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What is the Most Common Cause of Malpractice Suits Against Physicians?

Doctors' giving bad news to a patient.

Injuries due to medical malpractice are the third-leading cause of death in the United States after cancer and heart disease. Family members grieving the loss of a loved one due to medical error may be able to pursue compensation for their losses, such as lost wages in the death of a family’s breadwinner and compensation for their grief.

One of the most common reasons for filing a medical malpractice lawsuit is diagnostic errors such as misdiagnosis and delayed diagnosis. For example, delays in diagnosing certain types of cancer can allow the malignancy to advance and become harder to contain. Malpractice claims need to be handled by experienced attorneys who also understand medicine and can evaluate whether a medical error rises to the level of malpractice.

As you consider whether your negative medical experience may be malpractice, it might help to understand what types of medical mistakes most often lead to malpractice claims. If you think you have a valid malpractice case in the Washington, D.C., area you’ll be helped by contacting the medical malpractice law firm of Michael M. Wilson, M.D., J.D. Dr. Wilson is an attorney with more than 30 years of medical malpractice claims experience and a physician with a medical degree from Georgetown University.

What is Medical Malpractice?

Medical malpractice occurs when a doctor, hospital or other health care provider harms a patient by neglecting to follow the recognized standard of care. The negligence might be the result of errors in diagnosis, treatment, aftercare or health management.

The American Board of Professional Liability Attorneys (ABPLA) says a medical malpractice claim must have the following characteristics:

  • A violation of the standard of care. A patient has the right to expect that health care professionals will deliver care consistent with standards that would be recognized as acceptable by reasonably prudent health care professionals under like or similar circumstances.
  • An injury caused by negligence. If the standard of care has not been met, the patient must prove he or she suffered an injury that would not have occurred without the act or omission that led to the substandard care. In some jurisdictions, the patient must show specifically that the medical professional’s action or failure to act was the “proximate,” or most closely connected cause of their injury.
  • The injury caused significant damages. The injury must have caused the patient to suffer disability, loss of earning capacity, unusual pain, suffering and hardship, or significant past and future medical bills.

There are potentially many forms of medical malpractice, and any medical professional or institution may be sued for malpractice. But studies have shown which incidents occur often enough to stand out as the most common causes of malpractice suits against physicians.

Defensive doctor talking to female lawyer.

What are the 5 Most Common Medical Errors Behind Malpractice Lawsuits?

It might unnerve you to know that the medical error most likely to leave you significantly injured typically occurs when you first show up with a medical problem. Multiple studies have concluded that misdiagnosis is the most common cause of malpractice claims.

Misdiagnosis includes failure to diagnose a medical problem that exists or making a diagnosis that is incorrect. A missed or incorrect diagnosis leads to lack of appropriate treatment and potentially to treatment that causes harm to the patient, such as unnecessary surgery. Because the primary symptoms of heart attack – nausea, pain, shortness of breath – can be caused by a variety of ailments, heart attack is often misdiagnosed.

Closely related is “delayed diagnosis,” or recognizing a medical condition at some point after symptoms were first presented, thus allowing the illness to progress and harm the patient. Cancer, which responds best to early medical intervention, is often the basis of a delayed diagnosis malpractice claim.

Additional reviews of the top causes of medical malpractice and common legal claims against doctors show the next most-frequent causes of physicians being sued for medical malpractice are:

  • Healthcare-acquired infection. Sometimes referred to as “hospital-acquired infection,” HAIs are found in one out of 31 hospital patients on any given day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Infection can spread rapidly in patients and, undiagnosed, can lead to death. Common HAIs include central line-associated bloodstream infections, catheter-associated urinary tract infections (UTI), and ventilator-associated pneumonia. Surgical site infections may occur after surgery.
  • Childbirth injuries. A physician must monitor and respond to the condition of mother, fetus and newborn to avoid injury during pregnancy, labor, delivery, or initial post-natal care. A child injured during or immediately after birth may suffer from traumatic injuries, cerebral palsy, seizure disorders, or paralysis.
  • Medication errors. Medication errors cause at least one death every day and injure roughly 1.3 million people a year in the United States, according to the World Health Organization. Medication errors may occur due to a physician’s failure to obtain adequate medical or medication histories when prescribing drugs, pharmacy errors when filling prescriptions, or errors by health care providers while administering medications, often in the form of dosage mistakes.
  • Surgical errors. General surgeons are the physicians named most frequently in malpractice lawsuits, according to MDLinx. Surgical errors often consist of operating on the wrong body part, leaving surgical sponges/instruments in the body or accidently puncturing an organ. These errors may require the patient to undergo additional surgery, which is always a risk. Surgery requires administration of anesthesia, for which even the smallest miscalculation can lead to brain damage, permanent disability, or death.

Is There a Statute of Limitations for a Medical Malpractice Claim?

Yes, there is a statute of limitations for medical malpractice claims. In Washington, DC, that statute places a time limit of 3 years for your malpractice claim. You need to be sure to file your lawsuit within that 3 year time period. If you fail to do so, you will have forfeited your chances to have your malpractice claim heard in court.

Contact Our Washington, D.C., Malpractice Lawyers Today

If you or a loved one has suffered unanticipated trauma, disability, or other serious harm while under medical care, you need a trained doctor and lawyer on your side who can evaluate your options under the law. The Law Offices of Dr. Michael M. Wilson, MD, JD & Associates can carefully review your records to determine whether you are entitled to claim compensation for the injury you have suffered. Medical malpractice claims are complex and often take a year or longer to resolve. Our firm has recovered more than $100 million on behalf of our clients in Washington, D.C., Maryland and throughout the country.

To talk to an experienced medical malpractice lawyer in the Washington, D.C., metro area about your rights, contact us today. Our initial legal consultations are free, and we only accept a fee if we succeed in recovering compensation for you.

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