Four Common Types of Medical Malpractice Claims
Medical malpractice claims can seem to come out of nowhere. And these unexpected events are often made more confusing by differing state regulations and legal jargon.
For independent physicians and practices looking for medical malpractice insurance or trying to understand how to try to limit exposure, there are a few things to note before digging into the common types of medical malpractice claims out there.
First, some states have a statute of limitations when a claim or suit must be brought, such as two years. However, if alleged negligence involves a minor or incapacitated adult, the statute of limitations can be much longer. Second, a patient must demonstrate three things for a claim to be valid:
- They had a patient-doctor relationship with the medical professional they are suing.
- The doctor provided negligent care.
- That negligence caused them measurable harm.
For physicians and advanced health care professionals, it’s in their best interest to invest in the cost of medical malpractice insurance with a carrier with an outstanding reputation. Furthermore, it can be beneficial and recommended to invest in tail coverage when necessary.
However, you’ll want to build risk management into your practice or clinic by better understanding what events can set off a lawsuit. Generally, there are four main types of medical malpractice claims you should know about.
Common types of medical malpractice claims
The four common kinds of claims include:
- Misdiagnosis or failure to diagnose
- Birth injuries
- Treatment and medication errors
- Wrongful death
Specific examples show that most claims within each category boil down to two scenarios:
- Not taking the appropriate action. Failing to order or review certain lab reports or imaging and then misdiagnosing a patient, not prescribing treatment, or not offering post-surgery instructions are all examples of this type of liability.
- Taking the wrong action. Prescribing the wrong medication or performing the wrong (or untimely) surgical procedure on a patient are examples of this type of scenario.
To get a better idea of what each category entails, let’s take a deeper look.
Misdiagnosis or failure to diagnose
One of the most common claims is not related to treatment or surgery but to diagnosis. In fact, a 2022 study from the Medical Professional Liability Association (MPLA) found that 47% of internal medicine claims alone were diagnostic. Around 8 out of 10 claims are related either to misdiagnosis or failure to diagnose a patient.
In some cases, physicians may diagnose one condition but fail to check for typically associated conditions. Other related claims occur when a professional doesn’t also identify potential complications that could worsen the disease or when a diagnosis is delayed.
Out of every 1,000 births, 7 infants are injured during labor and delivery, and the cause isn’t always medical malpractice. Environmental, social, and genetic risk factors can all affect the likelihood of a healthy birth. At the same time, 40% of birth injury claims resulted from poor labor and delivery management.
Common types of birth injury claims are:
- Failing to prepare for birth complications.
- Not treating health conditions during pregnancy.
- Improper use of medical equipment during checkups, labor, and birth.
- Not ordering a C-section when one is necessary.
- Negligence in caring for the mother or the baby post-birth.
- Delayed response to fetal distress symptoms.
Treatment and medication errors
Treatment and medication error claims arise when a professional prescribes the wrong solution for an ailment. A “wrong” treatment or medication can mean a few different things. A prescribed treatment may be outdated, a wrong medication can cause adverse effects, or treatment may be delayed or not offered at all.
Additional examples of these types of errors include:
It’s important to note that treatment or medical errors differ from ineffectual treatments. In some cases, the treatment prescribed may be correct, but it may not be as effective as desired.
An action or negligence that causes death can give rise to a wrongful death claim. There are several ways a wrongful death claim may arise.
For example, if a health care professional uses a defective medical device, especially after warnings and recalls have been announced, they may become liable in a medical malpractice lawsuit. Prescribing medication that aggravates a known condition and causes death is another potential trigger for a wrongful death claim.
Examples of recent medical malpractice claims
To better understand claims health care professionals may face, let’s review some recent cases:
- An Arizona jury awarded a $6.3 million verdict against Banner Health for negligent care when its emergency department physicians failed to timely diagnose and treat a patient’s vertebral artery dissection. As a result, the patient suffered a stroke and became permanently disabled.
- A court in Colorado ordered a doctor to pay $1,000,000 to a patient, citing medical battery. According to the patient, their doctor performed an invasive surgery without their consent, resulting in adverse effects.
- A family in Nevada is suing for $30,000 in damages from a doctor who allegedly prescribed hydroxychloroquine as a COVID-19 treatment, resulting in a patient’s death. Furthermore, since the doctor-patient relationship centers around a telehealth appointment, no physical exam was performed.
- In Utah, a father of a deceased teen is suing a therapeutic boarding school for medical negligence. The institution allegedly failed to diagnose and treat his daughter, leading to her death. While the case is still active, the court documents suggest the plaintiff is seeking $75,000 before interest and other costs.
How to avoid a malpractice lawsuit
Malpractice lawsuits are both expensive and emotionally taxing for health care professionals who strive to do their best for their patients. And while you can’t predict honest mistakes and accidents, it is possible to reduce potential risks.
The following tips may help avoid malpractice allegations or support your case in the event of a claim:
- Maintain detailed documentation.
- Communicate clearly with patients and their families.
- Obtain informed consent before performing any procedure or treatment.
- Don’t over-promise results.
- Ask for help if you need it.
- Hire administrative professionals so running your practice does not detract from treating patients.
- Review standards of care regularly.
Why choosing the right medical malpractice insurance matters
Most states don’t require you to purchase medical insurance, but the lack of a malpractice policy can directly impact your employment. Malpractice insurance is required for hospital privileges, employment, and payer contracts. In addition, a malpractice policy protects you, your assets, and your reputation.
But it’s not just about the policy. If you ever need to use your malpractice insurance, you will need your carrier to have your back. This is why it’s important to choose a carrier that you can depend on to be there when it matters most.
At MICA, we have focused on offering medical malpractice protection for over 45 years with a claims-made policy. We believe that prevention is better than the cure. That’s why we take a collaborative approach to both handling claims and providing risk management education to our insureds.
Our experienced claim team is there to support and defend our members every step of the way when the unexpected occurs. MICA has received 93% of verdicts in favor of the defense in the last 5 years. Our policy contains a “consent to settle” provision without a hammer clause. In other words, if you want to go to trial over settling, we will support that decision.
Request a free personalized quote to see if we’re the right fit for your practice.