Medical errors are not uncommon in hospitals. Negligent doctors and nurses, however, rarely come forward to admit they’ve done something wrong. While the consequences of a mistake in that kind of setting vary greatly, the fact is that patients suffer and are often left to deal with their injuries and losses on their own.
The Chicago medical malpractice lawyers from Thomas Law Offices strive to provide clients with the legal representation they need to recover from the injuries and losses they incurred at the hands of a negligent doctor. When you work with one of our attorneys, you’ll be guided through the litigation process step by step.
Because health care is complex, so are med mal claims. Proving malpractice can be challenging. Fortunately, our attorneys are experienced and have access to the resources needed to build a strong case and prove you were wronged.
If you’re in the process of considering filing a claim, it’s important to understand what you could be facing. Our Chicago attorneys can explain everything to you, so you’re ready to tackle the matter head-on. While the claims process can take time, it’s often your best chance at ensuring you receive the compensation you need to recover and move forward.
Understanding Medical Malpractice in Illinois
Depending on the study, medical malpractice results in 250,000 to 400,000 deaths per year. That means physician and hospital errors are the third-leading cause of death in the United States. When patients in Chicago’s hospitals receive the care they need, they’re likely able to return home and return to their normal lives. Unfortunately, medical errors happen and often result in unexpected bills and extended recoveries.
The Leapfrog Group is a nonprofit watchdog organization that monitors the nation’s hospitals and provides the public with safety ratings. Twice a year, Leapfrog grades hospitals on 28 different safety measures. Only hospitals with enough federally available data are eligible for review.
To determine a hospital’s safety rating, the organization looks at inpatient care management, medication safety, maternity care, infection, inpatient surgery, and pediatric care, and outpatient procedures. Safety ratings are assigned as letter grades A-F.
It is suggested by the organization that patients at hospitals that get D and F grades may potentially face a greater danger than those at A-graded hospitals. In general, an A-rate hospital saw 3.2 people die avoidable deaths for every 1,000 patients, while D and F hospitals saw 6.2 preventable patient deaths per 1,000 admitted.
In 2019, five Chicago hospitals earned D grades for patient safety. Those hospitals included:
- Jackson Park
- Mount Sinai
- Weiss Memorial
While attending one of those hospitals does not mean you will sustain error-related injuries, there is an increased chance of something like that happening. If you feel you’ve been injured in any health care facility in Chicago or the surrounding areas, get in touch with a Chicago medical malpractice lawyer. When you work with the attorneys from Thomas Law Offices, you’ll be on the fastest pace to recovery.
Med Mal Cases We See in Chicago
Patients who enter into a hospital or other medical facility expect to receive the care they need to improve their health and head home. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen. When a physician, nurse, or other member of a care team acts negligently, patients are put at risk of sustaining injuries and developing worsening conditions.
As a law firm representing medical malpractice victims, our attorneys handle a variety of cases. Any time a patient is harmed by a medical professional who failed to provide proper health care treatment, there are grounds for legal action. Because of the number of ways illnesses and conditions are evaluated, diagnosed, and treated, a medical error can happen at any time during a person’s stay in a hospital or facility.
Thomas Law Offices is dedicated to helping victims of hospital negligence recover as fully as possible from their injuries. When you decide to pursue a claim against the party that brought you harm, a Chicago medical malpractice lawyer will conduct an investigation to determine how and why you were injured. Some of the most common cases involve misdiagnosis, delayed diagnosis, birth injuries, surgical errors, defective medication devices, and medication errors.
A misdiagnosis happens when a doctor incorrectly tells a patient they have one illness or condition when they’re actually dealing with a completely different condition. For example, if a patient enters into an emergency room with chest pain, nausea, and dizziness, the attending may diagnose them with severe heartburn and fail to look at the matter closer. If the patient later experiences a heart attack, the initial doctor misdiagnosed their condition.
Misdiagnosis is a form of malpractice because it likely means the medical professional treating the patient did not follow the steps they were supposed to arrive at a proper diagnosis. For a person who experiences what could have been a preventable heart attack, they may be left to deal with surgeries and an extensive recovery. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, it’s estimated that 12 million patients are misdiagnosed every year in the United States.
In some situations, a proper diagnosis is made but it’s not made in a timely fashion. That is considered a delayed diagnosis. While a delayed diagnosis is not always malpractice, a physician must act within the standard of care when evaluating, diagnosing, and treating. If, for example, a doctor notices abnormal levels after a blood check but does not order further tests or dismisses a patient’s symptoms as being related to something less serious, malpractice would be present if the patient sustained additional or greater harm.
