What to do when you or a loved one are hurt by your health care professional
Written by: Enjuris Editors
Doctors and health care professionals go to great lengths to help us during our darkest days, but they’re human too. What happens when you have a medical negligence case in Arizona? Are there local laws you must follow? What damages might you be able to recover?
Health care professionals are supposed to help you in your time of need. In some instances, you quite literally put your life in their hands. Each year in the United States, approximately 84% of adults and 93% of children will have contact with a health care professional.
So what happens when that professional drops the ball?
A study by Johns Hopkins University suggests that medical errors are the 3rd leading cause of death in the US. A report released by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement and NORC at the University of Chicago found that 21% of people in the US report having personally experienced a medical error. What’s more, these errors often have a lasting impact on the patient’s physical health, emotional health, and financial well-being.
Arizona isn’t immune to medical errors. A recent report indicates that there are roughly 24 medical malpractice lawsuits for every 100,000 people in Arizona, putting the Grand Canyon State near the top of the list in terms of states with the highest rates of medical malpractice lawsuits.
This article looks at the common causes of medical malpractice, the elements that must be established in a medical malpractice lawsuit, the special procedural requirements in Arizona, and the damages you may be able to recover.
What is medical malpractice?
Medical malpractice occurs when a patient is harmed because a health care professional deviates from the accepted standard of care.
A medical malpractice claim can be brought against any licensed health care professional. Examples of acts that commonly result in medical malpractice claims include:
Failure to diagnose an illness
Misdiagnosis of an illness
Misreading an important lab result
Prescribed improper medication or dosage
Failure to follow proper medical procedure
Failure to warn a patient of known risks
Prematurely discharging a patient
In The News: In December of 2017, Zion Gastelum, a 2-year-old Arizona boy died after being placed under anesthesia for a routine dental procedure at Kool Smiles in Yuma. The parents filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against the dentist alleging that the procedure was unnecessary, the oxygen tank used was empty or didn’t work, the warning alarm was silenced by a staff member, and the child was left alone in the recovery room.
Elements of a medical malpractice claim in Arizona
In Arizona, a medical malpractice lawsuit can be filed against any licensed health care provider. This includes:
In order to establish a medical malpractice claim in Arizona, you must prove the following 2 elements:
The health care provider failed to exercise the degree of care and skill expected of a reasonable health care provider in the profession, and
In a medical malpractice case, the main focus of the lawsuit will generally be on what the health care provider should have done in a specific set of circumstances. The standard by which the health care professional is judged is called the “medical standard of care.”
In AZ, doctors must exercise the same degree of care as a reasonable provider with the same training and experience. Tweet this
In short, the plaintiff will attempt to persuade the judge or jury that the health care professional failed to act with the same level of care as an ordinary health care professional with the same training and experience would have, and the defendant will attempt to persuade the judge that the health care professional acted competently. Both sides can present testimony from experts to support their arguments.
Special procedural requirements in Arizona
Arizona has a unique procedural rule that requires plaintiffs in a medical malpractice lawsuit to file a preliminary expert opinion (along with their complaint) explaining the factual basis for each claim against the health care professional, as well as the acts, errors, or omissions that the expert considers to be a violation of the medical standard of care.
The requirement is intended to reduce the amount of baseless claims (which raise medical malpractice insurance premiums).
Medical malpractice statute of limitations
In Arizona, a medical malpractice lawsuit must be filed within 2 years of the date the injury is discovered. However, the statute of limitations won’t begin to run until the claimant is 18 years of age. So, if you were 16 years of age when you were injured, the 2 year statute of limitations wouldn’t start to run until you turned 18.
For most medical malpractice claims, the statute of limitations in AZ is 2 years. Tweet this
There are 2 types of damages available in medical malpractice cases:
Actual damages. Actual damages include the cost of additional treatment, loss of wages, loss of future wages, and pain and suffering.
Punitive damages. Punitive damages are awarded when medical malpractice is the result of reckless or intentional behavior on the part of the health care professional.
Arizona is one of the few states that doesn’t place damage caps on medical malpractice claims. However, a ratio of punitive damages to actual damages that exceeds 9:1 will generally be deemed unconstitutional.
Arizona is one of the only states that doesn’t place a cap on medical malpractice damages. Tweet this
How do I find a lawyer?
Medical malpractice law is a highly specialized field and requires an attorney with experience. Most medical malpractice attorneys do one of two things:
They defend doctors from medical malpractice suits, or
They represent patients who have been injured.
If you’ve been injured, you’ll want to find an attorney who represents patients.