What Happens If Your Doctor Makes a Mistake?

June 27, 2024 / RP Legal

Medical malpractice begins when a medical professional commits some sort of error. However, it doesn’t end there.

It’s a common misconception that when a doctor makes a mistake the patient automatically has a viable claim for medical malpractice. In reality, these cases are far more complicated.

Knowing the various ways practitioners can commit malpractice will help you determine if you have a case, and so will retain legal counsel. The Columbia, SC medical malpractice lawyers at Rikard & Protopapas can help you understand what happens if your doctor makes a mistake.

What Are Common Mistakes Doctors Make and Why Do They Happen?

Patients reasonably expect their doctors, nurses, lab technicians, and others to carefully treat them and deliver quality, effective healthcare. Sadly, this doesn’t always happen.

These are only a few examples of common medical mistakes and their underlying causes:

Delayed diagnoses and misdiagnoses

Patients trust their doctors to correctly evaluate their medical conditions, diagnose their injury or disease, and make appropriate treatment recommendations. However, a diagnosis could be delayed, allowing the medical problem to unnecessarily persist and cause additional complications.

On the other hand, the doctor may incorrectly determine what the condition is and recommend a treatment that doesn’t cure it or causes other health issues.

Diagnostic errors typically occur due to a lack of medical training, inexperience, incompetence, miscommunication, or failure to properly assess the patient.

Surgical mistakes

Surgery requires intense focus and diligence, and the doctor is expected to carefully apply his or her training to successfully operate on the patient. Surgery is also rife with potential errors.

An incorrect dosage of anesthesia could be administered to the patient. The surgery might be done with improperly sanitized equipment, causing infection. Incredibly, some doctors even leave surgical tools inside the patient or operate on the wrong part of the body.

These mistakes by surgical doctors are often due to distractions, but other causes such as substance abuse, lack of sleep, inadequate training, and inexperience may also be to blame.

Medication errors

Prescription medications are a major part of most treatment regimens in hospitals and outpatient facilities. Prescription mistakes can happen at various points, starting with the physician. Your doctor may prescribe the wrong medicine or prescribe a dosage that is too high or too low. A medical assistant might fail to transmit the information properly to a pharmacy. A pharmacist or pharmacy technician could inaccurately fill the prescription or give you inaccurate instructions.

One reason these medication errors occur is because the doctor or other professional makes an incorrect diagnosis or fails to ask pertinent questions, such as the patient’s allergies. Illegible handwriting and oversights caused by distractions could also be responsible.

Defective equipment

Doctors and other healthcare professionals use a variety of diagnostic tools and machines to evaluate the patient, test blood and other bodily fluids, examine internal injuries, and more.

Practitioners rely heavily on this equipment in developing the patient’s treatment regimen.

Outdated, broken, poorly functioning, and incorrectly calibrated equipment can cause missed or delayed diagnoses which may harm the patient’s health.

Failure to properly inspect, test, and maintain tools and devices can lead to medical mistakes.

Budget cuts at hospitals, poorly trained or overworked staff, and manufacturing and design errors are all contributing factors.

What Should a Patient Do When a Doctor Makes a Mistake?

If a doctor makes a mistake, the patient has the right to register a complaint with the facility, with the state’s licensing board, and potentially by filing a malpractice lawsuit.

The doctor may readily admit to the error and work to correct the consequences. This doesn’t necessarily absolve the doctor, but it can help prevent the mistake from causing serious and even fatal consequences.

On the other hand, the doctor may fail or refuse to admit the error because he or she:

  • Fears that a lawsuit will be filed
  • Worries that his or her malpractice premiums will increase
  • Is afraid of being fired or disciplined
  • Is concerned about reputation and career damage
  • Genuinely believes the bad news will upset the patient

Of course, none of these are valid reasons to refuse to tell the patient the truth. Patients have the right to know if something has been done that has either harmed them or failed to correctly address a health issue.

Depriving a patient of that knowledge means they will be delayed in getting the treatment they need to be healthy. It might even cost the patient his or her life.

What Must Be Proven to Show a Doctor’s Mistake Was Malpractice?

It should be emphasized that a mistake alone is not enough to support a malpractice lawsuit.

The law does not expect doctors and other healthcare professionals to be perfect. The question isn’t whether there’s been an error but whether it’s due to negligence.

What happens if your doctor makes a mistake? To claim medical malpractice, you must be prepared to prove the following:

A doctor-patient relationship existed

This establishes that the doctor owed the patient a duty of care; meaning, that the doctor was obligated to follow a certain recognized and accepted standard that is exercised by competent practitioners in similar circumstances.

The doctor deviated from these standards

In other words, due to some negligent act or failure to act, the doctor did not practice according to the standard expected of him or her. The examples listed above (e.g. miscommunications, distractions, and failure to properly examine the patient) could support this element.

This negligence was the proximate cause of the patient’s injury

There must be a causal link between the doctor’s deviation from (or breach of) the duty of care and the harm caused to the patient. This can be more challenging to prove if there were other intervening causes, but an experienced attorney will understand how to prove causation.

The patient suffered damages as a result of the doctor’s negligence

Included here are several economic and non-economic losses such as medical bills (e.g. to treat the medical mistake), lost time from work, lost earning capacity, pain and suffering, emotional distress, disability, and more. Damages are designed to compensate the victim for the financial effects suffered because of the doctor’s mistakes.

We Work to Make It Right When a Doctor Makes a Mistake

No one should have to suffer the personal and financial consequences of a doctor’s unreasonable mistakes. If you’re the victim of a medical error and want to learn more about your right to seek monetary damages, we invite you to contact Rikard & Protopapas. We can schedule your confidential consultation today. Reach out online or call 803-978-6111 for your consultation.

Contact Us

"*" indicates required fields

By providing your phone number, you agree to receive text messages from Rikard & Protopapas. Message and data rates may apply. Message frequency varies.
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
Rikard & Protopapas Logo

Available 24/7

Contact Us

"*" indicates required fields

By providing your phone number, you agree to receive text messages from Rikard & Protopapas. Message and data rates may apply. Message frequency varies.
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.