Medical errors have a lasting psychological, physical and financial impact. They arise when healthcare professionals breach their duty of care to patients. When this happens, victims have the right to file a claim under Arizona’s medical malpractice laws. If you or a loved one was the victim of medical malpractice, contact us at Phoenix Personal Injury Attorney Law Firm for help with your claim.
Definition and Elements of Medical Malpractice
Healthcare providers must follow a specific standard of care to provide the best service to their clients. When they fail to follow this standard of care and harm a patient, the patient can sue the healthcare provider for medical malpractice.
Medical malpractice claims often arise when a healthcare professional:
- Fails to diagnose you
- Misdiagnoses you
- Misreads important lab or test results
- Prescribes the wrong medication
- Prescribes the wrong dosage
- Fails to follow the correct medical procedures
- Does not warn you of known risks of a procedure or medication
- Offers a procedure without your consent
- Discharges you prematurely
Medical malpractice claims are based on negligence, meaning you must prove that a healthcare professional was negligent when treating you or your loved one. The elements of medical malpractice include:
- You had a patient relationship with the doctor or medical provider
- The healthcare provider or professional has a duty to provide quality care and treatment
- They provided you with substandard care or treatment, thus breaching their duty of care to you
- You were injured, or your injuries worsened due to their negligence
Parties you can sue in a medical malpractice lawsuit include nurses, physicians, dentists, physician assistants, pharmacists, physical therapists, and other licensed healthcare professionals.
Forms of Medical Malpractice Lawsuits
Various medical malpractice lawsuits arise depending on the medical professional's errors. The common ones include:
Emergency Room Errors
Emergency rooms handle patients in their most critical state. Some of the common emergency room errors that could result in a malpractice claim include the following:
- Failure to vet emergency room staff thoroughly
- Inadequate staffing (medical errors are more common when healthcare professionals are caring for multiple patients at once)
- Poorly maintained or defective medical equipment
- Errors in administering medications
- Unsanitary conditions leading to cross-contamination of patients
- Failure to contain dangerous (or highly infectious) patients away from others
Misdiagnosis of Serious Conditions
Sometimes, healthcare providers may fail to diagnose a healthcare condition when it presents with unusual symptoms. However, healthcare providers sometimes ignore the patient's symptoms, resulting in a misdiagnosis.
Differential diagnosis is the accepted diagnostic procedure where a doctor lists potential diagnoses based on a patient's symptoms. They then order tests, ruling out certain diagnoses until one remains.
Misdiagnosis becomes malpractice when another doctor under similar circumstances could have accurately diagnosed the condition. Misdiagnosis also results in delayed treatment, worsening of a medical condition, or no treatment, thus harming the patient.
Some serious conditions that could result in a malpractice suit when misdiagnosed include cancer, stroke, pulmonary embolisms, diabetes, heart attacks, meningitis, appendicitis, and closed head injuries.
In some cases, the diagnosing doctor might have gotten the wrong diagnosis due to errors outside of their control, such as:
- Contamination of lab equipment
- Improper testing procedures for lab samples
- Faulty diagnostic equipment
When such errors occur, the diagnosing doctor might not be at fault for malpractice, but another party, such as the lab technician or the hospital, could be at fault.
Claims Due to Hospital Negligence
Arizona allows you to sue a hospital for medical malpractice. Hospitals can be sued for medical malpractice when:
- Their employees (doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals) are negligent
- They hire healthcare professionals negligently
- Hospitals fail to maintain the equipment used in a hospital
- They fail to manage medical care within the hospital
Lack of Informed Consent
Healthcare professionals must explain a procedure's known risks before agreeing to it. They should also inform patients about experimental procedures, including their stakes in performing them.
Failing to disclose critical information about a procedure violates medical ethics and could result in malpractice and criminal charges.
Malpractice charges due to battery occur when a doctor or healthcare professional initiates a procedure to which the patient has not consented.
