Medical Malpractice Basics

There are many medical mishaps which can result in a medical malpractice claim. Birth injury, misdiagnosis, failure to diagnose, and errors in anesthesia administration, are all examples of acts that could result in violations of Pennsylvania medical malpractice law.

Medical Malpractice Basics

Medical malpractice occurs when a doctor or other healthcare professional commits medical negligence. Medical negligence occurs when the healthcare professional breaches, or violates, the standard of care. A standard of care is the generally-accepted medical practices used by a group of medical professionals in the same geographic area for patients suffering from a particular disorder or illness. This standard can change depending on a number of factors, including the patient's prior medical history and age.

In addition to committing an act of medical negligence, and in order to have a medical malpractice claim, the act must have directly caused the patient's injuries. In other words, it is not enough that medical negligence occurred. Rather, you and your attorney will have to prove that the negligent act caused the injury. Proving this can be difficult and often requires the input of medical experts.

Statute of Limitations for Bringing a Medical Malpractice Claim in Pennsylvania

All states establish their own statute of limitations for medical malpractice cases. The statute of limitations sets the amount of time that a patient has to file a lawsuit against a medical provider. Under Pennsylvania law, the statute of limitations for bringing a medical malpractice claim is two (2) years. This two-year countdown does not begin until the point where the patient discovers, or reasonably should have discovered, that the injury occurred.

For cases arising after March 2002, there is an additional statute which applies. This statute states that injured patients are allowed up to seven years from the date the medically- negligent act occurred to file suit. This means that if the injury is discovered more than seven years after the medically negligent act occurred, the patient will not be able to file a lawsuit against the medical provider. Because of these strict time limitations, it is important for injured parties to seek a lawyer's help as soon after an injury occurs as possible.

Damages in Pennsylvania Malpractice Cases

When you file a claim against a medical provider, the compensation you are seeking as a result of your lawsuit is known as damages. Pennsylvania malpractice law allows patients to collect several types of damages. The first type is known as compensatory damages. Compensatory damages pay injured patients for actual costs, such as medical bills and lost wages due to time missed or taken off work.

There are also non-economic damages. These are damages which compensate the patient for intangible costs, such as pain and suffering. Pennsylvania has no cap when it comes to compensatory and non-economic damages. This means that state medical malpractice laws do not limit how much a court can award you for these types of damages.

The final type of damages available to patients is known as punitive damages. These damages serve to punish doctors and other healthcare professionals whose recklessness causes injury to a patient. This recklessness might take the form of malicious actions or fraud. If there is no intentional misconduct on the part of the healthcare professional, then state law caps punitive damages at 200 percent of compensatory damages. In addition, 25 percent of all punitive damages awarded to a patient must go into a special fund known as the MCARE Fund. This fund serves to pay patients whose claims exceed the healthcare provider's malpractice insurance coverage.