What Constitutes Medical Malpractice in California?

October 28, 2020 Posted In Medical Malpractice

Medical malpractice is a type of personal injury claim in San Bernardino that specifically deals with the professional negligence of someone in the health care industry, such as a doctor, surgeon or nurse. It may also refer to the negligence of a health care center, hospital, clinic or emergency room. You may have grounds for a medical malpractice claim in California if a preventable error by a practitioner or facility gave you a serious injury, illness or infection. Learn more about what constitutes medical malpractice in California for a better understanding of your rights.

Do You Have a Medical Malpractice Case?

It is your right as a patient to assume your doctor and support staff will treat you with the highest standards of patient care. All health care facilities in California have a legal obligation to properly treat their patients. If your medical services resulted in a severe injury or another issue, however, it is important to question your level of care. You may have a medical malpractice case in California if four main elements are true.

  1. You and the defendant had a professional doctor-patient relationship.
  2. The defendant breached a duty of care to you as your health care provider.
  3. Your injury is a result of the defendant’s breach of duty.
  4. You have compensable damages because of the defendant’s error.

Under state law, you may pursue a civil medical malpractice claim against your health care provider if his or her negligent act or omission caused you harm. The best way to find out if you have grounds for a case is by consulting a medical malpractice attorney. An evaluation by an attorney can let you know if you have the necessary elements for a claim.

Who Can Be Liable?

You have the right to bring a medical malpractice claim against a doctor, surgeon, nurse, physician’s assistant, chiropractor, dentist, physical therapist, mental health care professional or any other type of health care provider in California. You may also have the right to bring a claim against the hospital, birth center or medical center where the incident occurred, depending on the circumstances. Whether you will hold the individual or the facility liable depends on the employment status of the defendant.

Many doctors and surgeons are not employees of the hospitals where they work. They are independent contractors. If the person who caused your injury is a contractor, you may only bear the right to file a claim against his or her individual insurance company. If the defendant is an employee of the health care center, however, you may be able to file against the hospital instead through the doctrine of vicarious liability.

How Long Do You Have to Sue for Medical Malpractice?

A deadline on your right to file a medical malpractice claim is in place in California. As is the case in every state, California has statutes of limitations – laws that limit the length of time a claimant has to bring an injury lawsuit. This deadline keeps things fair for the defendant by forcing you to bring your claim in a timely manner. If you fail to file a medical malpractice claim within the statute of limitations, the courts will most likely deny your right to file.

In California, you have a maximum of one year from the date you discovered your malpractice-related injury to file your claim, but no later than three years from the date of the act of malpractice. The courts will use the earlier of these two deadlines as your statute of limitations. If you discover your injury more than three years after the medical malpractice, you will not be able to file at all.

An exception exists for medical malpractice cases involving retained foreign objects after surgery. If a surgeon leaves behind a tool or material in your body cavities, such as a cotton ball or surgical towel, you will have one year from the date of injury discovery to file a medical malpractice claim – even if this surpasses California’s three-year deadline. The three-year statute of repose will not apply to cases involving foreign objects negligently left in your body.

Damages Available in Medical Malpractice Cases

The damages, or compensation, you can receive for a medical malpractice claim in California have the potential to repay you for everything you lost or suffered due to the doctor’s breach of duty. The California courts allow injured patients to seek damages for both economic and non-economic damages.

  • Medical bills connected to the malpractice
  • Prescriptions, rehabilitation and therapy
  • Past and future lost wages from not being able to work
  • Lost enjoyment of life
  • Pain and suffering
  • Disability costs
  • Legal bills

As the plaintiff of a medical malpractice case in California, a judge may also choose to award you punitive damages. This is an additional amount meant to punish or penalize the defendant for gross negligence. If your doctor went beyond ordinary negligence and showed an extreme disregard for your safety as a patient, he or she may have to pay you punitive damages in addition to a compensatory award.

Are There Medical Malpractice Damage Caps?

California set a cap on medical malpractice damages in 1975 with the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act. This act limits the number of damages a patient can receive in a medical malpractice case to $250,000 for noneconomic damages. You cannot receive more than $250,000 for losses such as emotional distress, mental anguish, psychological trauma or loss of a loved one’s consortium. California does not have a cap on economic damages.

Filing a Successful Medical Malpractice Case

Medical malpractice is one of the most complex types of civil claims in California. It can be difficult for you to go up against a powerful doctor or health care center and its legal team alone. The secret to filing a successful medical malpractice case is hiring an attorney to represent you. An experienced medical malpractice lawyer can walk you through your rights and the legal processes it will take to recover maximum compensation.

An attorney can help you with tasks such as identifying the liable party and proving liability. A lawyer will also take over insurance negotiations so you do not settle your malpractice claim for less than it is truly worth. Most importantly, your lawyer will answer your questions and make you feel like you are not alone during a medical malpractice claim in California.

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