Surgical errors include:
- Leaving surgical tools and equipment in the patient’s body
- Cutting or nicking organs, tissues, or vessels not being operated on
- Performing surgery when impaired
- Operating on the wrong part or patient
- X-ray errors
- Failure to consult with specialty doctors before an operation
Anesthesia Administration Errors
Anesthesia is required for certain diagnostic or treatment procedures. The administration of anesthesia must be done carefully to prevent or minimize patient harm. Common anesthesia administration errors that could result in a malpractice suit include:
- Dosing errors (giving more or less than what was required)
- Failure to review the patient’s medical history resulting in improper administration of anesthesia
- Intubation errors
- Inadequate patient monitoring before, during, and after surgery
- Turning off monitoring equipment during a surgical procedure
- Anesthesia awareness
Malpractice Lawsuits Against Mental Health Professionals
Therapists and other mental health professionals must operate within the professional code of conduct when working with patients. You can sue a mental health professional for malpractice if they:
- Offer harmful and negligent advice
- Fail to coordinate care with other healthcare professionals
- Breach the standard of care
- Start a sexual relationship with a current or former patient
- Use treatment techniques without the right technique, for example, instilling false memories in a patient
- Failing to take adequate notes
Nurses commit malpractice when they fail to provide the required care to patients. Their malpractice arises due to the following:
- Failure to monitor a patient’s condition
- Failing to follow a physician’s care recommendations
Nursing Home Elder Abuse and Negligence
Medical malpractice laws also protect elderly and dependent adults in nursing homes. Nursing homes may be liable for malpractice if they engage in elder abuse and negligence that harms or contributes to the resident's death.
Pregnant women and their children who suffer a birth injury during the pregnancy, birth, or postpartum due to negligence of healthcare professionals can sue for malpractice.
Birth injuries include those sustained from medical devices such as forceps, delivery errors, birth injuries that kill the mother or child, and brain injuries from delivery errors.
Medical Malpractice Laws
Before you file a claim, you should be aware of certain medical malpractice laws. These laws include the statute of limitations and procedural requirements.
Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations for medical malpractice claims in Arizona is two years from the date of the action causing the injury.
However, due to the discovery rule, the clock starts ticking when you know or should have reasonably known the injury's existence and cause.
For example, if you developed a complication after surgery and became aware of the complication two months later, that’s when the statute of limitations starts counting.
However, it took more than two years to learn of the complication. In that case, it will be upon the court to determine whether you should have reasonably known about the injury before the statute of limitations expired.
There are cases when the statute of limitations may be “tolled” or paused. These include when the plaintiff is a minor or lacks the mental capacity to file a lawsuit. The timeline may also be extended when you’re suing an out-of-state healthcare provider.
Medical Expert Opinion
In addition to the statute of limitations, you must attach certification citing whether a medical expert’s opinion will be needed in the case.
You will also submit at least one affidavit from a qualified medical expert witness with their opinion on whether the defendant violated the accepted medical standard of care. Their opinion must also include information about the impact of the healthcare professional's negligence.
You should serve the defendant with the affidavit within 30 days after they respond to your initial complaint.
If your case does not require expert testimony, you can request the court to evaluate and determine whether you should submit an expert affidavit.
Failure to submit a certification stating whether you need an expert witness will result in a dismissal of your case without prejudice, meaning you can still file another medical malpractice suit.
Pure Comparative Fault
In Arizona, medical malpractice victims may also be partially responsible for their injuries under the pure comparative negligence rule. Under pure comparative negligence, victims of medical malpractice can receive compensation for their injuries or damages if a healthcare provider is found to be partially responsible for the injuries.
For example, if the doctor made errors in surgery due to negligence, but the patient also failed to follow post-operative instructions, the patient can still receive compensation for the (%) role the doctor played in their injury.
Unlike some states, you can recover compensation even if the defendant was 10% at fault for your injuries.
Right to Contribution
Arizona's right to contribution law applies in cases where more than one person was responsible for a patient's injuries. For example, suppose the doctor botched surgery, but the ICU nurse also failed to monitor the patient after surgery. In that case, both may be responsible for paying your damages after a lawsuit.
Medical Malpractice Damages
Victims of medical malpractice can sue for compensation for their injuries. Some of the damages available in medical malpractice cases include:
Special damages cover the economic costs you incur due to medical malpractice. Some of the economic costs you can recover include:
- Past, present, and future medical costs incurred due to the malpractice
- Costs for rehabilitation and therapy
- Costs for prescription drugs and medical devices required after the malpractice
- Lost income
- Lost earning potential
Non-economic damages compensate you for the unquantifiable losses you incur due to malpractice. This includes psychological anguish, pain and suffering, loss of consortium, disfigurement, and the loss of a body part or its function.
Punitive damages are awarded to plaintiffs in medical malpractice cases where healthcare professionals or providers acted maliciously or "with an evil mind."
