Doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers can be found guilty of medical malpractice when they have caused harm to a patient. However, simply experiencing a bad outcome from treatment does not constitute malpractice.
Defining Medical Malpractice
Medical malpractice law is intended to provide a safeguard for patients who've suffered harm as the result of negligent medical care. To have a valid malpractice case, you must be able to establish that your provider failed to follow the accepted standard of care for your condition and that you suffered specific injuries or a worsening of your medical condition as a result. Common examples of medical malpractice include:
- Misdiagnosis of a condition
- Delayed diagnosis
- Surgical errors
- Anesthesia errors
- Medication errors
- Failure to obtain informed consent for treatment
- Childbirth injuries causing harm to the mother and/or baby
Establishing a deviation from the accepted standard of care is typically the most difficult part of proving a malpractice case. Georgia law requires the complaint that starts a malpractice lawsuit to be accompanied by an affidavit from a medical expert who is able to provide evidence of at least one negligent act committed by the defendant. However, it's not uncommon for a malpractice case to involve testimony from several different medical experts.
Statute of Limitations
The term statute of limitations refers to how long you have to seek legal action against a negligent care provider. In most cases, Georgia law requires you to begin a medical malpractice lawsuit within two years of the action that constitutes the malpractice. However, in cases where the injury wasn’t discovered immediately, Georgia’s statute of repose says that the medical malpractice lawsuit must be filed no more than five years from the date the healthcare provider caused the injury—otherwise, the case will be thrown out. There are a few exceptions to this statute:
- Cases involving children. If the patient was under five years old when the malpractice occurred, the statute of limitations doesn't begin until the patient turns five.
- Cases involving mental disability. If the case involves a mentally disabled person, the two-year statute of limitations is tolled until that person recovers. However, the five-year statute of limitations is still in effect.
- Cases involving foreign objects left in a patient. If the case involves a foreign object such as a sponge or surgical tool left inside a patient, the patient has one year to sue after the object has been discovered—even if the two-year statute of limitations period has run out. Because Georgia’s statute of repose does not apply in this situation, this exception may actually lengthen the amount of time a victim has to seek legal action.
- Cases involving intentional deception. If a healthcare provider intentionally tried to deceive the patient so the malpractice wasn't discovered, the statute of limitations is tolled until the conduct forming the basis of the suit is uncovered.
Types of Compensation
The value of a medical malpractice settlement includes several different types of compensation:
- Medical expenses. Providers are liable for any medical expenses such as surgical care, extended hospital stays, and diagnostic tests or medication related to the action that constitutes the malpractice. Anticipated future medical care can be included if your injuries have left you permanently disabled.
- Lost wages. You can seek compensation for any time you were unable to work due to malpractice-related injury or illness. You can also seek compensation for any reduction in your future earning potential if you've been left permanently disabled.
- Pain and suffering. Compensation for pain and suffering includes both physical pain and mental trauma associated with the incident. Although many states have caps on medical malpractice damages for pain and suffering, Georgia does not limit the size of settlements in this way. Previous caps on malpractice awards were declared unconstitutional by the Georgia Supreme Court in 2010.
- Loss of consortium. When the patient is married, loss of consortium compensation can be awarded to account for the effect the malpractice has had on the spousal relationship. This may include the loss of physical intimacy and emotional support, as well as a spouse’s inability to maintain the household.
- Punitive damages. In cases of especially grievous misconduct, punitive damages can be awarded to financially punish the defendant. However, Georgia law limits punitive damages to a maximum of $250,000 unless there is evidence of a deliberate intent to harm. However, the punitive damages cap does not apply if the defendant was under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Retaining the services of an experienced medical malpractice attorney is the best way to protect your right to compensation. Please call today to schedule a free, no-obligation initial case review with the legal team at Champion Firm, P.C.