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Physicians, nurses and other health care workers provide life saving care, eliminate painful conditions and improve quality of life. But sometimes, these professionals breach the standard of care and the results can be catastrophic.
A physician may fail unreasonably to diagnose a life threatening illness or injury. A surgeon may cause injury to a critical structure or vessel during routine surgery that could have been avoided. An obstetrician may fail to recognize apparent non-reassuring signs appearing on a fetal monitor strip demonstrating the need for an emergency cesarean section. Hospital personnel may commit errors with medications or prescriptions. Staff may fail to perform necessary safety precautions. These failures may lead to serious personal injury including brain damage, paralysis organ failure or death.
To successfully pursue a medical malpractice case, the plaintiff must establish through expert testimony the relevant standard of care, that is, what a reasonable practitioner would have done or declined to do, under the same or similar circumstances. Next, the plaintiff must prove that the health care provider deviated from the standard of care. Finally, the plaintiff must prove that the deviation from the standard of care was a proximate cause of injury or death. If the plaintiff fails in any element of the required proof, his or her claim will fail.
Medical malpractice case evaluation begins with the attorney’s review of the full medical chart. The medical records are all important. These records generally provide the definitive account of what happened to the patient. Successful claims are generally based upon the question whether the actions and decisions as documented in the medical records demonstrate a deviation from the standard of care. More difficult and problematic cases may involve factual disputes about what the doctor did or did not do if the action was not documented.
If the attorney believes further review is warranted, an expert must be hired to review the records. Experts are generally physicians or nurses who are in private practice or employed in an academic position, and who have the following attributes: 1) competence in the particular medical field in question; 2) ability to teach complex ideas simply; 3) honesty; 4) willingness to review records, deposition testimony, medical literature and other evidence; and 5) willingness to travel and give testimony at depositions and at trail. Proper evaluation of a medical malpractice case may involve the employment of several experts to testify on the standard of care, causation and damages. Very quickly, the prosecution of a medical malpractice case may become expensive. Generally, expert witnesses charge several hundred dollars per hour. As a result of the tremendous litigation costs of these cases, lawyers generally only take cases involving profound and permanent injuries and damages.
Lawyers who take medical malpractice claims must be prepared to thoroughly investigate the claim, research the area of medicine, locate appropriate experts, determine whether a viable theory of liability exists, fund the litigation, prepare for trial, and ultimately try the case. Unlike many other types of cases in litigation, medical malpractice cases oftentimes are not settled and are tried before a judge and jury.
If you think that you or a family member or friend has experienced medical malpractice, contact a lawyer with experience with these kinds of cases. Keep in mind that the statute of limitations in South Carolina for privately employed health care providers can be three years from the date one knew or should have known about a potential claim. The statute often begins to run from the date of the injury or death. A two-year statute of limitations exists for health care providers employed by government funded agencies or entities.
Kassel and McVey can assist you. Call us today at 803.256.4242 for more information.