Medical malpractice is defined as any damage or injury sustained by a patient as a result of the negligent actions of a medical professional. Medical professionals include nurses, doctors, specialists, and surgeons. Most medical malpractice incidents occur at medical institutions, such as a hospital or surgical center. However, medical malpractice places most of the responsibility on the medical professional, rather than the medical institution the patient was treated at.
In Massachusetts, medical malpractice is one of the most complex areas of personal injury law. As such, it is very difficult for a victim of medical practice to pursue a claim without the assistance of an experienced legal professional. However, some familiarity with the law as it applies in Massachusetts is likely to be very useful to anyone considering making a medical malpractice claim.
Medical malpractice and the “Standard of Care” in Massachusetts
Medical malpractice in Massachusetts occurs when a healthcare professional has breached what is known as the “standard of care.” To find success in a medical malpractice claim, the appropriate standard of care that a healthcare professional in that field is expected to use must first be determined. In Massachusetts, the appropriate standard of care is dependent upon the average standard a reasonable medical professional would use in that particular area of medicine. Other factors that may influence the standard of care used include the patient’s age, gender and medical history. Unfortunately, this standard is imprecise and medical experts are often necessary to determine the exact standard that a negligent medical professional should have used in the victim’s case.
Once testifying medical experts have established the appropriate standard of care, it must be determined whether the allegedly negligent medical professional breached or violated that standard of care. If it is found that the standard of care was violated, the medical professional is found to have acted negligently and will be held liable for the claimant’s injuries. Therefore, a medical malpractice claim will be heavily dependent on the testimony of medical experts.
The Statute of Limitations
In the area of personal injury, the Statute of Limitations is the period of time after an accident or injury in which a claim for compensation can be made. In many states, including Massachusetts, the standard Statute of Limitations is (3) three years after the injury took place. However, in certain instances, a patient may not learn of the full effect of his or her injuries until quite some time after the medical malpractice incident occurred. Since the standard Statute of Limitations only allows (3) three years after the incident occurred, it may not seem fair if medical malpractice injuries or health issues do not come into effect until later on.
In such instances where the full effect of a medical malpractice injury is not immediately realized, Massachusetts recognizes what is known as the “Discovery Rule.” As such, the time period in which a medical malpractice claim may be made may be extended for (3) three years after the time the injured victim discovered the full effect of their injuries.
Another exception to the Statute of Limitations applies to children under the age of (6) six years old. If it is determined that a minor child under (6) six years old has been subject to medical malpractice, it may be possible to make a claim at any time before the child’s (9) ninth birthday. For instance, a (3) three year old child victimized by medical malpractice would potentially have (6) years to file a claim.
According to the laws of Massachusetts, no claim of medical malpractice will be allowed after (7) seven years from the time that the malpractice was said to have occurred unless a foreign substance (e.g. a medical instrument or swab) was left inside the patient’s body during surgery or if a medical professional deliberately concealed the malpractice.
Caps on damage claims for medical malpractice
There are three types of awards, or damages, that a claimant may receive for a medical malpractice claim: monetary compensation, non-economic damages, and punitive damages.
Monetary compensation reimburses claimants for lost income and medical bills caused as a result of the medical malpractice incident. In order to receive monetary compensation, proof of lost wages and medical bills must be well-documented and submitted. Therefore, it is important to save invoices, billing statements, receipts, and wage slips related to the accident in order for full compensation to be awarded.
Non-economic damages compensate victims for “pain and suffering” – psychological trauma caused by the medical malpractice incident. This may include physical and debilitating pain, the psychological effects of disfigurement, embarrassment from injuries, or the sheer emotional consequences of the incident.
Punitive damages are intended to punish the medical professional deemed responsible for the medical malpractice. Punitive compensation is typically only awarded in cases involving high levels of negligence. In fact, punitive damages are almost never awarded in Massachusetts. Although, it is sometimes allowed in extreme cases where willful negligence has been proven.
In some states, strict laws impose caps on how much money can be awarded as a result of a successful claim for compensation. In Massachusetts, there is no cap on monetary compensation or punitive damages. However, a cap on punitive damages is not necessary as they are only awarded in very extreme cases of malpractice. Additionally, there is a $500,000 cap on the amount a claimant may recover for non-economic damages. The only exception to the non-economic damages cap is in cases of extreme disfigurement.
Modified comparative negligence
Comparative negligence is an aspect of Massachusetts personal injury law that applies when an injured victim of someone else’s negligence may be partly responsible for their own injuries. In any personal injury case, if an injured party is found to have been more than 50% responsible for their injuries, they are not eligible to receive any amount of compensation. However, if an injured victim is found to have been less than 50% liable for their injuries, the value of their compensation will be reduced by the percentage they are held to be liable for. For example, an injured victim awarded $10,000, but found to be 10% responsible for their injuries, will only receive $9,000 in damages. Keep in mind that comparative negligence is a difficult aspect to prove in a medical malpractice claim so it is highly advisable to hire an experienced attorney to represent you in such cases.
Due to the complexities of medical malpractice law in Massachusetts, it is sensible to consult an attorney to determine the probable success of a lawsuit. Many malpractice attorneys in Massachusetts provide free consultations and work on a contingency fee basis, which means they are only compensated if they win your case.