Medical malpractice is a type of professional negligence that occurs when a health care professional harms a patient due to a negligent act or omission. Many types of harm can be caused by medical negligence, including birth injuries, missed diagnoses leading to a lack of necessary treatments, and catastrophic injuries caused by surgical mistakes, such as spinal cord injuries, nerve damage, and brain injuries.
Medical malpractice can result from a vast range of issues, including medical errors, medical failures, negligent action, negligent inaction, or intentional harm. Some of the more common causes of medical malpractice include:
California’s medical malpractice laws apply to “medical care providers,” which is a term that applies to a variety of medical professionals. Types of medical care providers who may be held responsible for medical malpractice include:
It’s important to note that California is one of only seven states that does not follow a charitable immunity doctrine. This means that charitable organizations, such as nonprofit hospitals, are not immune from liability in a California medical malpractice case. California does have laws that give certain medical care providers, namely emergency medical care providers, some protection from liability in medical malpractice claims. However, emergency medical care providers can still be found liable in a medical malpractice claim if they are found to have committed gross negligence.
Generally, California medical patients can hold healthcare providers responsible for injuries that were fully or partially the result of a negligent or malicious act. However, patients cannot hold a medical provider liable simply because their treatment yielded poor results, which may happen even with good or excellent medical care. Medical patients can only hold a healthcare provider responsible when their injuries were caused by treatment that was worse in quality than would have been reasonably provided by an ordinary doctor.
In a medical malpractice case, the burden of proof lies on the plaintiff. In order to successfully hold an at-fault part legally responsible for their actions, a medical malpractice victim must prove:
Proving liability in a medical malpractice case in California can be challenging without expert legal assistance. Some of the more challenging elements to prove in this type of case are that the medical provider owed the plaintiff a certain standard of care, that the medical provider’s mistake caused the victim’s injuries, and that the plaintiff sustained a certain amount of damages.
Proving that a medical provider owed their patient a certain standard of care is often one of the harder elements to prove in a medical malpractice case. Essentially, a plaintiff needs to prove that the defendant failed to act in the same way a reasonably careful health care provider would have in the same situation. Usually, proving this requires expert testimony from a medical professional that has knowledge of what would have been reasonable and careful care in the plaintiff’s unique situation. As such, expert witnesses can be invaluable in proving liability in a medical negligence case, which makes retaining experienced legal representation paramount. A medical malpractice attorney can assist their client in finding an expert witness that can establish what would have been reasonable in the injury victim’s specific case.
Showing that the medical provider’s mistake caused the victim’s injuries can also be challenging in this type of case. This is another element which often must be supported by expert testimony to be effectively proved. A medical expert can testify as to whether or not an injury would have been sustained (or if the injuries would have been as severe) if the medical provider had not made a mistake.
A third element that can be challenging for an injury victim to prove on their own is the full extent of their damages. Calculating the economic and non-economic impact of an injury sustained due to medical negligence is no small feat, nor is proving that your calculations and estimations would be fair and appropriate due to the unique circumstances of your case. However, a personal injury attorney that has experience settling and winning personal injury cases involving medical malpractice can assist an injury victim in proving their damages and estimating an accurate amount of damages for their tangible losses, intangible losses, and future losses.
Due to the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act of 1975 (MICRA), there are certain limitations on medical malpractice damages in California that are not in place for general personal injury damages. There are no limitations on the amount of economic damages or punitive damages a plaintiff can receive. However, there is a cap on the amount of non-economic damages a plaintiff may recover through a medical malpractice case. The maximum amount of non-economic damages that can be recovered in a medical malpractice case is $250,000.
The amount of time a plaintiff has to sue is called a statute of limitations. In California, there are differing statutes of limitations for medical malpractice cases involving legal adults and medical malpractice cases involving minors.
The statute of limitations for adult medical malpractice cases is either three years from the date of the injury or one year after the victim discovers (or reasonably should have discovered) the injury, whichever is earlier.
California’s medical malpractice statute of limitation for minors may vary based on the minors age at the time of the injury. If the minor was under 18 but six years or older at the time of their injury, the statute of limitations is three years from the date of the injury. If a minor was under the age of six at the time of their injury, the statute of limitations is either their eighth birthday or three years from the date of the injury, whichever is later.
The limitation periods outlined above are the standard periods for medical malpractice cases in California, but there are some exceptions to these standard timelines. Limitation periods can be “tolled,” which means they can be paused, under certain circumstances. California medical malpractice limitation periods may be tolled when a healthcare provider commits fraud, when a healthcare provider intentionally conceals wrongdoing, or when a misplaced foreign body is inside the injured person. A medical malpractice limitation may also be tolled when a minor’s parent or guardian colludes with an insurance company and/or health care provider in connection with a failure to file a medical malpractice claim or action on behalf of the minor.