A healthcare provider or professional acts with an evil mind when they:
- Intentionally harm a patient, for example, when a nurse intentionally leaves an annoying patient’s wounds untreated
- Intentionally performing an unsafe act despite the knowledge that it is highly likely to harm the patient
Since punitive damages primarily punish the defendant rather than compensate the victim, they have higher standards of proof.
Wrongful Death Damages
Wrongful death damages are awarded to the family, dependents, or heirs of a patient who died due to medical malpractice. Parties eligible to file a wrongful death claim can request damages for:
- The loss of love, companionship, or care the deceased would have provided
- The pain, grief, and sorrow the bereaved suffered
- Lost value of services the deceased provided
- Reasonable burial and funeral expenses
- Reasonable medical expenses the deceased incurred due to the medical malpractice before their death.
- The income the deceased lost due to the malpractice
Note Arizona does not place caps on the damages you can receive from a medical malpractice claim. However, you must present convincing evidence that malpractice occurred and you were injured.
Proving Damages in Medical Malpractice
You cannot recover damages from medical malpractice until you prove these elements:
- You had a doctor-patient relationship with the defendant
- They were negligent
- Their negligence caused or was the proximate cause of your injuries
- You accrued damages due to the injury
A doctor-patient relationship arises when you knowingly seek the help of a doctor, and they accept you as their patient. The doctor could be your primary doctor, a surgeon who operated on you, or the attending physician at an emergency room. A healthcare professional establishes a doctor-patient relationship when they examine, diagnose, and treat you.
In some cases, the doctor-patient relationship may not be as clear-cut, for example, when a doctor assists a patient or gives an informal consultation. For example, if your primary doctor consults an oncologist to ask about the possibility of cancer based on your symptoms, then you do not have a doctor-patient relationship with the oncologist.
However, if your doctor refers you to the oncologist, and the oncologist signs you up as a patient, you have a doctor-patient relationship with the oncologist.
You also don’t have a doctor-patient relationship with a healthcare professional whom you ask for advice at a dinner party.
Presenting your medical records can prove to the court that you have had a doctor-patient relationship with the healthcare professional you’re suing.
The law holds healthcare professionals to a high standard of patient care. They are expected to exercise care and diligence when treating patients to prevent unnecessary injuries, compilations, and deaths.
Healthcare professionals have a duty of care to patients with whom they have a doctor-patient relationship. The duties your doctor owes you include the following:
- The duty to deliver an accurate and timely diagnosis
- The duty to warn and advise you of the risks and benefits of certain procedures and medications
- The duty to supervise patient care to ensure you’re receiving adequate care
A healthcare professional is negligent when their action or inaction deviates from the acceptable standard of care. This means an average healthcare professional with the same skill would have acted differently under the circumstances.
A doctor may be negligent, but if it does not cause an injury, they are not guilty of malpractice. However, if the patient's health is negatively impacted, the doctor's negligence becomes malpractice.
The doctor’s negligence must be the cause-in-fact and the proximate cause of your injuries. The cause-in-fact means that the injuries would not have happened without the defendant's action. For example, if a doctor amputates the wrong leg, their action is the cause-in-fact of your loss of a perfectly functioning limb.
In addition, you must prove that the healthcare professional’s negligence was the proximate cause of your injuries. Proximate cause exists to protect healthcare professionals from lawsuits where harm is unforeseeable.
When proving causation, you can also sue for malpractice if the defendant's actions contributed to worsening an underlying condition. For instance, if a misdiagnosis of cancer leads it to develop into a terminal illness, thus limiting treatment options, the provider is still responsible for contributing to the worsening of your condition,
Damages refer to the monetary compensation for losses or injuries you suffer due to medical malpractice. Damages are either economic or non-economic. Economic damages aim to make you whole by compensating you for the losses you incur, such as medical expenses, lost wages and lost earning potential.
The court expects you to prove that your damages are true. Therefore, you should submit evidence of your medical bills and days you missed work or a disability you developed that limits your future earning capacity.
For non-economic damages, documentation helps. This could be with a mental health professional for emotional pain and a doctor for physical pain.
Find a Personal Injury Attorney Near Me
Phoenix Personal Injury Attorney Law Firm can help if you or a loved one were harmed due to medical malpractice. We help you understand various issues around medical malpractice cases, whether you have a case, and the best strategy for your case. Call 602-641-9589 to book a free, no-obligation consultation.