be reduced proportionately if the injured person also has some responsibility for the injuries. (This rule is called comparative negligence.)
  • If more than one doctor or facility is responsible for the injuries and the injured patient is not at fault, then the injured person can collect the full amount of compensation from any one of the people or facilities that caused the injuries. (This is called joint and several liability.)

Time Limitations for Malpractice Claim Filing.

Washington State has several statutes of limitations (SOL) which control the amount of time within which a claim for medical malpractice can be made. The general rules are:

  • A medical malpractice claim must be filed within three years after the actions constituting negligence occurred.
  • If the injury was not discovered until after the three-year period has expired, the injured party has one year from discovering the negligence to file the claim, with a maximum extended period of eight years for negligence initially not discovered.
  • Claims for medical malpractice affecting minors are treated differently. The time limit does not begin to run until the minor’s 18th birthday. In most cases, when the minor turns 18, the time limit will be one year, on the assumption that the injury will be known by that time. Note, however, that minor’s parents can file the claim before the minor’s 18th birthday.

Washington State requires mandatory mediation before a lawsuit is filed. A good faith request for mediation by the injured person can delay the filing deadline for one year.

How do I Know if I Have a Good Medical Malpractice Claim?

Whether you have a good claim for medical malpractice depends on finding answers to a number of factual, legal, and medical questions.

Simply being unhappy with the outcome of medical treatment is not enough to support a medical malpractice claim.

Knowing that a mistake was made is not enough to create a good claim for medical malpractice.

To establish a claim, your attorney must be able to show that:

  • The doctor or other healthcare provider's error violated established standards of medical care
  • You were injured or your loved one died because of the failure to abide by the medical standards
  • Medical evidence supports your claim for injuries

If you believe that a medical professional or facility made a serious medical mistake during the course of your treatment — or if you lost a loved one because of what you think was a serious medical mistake — the best thing to do is talk with an experienced personal injury attorney who is knowledgeable about medical malpractice claims. Your attorney can evaluate all the circumstances and let you know what options you have for proceeding.

It is never a good idea to pursue a medical malpractice claim on your own. This is not DIY territory. The insurance company is not going to settle your case. Proving a medical malpractice claim requires knowledge and understanding of the complex medical and legal requirements for establishing a case. Talk to a lawyer about your chances for success.

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