MEDICAL MALPRACTICE

Normally we think of doctors, nurses, and other health care providers as people who help us to heal from a serious injury. Unfortunately, there are far too many instances in which it is the medical professionals who cause or aggravate our injuries. While nobody is perfect and mistakes happen in every profession, when a medical error is the result of negligence, the injured patient is legally entitled to seek compensation for medical malpractice.

Unlike other types of personal injury claims, medical malpractice cases require special attention and care. You cannot simply show up in court alleging your doctor made a mistake. You need to present expert evidence demonstrating exactly how your health care provider deviated from the accepted standard of care and how that deviation directly caused your injury. This is a complex undertaking, and one that you should not attempt without the assistance of an experienced Vancouver medical malpractice lawyer.

At Preszler Law Firm, we regularly represent medical malpractice and other personal injury victims. Our team has the knowledge and expertise to build a complex negligence case against hospitals and physicians. While no lawyer can ever guarantee a successful outcome, we will ensure that you receive the best representation possible.

Understanding a Doctor's Duty to Give Proper Medical Care

It is important to understand that not every mistake made by a physician, nurse, or hospital is legally considered malpractice. British Columbia law requires health care professionals to provide “proper medical care” within the scope of their expertise. This means, for instance, that a doctor does not automatically commit malpractice if he or she refuses to treat you for a particular condition, or even if he or she gives you advice that you disagree with. However, you may have a claim for malpractice if your doctor fails to obtain your “informed consent” for a medical procedure, as we will explain below.

The key to any malpractice claim is establishing the “standard of care.” This is a legal term used to describe the customary practices of a medical professional when faced with a given illness or injury. For example, let's say you are diagnosed with a particular illness. Most doctors would treat this illness by prescribing Drug X. But for some reason, your doctor prescribed Drug Y, which is not appropriate for your condition and, in fact, causes side effects that only further aggravate your condition. In this scenario, your doctor has deviated from the accepted standard of care and likely committed medical malpractice.

Of course, medication errors are just one example of how a health care professional can deviate from the accepted standard of care. Some of the other common categories of medical malpractice in British Columbia include:

  • Misdiagnosis: Sometimes the doctor does not prescribe the wrong medication. Rather, he or she fails to properly identify your ailment. So, even if the course of treatment is appropriate for the diagnosis, it does not actually address your underlying medical problem.
  • Delay in diagnosis: Alternatively, the doctor may make the correct diagnosis, but fail to do so in a timely manner. This often happens in the context of emergency care. A doctor will quickly examine a patient and decide that he or she is suffering for a minor ailment. Several days or weeks later, however, the patient learns that the condition is much more serious, and as a result of the delay in receiving the proper diagnosis, more difficult or even impossible to treat.
  • Surgical and anaesthesia errors: While negligence occurs in all medical specialties, mistakes made by surgeons and anesthesiologists often produce the most catastrophic consequences, including death. Although Canadian surgeons are highly skilled professionals, there are hundreds of things that may go wrong in an operating room, from the doctor cutting in the wrong place or leaving a surgical instrument inside of the patient, to cases in which the anesthesiologist administers too much or too little anaesthesia during surgery.

Once again, not every medical mistake constitutes malpractice. What constitutes the appropriate standard of care will vary depending where and when you received medical care. In other words, the standard of care at a small, rural hospital in the Northern Interior of B.C. will not be the same as that at a large research hospital in Vancouver.

Birth Injuries

While any medical malpractice-related injury is terrible for the victim, negligence that causes birth injuries to infants are particularly devastating for children and parents alike. This is because birth injuries are often permanent. In severe cases, this means the child will require a lifetime of round-the-clock medical and personal care just to provide a minimal standard of living.

The Preszler Law Firm frequently represents B.C. parents whose lives have been turned upside-down due to a serious birth injury. We can help you investigate whether any of the following medical conditions are the result of trauma sustained by your child during birth:

  • Brachial plexus (including Erb’s palsy and Klumpke’s palsy)
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Cephalohematoma
  • Caput succedaneum
  • Facial paralysis
  • Fractures
  • Hypoxia
  • Shoulder dystocia
  • Skull injuries

Failure to Give Informed Consent

The doctor-patient relationship depends on trust. This not only means that your doctor needs to be honest with you with respect to explaining your diagnosis, but also when it comes to disclosing the potential risks of any treatment options. After all, if you do not understand the risks you cannot make an informed decision on whether to consent to a given procedure.

In many cases, a failure to give informed consent constitutes medical malpractice. These types of claims are tricky, however, as your health care provider is not legally obligated to disclose all potential risks or complications. If your doctor fails to disclose a serious risk that a reasonable patient would expect to know about in advance, then you may have a claim for damages if you subsequently suffer a complication.

For example, your doctor recommends you have surgery to correct a particular problem. This procedure has a 50% chance of causing paralysis. The doctor fails to inform you of this risk, you consent to the surgery, and are subsequently paralyzed. Under these set of facts, you have a strong case for medical malpractice based on lack of informed consent. In contrast, if the risk of paralysis was less than 1%, then the doctor's failure to disclose might not be seen by a judge as significant enough to raise an informed consent issue, although you could still have a malpractice claim based on the surgeon's negligence in actually performing the procedure.

What Compensation am I Entitled to Seek?

If you are able to prove that a doctor or hospital's negligence injured you, what kind of damages can you expect to receive? The answer to that question will obviously depend on the specific facts of your case. In general, you are entitled to compensation for your medical expenses arising from the malpractice, as well as your lost earnings, pain and suffering, and the “loss of enjoyment of life.” If the malpractice resulted in any kind of permanent injury, you may also be entitled to long-term care costs, including the modification of your home to accommodate your condition.

Speak With a B.C. Medical Malpractice Lawyer Right Away

If you have reason to suspect that you are a victim of medical malpractice, it is essential you get in touch with a lawyer as soon as possible. British Columbia generally requires malpractice victims to file a lawsuit within two years of the original injury. But in some cases this two-year clock does not begin to run until a “reasonable” person should have discovered the problem. This is an important concept in malpractice law, since many patients do not learn of their health care provider's negligence until several months–even years–after the fact.

Even when you are immediately aware that something is wrong, it still takes time to properly investigate and build your malpractice case. B.C. medical malpractice lawsuits often take in excess of two years to successfully litigate. During this time, your lawyer will need to carefully review your medical records, interview potential witnesses, and consult with outside medical experts who can explain the medical standard of care to a judge or jury.

Your lawyer will also need time to negotiate a potential settlement with the negligent health care provider–or in many cases, with their insurance company. While a negotiated settlement is possible in many cases, keep in mind that insurers are experts when it comes to undervaluing claims and making low offers. This is why you should never agree to a malpractice settlement without first speaking to a lawyer.

Preszler Law Firm can handle your malpractice claim from the initial investigation phase to presenting your case to a judge, if that becomes necessary. If you are concerned about the potential costs of litigation, keep in mind that our lawyers work exclusively on a contingency basis. We never charge upfront fees or costs to our medical malpractice clients. Call us today or contact us online to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation with one of our B.C. medical malpractice lawyers.