One of the most common examples is a delayed diagnosis of cancer. If a patient’s cancer is not detected early because of physician negligence, the cancer could spread and worsen the patient’s prognosis.
As a patient, you have the right to explore alternatives if you believe your doctor isn’t properly treating your condition or arriving at a correct diagnosis. You can ask your primary care physician for a specialist referral or seek out a second opinion. While this doesn’t always prevent a delayed diagnosis from happening, it can improve your chances of recovering to your previous state of health faster.
A birth injury is any type of harm to a baby or mother during pregnancy, labor, or delivery. Because of the number of complications that can develop during pregnancy, it’s important for the medical team to be on the same page when it comes to what’s best for the baby and the mother. Common birth injuries include oxygen deprivation, trauma to either body, nerve damage, and infection.
Sometimes, evidence of a birth injury is noticeable immediately following delivery. Signs include the baby’s skin being pale or blue, the baby oddly moving their face, arms, or legs or favoring one side of their body, or the mother experiences hemorrhaging. While those signs are not always indicative of medical malpractice, a medical negligence attorney can conduct an investigation and make a determination when it comes to the cause of an injury or complication.
In some instances, birth injuries aren’t identified for years. Parents with a child who was injured at birth may begin to notice learning disabilities, behavioral problems, motor impairments, or speed-language disorders.
All surgeries, no matter how non-invasive, carry numerous risks. Pain, infection, blood clotting, allergic reactions, and death are common risks patients are informed about prior to going under the knife. But if negligence contributes to a surgical error, the victim has a right to take legal action against the person or entity that harmed them.
Surgical errors are often the result of inexperience and poor communication. Medical procedures like surgeries involve teams of people. There are the individuals who prep the patient for surgery, the team that works with the surgeon, those that focus on anesthesia, and the professionals that work with the patient after their procedure is over to ensure recovery goes as planned. If any one person makes a mistake during the process, the consequences have the potential to be fatal.
The most common surgical errors include nerve damage, administering too much or too little medication, performing the wrong surgery, operating on the wrong side of the body, and leaving surgical equipment inside the patient.
To correct the error, a patient could have to undergo additional, dangerous procedures. Recovery time is often lengthened considerably, which can throw off the original plan and timeframe for returning to work.
Defective Medical Devices
Medical devices, like implants, pacemakers, and prosthetics can change lives. Patients with medical devices may be able to overcome the barriers of certain conditions or illnesses and live a higher quality of life. Faulty, defective, or dangerous devices, however, can result in injury or death.
Even with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration monitoring the production and release of medical devices, manufacturers do release products that are defective in design. Examples of defective medical devices include:
- Metal Hip Replacements. Thousands of patients have suffered injuries from metal hip replacements because of metal poisoning.
- Guidant Defibrillators. Commonly known as pacemakers, Guidant defibrillators were recalled in 2005 after a number of different models failed to deliver an electrical shock during episodes of arrhythmia.
- IVC Blood Clot Filters. Designed to stop dislodged blood clots from traveling to the lungs, these filters have been linked to injuries and deaths as a result of punctured organs and other serious complications.
- DePuy Hip Implants. These commonly used hip replacement devices caused hundreds of patients to experience dislocated or broken bones, and heart, nerve, kidney, or thyroid problems.
- Drug-Coated Stents. A stent is a small metal or plastic tube inserted into an artery or blood vessel. Drug-coated stents slowly release drugs to prevent arterial scarring. These devices have been known to cause problems like infection, blood clots, bleeding, and allergic reactions.
Medical device recalls are typically conducted voluntarily by the manufacturers. If a manufacturer does not take proper action for a dangerous device, the FDA may issue a recall under their own authority. To check on the status of a recall or to determine if you have a medical device that has been recalled, visit the FDA’s Medical Device Recalls page.
Nearly 7,000 prescription medications and countless over-the-counter drugs are available to people in the United States. While there are patients who suffer adverse reactions and complications related to medication that have nothing to do with malpractice, it’s estimated that between 7,000 and 9,000 patients die every year from medication errors. An even higher number of the patient population suffers preventable injuries when their care team makes a mistake with a medication.
Medication mistakes are often attributed to distractions, distortions, and illegible writing. Doctors are often tasked with a significant number of duties throughout the day. As a result, they may hurry through writing drug orders and make a mistake. There’s a chance a patient could receive a medication they’re allergic too. If a nurse is administering a medication and makes a mistake, a patient could receive too high a dosage and suffer complications as a result.
