In some cases, medical errors are easy to spot. Negligence is clear if a surgeon operates on the wrong body part or leaves a sponge or other foreign object inside a patient's body. Other medical errors -- misdiagnosis of heart attack, late diagnosis of cancer or the misreading of an MRI or CT scan -- are not so obvious. In these cases, patients might not realize that they have been hurt by a health care provider's negligence.
What is Medical Malpractice?
Doctors, nurses and other health care professionals who fail to meet the applicable standard of care can be held responsible for injuries caused by their action or inaction. Likewise, hospitals must treat their patients in accordance with the prevailing standard of care. In Connecticut, to hold a party liable for medical malpractice, the plaintiff (the injured party) must prove the applicable standard of care for treatment; that the defendant deviated from or breached that standard of care; that the breach caused the plaintiff's injury; and the extent of the injury or damages.
Under Connecticut law, the appropriate standard of care is defined by law. It is the "level of care, skill and treatment which, in light of all relevant surrounding circumstances, is recognized as acceptable and appropriate by reasonably prudent similar health care providers." C.G.S.A. § 52-184c(a).
Signs of Potential Medical Malpractice
In many cases, patients may not know that they have been injured by the negligence of a physician, surgeon or other health care provider. There are, however, certain red flags or warning signs that can signal potential medical malpractice. Serious complications should raise suspicion -- long hospital stays resulting from "short stay" procedures; second and third operations; bad reactions to drugs or medicines; unanticipated procedures; life-threatening infections; or sudden serious illnesses after a patient has been given a clean bill of health. While doctors cannot and do not guarantee good outcomes in all cases, and some bad outcomes are normal complications, others can result from mistakes that amount to medical malpractice.
Patients tend to trust their doctors and think that they know best -- if the doctors say nothing is wrong, they believe them. Unfortunately, sometimes doctors are wrong and sometimes they make mistakes. There are a number of injuries that may be the result of medical malpractice including birth injuries such as shoulder dystocia, Erb's Palsy and Cerebral Palsy; surgical errors such as missed bowel perforations; injuries to nearby organs during laparoscopic operations; bariatric surgery complications; misdiagnosis -- or non-diagnosis -- of heart attack; missed or late diagnosis of cancer; emergency room errors; and medication errors and overdoses. Moreover, sometimes radiologists or other medical professionals can misread or misinterpret MRIs, CT scans, mammograms and ultrasounds. Lab personnel may mix up test results for blood or other tests, resulting in a misdiagnosis.
Preliminary Legal Considerations in Connecticut Medical Malpractice Cases
Connecticut law sets forth some procedural requirements that must be met before filing a complaint. Cases must be investigated and brought within the applicable statute of limitations. In Connecticut, lawsuits based on a health care provider's negligence must be brought within two years from the date the injury is first sustained or discovered or should have been discovered by exercising reasonable care. No such lawsuit can be brought more than three years after the date of the act complained of. C.G.S.A. § 52-584.
Connecticut also requires an attorney or plaintiff to certify that there is a good faith belief that grounds exist for a medical malpractice action against each defendant before filing the complaint. The attorney must meet this requirement by obtaining a signed report from a qualified "similar health care provider" expert setting forth the opinion that there is a good faith basis to bring a malpractice action. C.G.S.A. § 52-190a.
If you believe that you have been injured because of a doctor's negligence, it is important to talk to a medical malpractice lawyer. Not all medical errors are the result of malpractice, but an attorney can investigate your situation and determine whether you have cause to initiate a lawsuit. Generally, the attorney or law firm will pay all the costs of the investigation, including obtaining and reviewing medical records, so there is no financial cost or risk to the patient.