The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is poised to decide a case that could have wide-ranging implications for health care practitioners. In Pennsylvania, the law in medical malpractice cases has been that a doctor - or other health care professional - cannot claim that a patient "assumed the risk" of a procedure going wrong. For example, if a surgeon negligently injures a patient during a surgery, the surgeon can't say that because the patient agreed to the surgery and was informed of the potential risks, that the patient agreed to the surgeon's negligent performance.
Horror stories about the wrong patient being anesthetized and wheeled into surgery, only to be operated on before the mistake has been realized, abound in pop culture. With the precautions that hospitals, physicians and other healthcare facilities take these days to confirm identities, mistaken identity is far less common than it once was. But, it does still occur. And, when it does, healthcare professionals could find themselves on the wrong end of a medical malpractice or negligence claim.
When a patient seeks the advice or care of a health professional in Pennsylvania, they are trusting the professional to use the utmost care and skill - particularly where children and infants are concerned. If a medical provider fails to meet the standards expected of them by their profession, the consequences can be devastating for a patient and their family members. And in cases where a health care provider's act or omission has life-long effects, the provider may be on the wrong end of a hefty medical malpractice verdict.
When a medical professional is presented with the evidence they need to make a diagnosis and yet fails to do so, such a failure may rise to the level of medical malpractice. In some cases, the failure to diagnose results in the worsening of a patient's condition, requiring in turn even more medical intervention. Such negligence can also result in the health care provider and its insurer taking a significant financial hit when forced to compensate a victim for their injuries.
An oft-heard maxim of health care is "first, do no harm." Medical malpractice may arise when this maxim is violated. Most typically, when the topic of medical malpractice comes up, it involves tales of bungled surgeries, misdiagnoses or even the failure to diagnose an illness. What these types of cases have in common is that they involve negligent acts: the health care professional did not use the level of care that is expected of them by legal, professional or societal standards. A less common, but more insidious type, of medical malpractice occurs when a health care professional's deliberate acts result in personal injury to a patient.
When a patient sees a medical professional and explains a set of symptoms, the patient can reasonably expect that tests will be conducted, the symptoms will be taken into account and a diagnosis will be given. Once there is a diagnosis, treatment can begin. But, what if the medical professional diagnoses the wrong malady, or worse, fails altogether to diagnose an illness or disease? In Pennsylvania, this can rise to the level of medical malpractice.
When one thinks of a medical malpractice case, incidents such as surgical errors, failures to diagnose an illness, or secondary infections may come to mind. In Pennsylvania, as elsewhere, medical professionals are not only supposed to do their jobs correctly, they are also held to a higher standard of conduct. As it turns out, falling below such standards may constitute also medical malpractice.
In Pennsylvania, when you visit a hospital or doctor's office, or move a loved one into a care facility, you expect to be treated with the utmost care and professionalism. And in the vast majority of cases, you receive the care you expect. Unfortunately, however, mistakes happen, as do negligent or deliberate acts that result in harm or in some instances, death. At such times, you need the help of a seasoned medical negligence attorney.
A recent opinion from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court clarified the statute of limitations - the time limit for filing a lawsuit - in cases where a person dies because of medical negligence. Justice Sallie Mundy wrote the opinion in the case of Dubose v. Quinlan. Although the two-year statute of limitations remains the same, when it begins to run was the crux of the opinion. It now begins to run from the time of death.
When medical professionals are negligent or make mistakes, patients and insurers are usually the ones who have to foot the bill. This is different from most other industries where a provider is expected to make good on a faulty service or product. If a person paid a plumber to fix a leaky pipe that continued to leak, that person wouldn't expect to pay the plumber again to fix what was already supposed to have been repaired. Not so in the health care sector.