Common Causes of Medical Errors in Hospitals
If you’re considering filing a medical malpractice claim, you’ll need to work with a personal injury attorney who can help you identify why you were injured. There are a number of common causes related to errors in health care facilities. Negligence is the factor you need to prove to successfully seek recovery, which involves a physician or medical staff member providing care outside the realm of what other professionals deem as acceptable.
While advancing medical technology reduces some of the malpractice in the industry, mistakes are still widespread. A common factor connecting the causes of malpractice is human error. In most situations, mistakes are completely preventable when hospital employees follow guidelines and protocols and when hospitals put patients first. Common causes of medical mistakes include:
- Inadequate Hiring Practices. Many hospitals, especially those in rural areas, are understaffed. When a facility is dealing with having more patients than they can handle, they may not put as much focus on who they hire and why. Having bodies to tend to patients isn’t useful when those workers aren’t aware of what needs to be done—especially in an emergency. There’s also the matter of experiencing high turnover rates when the wrong people are hired. This is often a challenging cycle for hospitals to break and it puts patients at risk of injury.
- Inexperience. Even with the proper schooling, it takes medical professionals years to master their practice. The medical field is always changing, so even the most experienced doctors need to be constantly educating themselves. They’re likely to come across a situation where they need to consult another doctor or do research. If they decide to handle matters on their own because of their own pride, they could put their patient at risk.
- Miscommunication. A patient’s medical team needs to be on the same page when it comes to providing care. While the doctor will make official decisions, the nurses and others caring for the patient regularly need to ensure they’re properly following orders and making notes of any new symptoms or side effects a patient is experiencing. If a nurse waits to inform a doctor about a new reaction, the patient could be at risk for suffering complications. Doctors also need to make sure they’re clearly conveying what actions need to be taken, as treatment often involves a number of complicated steps.
- Neglectful Procedures. Complex procedures take skill and dedication. It’s not unheard of for some surgeries to last long hours, so surgeons and surgical teams need to be prepared to handle a situation like that. When a single person on a surgical team commits a negligent act, the patient’s life is at risk. For example, the anesthesiologist needs to remain focused during the entire procedure to ensure the patient is properly sedated. If they get distracted, the patient could receive too much or too little medication. Too much anesthesia has the potential to result in oxygen deprivation and death. Too little could cause unnecessary pain or awareness of what’s going on during the surgery.
- Drug or Alcohol Use. It’s no secret the medical profession is stressful. Unfortunately, not all doctors and medical staff handle that stress in positive, healthy ways. According to research published in October 2013 in the Journal of Addiction Medicine, 69% of interviewed physicians admitted to abusing prescription drugs. All of those interviewed were being monitored by their state physician health programs for problems relating to alcohol and drug abuse. In regard to motivation, most said they turned to prescription drugs to relieve stress and physical or emotional pain. If a physician is under the influence of drugs or alcohol while practicing medicine, they are putting the lives of their patients at risk.
Depending on the injuries you sustained and your medical record, it can be challenging to determine the cause of a malpractice incident. A thorough investigation will need to be conducted, and it’s possible an expert could need to be called in to give their opinion on the situation. Because of this, it’s nearly impossible for an injured patient to advocate for themselves and file a claim without the help of strong legal representation. Our Chicago attorneys have extensive experience handling all different types of med mal claims, and we’re prepared to guide you through the process next.
Medical Negligence and Illinois’ Standard of Care
Per Illinois Courts’ Jury Instructions section 105 – Professional Negligence, medical professionals are required to practice medicine with the same degree of knowledge, skill, and ability as others in their field would exercise under similar circumstances. This means that a doctor is acting within the standard of care when they practice in a way an “ordinary” doctor would.
To prove a physician violated the standard of care, you have to show they acted in an unordinary manner. The best way to prove this is with the use of a medical expert in the same field. Your med mal lawyer can help you locate the right expert for your claim.
In addition to the opinion of a medical expert, it’s important to have medical evidence that demonstrates you sought medical care and were injured because of the poor decisions made by your doctor or someone on your medical care team.
Building a Successful Medical Malpractice Claim in Chicago
Filing a medical malpractice claim takes time, as there are a number of steps to get through the process. If you’re considering filing, you’ll want to have an idea of what you’ll be dealing with. Let’s take a look at the typical steps.
- Consultation. If you suspect you’re the victim of a medical malpractice case, you’ll want to consult an attorney as soon as possible. When we set up case evaluations, we take time to help you decide if you want to pursue legal action. We’ll go over what you’ve been through and what the chances are of a successful outcome based on our knowledge of and experience with medical malpractice law.
- Investigation. Investigating an incident related to medical negligence can be challenging without the right resources. Fortunately for our clients, Thomas Law Offices is experienced in investigating legal claims. We’ll start by collecting your medical history and consulting a medical expert. They’ll be able to help us determine why and how you were injured. Based on the circumstances of your injury, they’ll know whether or not the standard of care was violated.
