Can I Sue My Doctor for Negligence?
We put our trust in doctors to help make us well. Sadly, too many medical professionals are negligent in how they perform their jobs and patients end up even sicker than before. In addition to needing more medical care, they can suffer pain and job loss.
At Surasky Law, our Aiken, SC personal injury attorney can help analyze whether you can sue your doctor for medical negligence, also called medical malpractice if you contact us today. Let us get started reviewing what you know about the facts and identify what steps you should take. Below, we highlight the most important considerations involved in medical negligence cases.
Basic Elements of a Medical Malpractice Case
You’ll need to prove four elements to win a case. Some elements are easier to prove than others, but you need evidence of all four:
1. You had a doctor-patient relationship.
2. Your doctor was negligent when treating you.
3. Your doctor’s negligence caused you injury or disability.
4. You suffered damages.
Now let’s look at these four in more detail.
Essentially, this means you went to the doctor, and they agreed to treat you. This element is usually very easy to establish. Sometimes questions arise if your doctor consulted with another doctor, who you didn’t necessarily have a doctor-patient relationship with. But this element is usually not disputed.
The point of a malpractice case is to hold doctors accountable when they fail to perform their jobs competently. Generally, doctors are negligent when they fail to follow the correct standard of care. Doctors in South Carolina must use the care and skill we expect of other doctors in our state who practice in similar situations.
Negligence causes many medical errors:
Missed, delayed, or inaccurate diagnosis
South Carolina law doesn’t require that your doctor be perfect. Nor does your doctor necessarily need to “cure” you or make you better. If you have terminal cancer, for example, there might not be anything even a genius doctor can do. The same is true if your baby has a chromosomal birth defect.
Most questions in medical malpractice cases revolve around whether the doctor was negligent. It’s hard for most people to know what a doctor should have done while treating you. For this reason, Surasky Law often works with medical experts, such as other doctors in the field. They can look at your medical records and see what steps a careful doctor should have taken.
You need to show a link between the doctor’s negligence and your injuries or condition. Put simply, you need to show the doctor caused you to be worse off than you otherwise would have been.
Not all errors cause injuries. For example, your doctor might have failed to diagnose your arthritis. But if you suffer a heart attack, there’s no logical connection between the doctor’s arthritis misdiagnosis and your injury. By contrast, if a doctor failed to diagnose a tumor and it eventually spread, then there is a connection. Had the doctor correctly diagnosed your cancer earlier, you could have treated it before it metastasized.
As with negligence, causation is sometimes in dispute. An expert witness might be necessary to establish a link between the negligence and your injuries. Usually, the doctor’s legal team also has one or more experts testify on their behalf.
You can only sue for medical negligence if you can show the negligence caused you harm. This harm can be physical pain, additional medical bills, or lost income from being unable to work.
Statute of Limitations
As with other personal injury cases, there is a statute of limitations for medical malpractice. In most cases, you have three years to sue, starting with the day you received negligent treatment.
Sometimes, patients don’t know they’ve received negligent care because their injury takes a while to materialize. They can still sue. Usually, the clock starts ticking in their case when they discover the malpractice. However, most people lose the right to sue after six years—regardless of when they discovered the medical error.
The statute of limitations is complicated. There are exceptions we haven’t discussed here, so meet with an attorney to analyze your specific situation.
South Carolina also requires that you jump through certain hoops before you can file a lawsuit in court. In particular, you or your attorney must file a Notice of Intent to File Suit with the court. In this document, you identify all the providers you intend to sue.
You also need to file an expert affidavit, which is usually prepared by your medical expert. This expert states in the affidavit that there is at least one valid malpractice action.
These requirements are difficult to satisfy without a lawyer’s help. At Surasky Law, we can work with our experts to draft an appropriate affidavit. We can also file the Notice of Intent with the required information.
Your Damages Are Capped
In the typical negligence case, you can seek compensation to cover all economic and non-economic losses. Economic losses are things like additional medical care and lost wages. Non-economic losses are pain, suffering, disfigurement, loss of enjoyment of life, and things like that.
In malpractice cases, your non-economic losses are capped at an amount set by statute. The amount adjusts every year for inflation and is around $500,000 as of 2022. Helpfully, economic losses are not capped at all.
Contact Surasky Law Right Away
There is no time to wait to bring a medical malpractice lawsuit. Our law firm is open and accepting new clients. To schedule a consultation, call or send us an email.