- Discovery. Once the investigation is complete, discovery and motions can begin. This is the most time-consuming part of a medical malpractice claim. During the discovery, both parties will gather their facts and conduct interviews. It’s likely both sides will have experts that disagree with each other. Motion can be made on different issues. For example, a common motion is where a party asks a judge to decide a claim without a trial. This is called a summary judgment. Typically, a judge will agree to do this if the claim doesn’t appear to be valid.
- Negotiations. At any time during the process, either party is allowed to attempt negotiations to resolve the case without the help of a judge or jury. In some cases, negotiations are formal proceedings that happen in front of a third-party mediator or arbitrator. Informal negotiations are typically between both sides and their attorneys.
- Trial. If negotiations are not possible and the case is not dismissed, it can go to trial. With the majority of medical malpractice claims, there will be a jury. Both sides will present their case and the jury will make an official decision—called a verdict. If either party is unsatisfied with the decision, they can file an appeal with the judge, or they can take the matter to the appellate courts.
It’s important to note that not all cases go to trial. We’ll fight to get you a full and fair settlement offer, but we won’t hesitate to go to trial if that’s the best way to ensure justice.
The “Affidavit of Merit”
When a plaintiff in Illinois files a medical malpractice claim, they must attach an affidavit to the complaint. The affidavit must declare that the plaintiff or their attorney has consulted a health care professional who knows about the medical issues inherent to the case, currently practices or teaches in the area of pertinent medicine, and has experience and competence with the claim’s subject matter. Essentially, the affidavit verifies the consulted party is a valid expert choice for the claim being filed.
Under the Illinois Code 735 ILCS 5/2-622, the affidavit of merit must also state that there is a reasonable cause for the lawsuit. If the plaintiff is unable to get the required consultation with a medical expert because of a statute of limitations deadline, the affidavit and accompanying documentation has to be filed with 90 days of filing the lawsuit. If the affidavit is not filed, the lawsuit can and will likely be dismissed without review.
Meeting the Statute of Limitations
A statute of limitations establishes a time limit on the right to file a lawsuit. Different cases have different deadlines. It’s important to meet the requirement to ensure you are still able to claim compensation for the injuries you sustained.
In Illinois, medical malpractice lawsuits against doctors, other health care providers, or facilities have to be filed within two years of when the victim became aware of, or should have become aware of, their injuries and how they related back to the negligent actions of the provider. In all cases, a statute of repose applies. This means that regardless of when the discovery was made, the injured party only has four years from the time the incident happened to file their lawsuit.
If a person files a lawsuit more than four years after the malpractice incident, the lawsuit will be thrown out. There’s also the chance that if you sue more than two years after your discovery, the law can determine that you’ve rendered yourself ineligible for compensation.
In addition to the statute of limitations and statute of repose, there are complex laws in place for patients who were under the age of 18 or subject to a legal disability when the injuries and malpractice occurred. A Chicago attorney can guide clients through the process and ensure all deadlines are met, regardless of what the statute of limitations is for a particular case.
Recovering Compensation for Medical Mistakes
When determining the compensation you’re owed, your lawyer will take all of your losses into consideration. In general, losses are separated into three categories: general, special, and punitive.
General damages refer to the patient’s subjective cost of suffering. Common examples are physical and mental pain and suffering, loss of future earning capacity, and loss of enjoyment in life. There are no specific rules on how to determine damages that are not directly calculable, so you’ll need to provide evidence that supports the sum you’re looking to recover.
Special damages are easier to determine because they’re based on real amounts. Quantifiable expenses like medical bills and past lost wages are involved. Guesswork is often needed to determine the cost of future medical care, but the medical excerpt on your case can help make that determination.
While not available in all cases, punitive damages service to punish the negligent party for their action or inactions. With a medical malpractice case, it has to be proven that the doctor knew they were behaving in a dangerous manner. For example, punitive damages may be available in the event a doctor was under the influence of drugs or alcohol while performing a procedure where you were injured.
Secure Your Future with Thomas Law Offices in Chicago
When you work with a Chicago medical malpractice lawyer, you’ll be on the path to a faster recovery. We’ll work to ensure you receive the compensation you need to get your life back in order and hold the negligent party accountable for what you were wrongfully put through.
Because filing a medical negligence claim takes time, it’s best to get started as soon as possible. Once you’ve contacted Thomas Law Offices, we’ll get started on building your claim and proving you were wronged. To learn more, schedule a free consultation with our office today.