According to study findings released earlier this year in the Journal of Patient Safety, medical errors are claimed to be the third leading cause of death in the United States. The type and circumstances of each case can vary greatly but the impact on patients and their families is always indelible. Sonoma County residents should take caution to understand the basics of medical malpractice in California to protect themselves and understand when it may be appropriate to take action.
What qualifies as medical malpractice?
From a legal standpoint, the lack of providing a level of care that would be considered to be an acceptable standard by any medical facility or individual healthcare practitioner can be defined as medical malpractice. It is essentially breaking professional standards, just as an engineer might break a professional standard in failing to design a strong enough bridge over a freeway where the bridge fails causing injury to drivers on the bridge. In such a situation the engineer wrongfully designing an unstable bridge bears responsibility for the bridge’s collapse.
The essential question is whether any specific care or the lack of certain care was a violation of professional medical standards which resulted in substantial injury or damage to a patient.
How common are medical mistakes in the U.S.?
For many years, the general statistics that were used as the benchmark in such cases indicated that approximately 98,000 people lost their lives every year due to some form of medical negligence or error.
The most recent comprehensive study on the matter, however, dramatically changes that view and asserts that between 210,000 and 400,000 lives are lost annually due to such medical mistakes. The only causes of fatalities with higher death tolls are cancer and heart disease.
Types of medical errors range dramatically and include problems associated with surgeries, birth injuries, failure to diagnose a condition and more.
California’s statute of limitations for medical malpractice cases
The laws governing the statute of limitations on medical errors in California have multiple components with the basic guideline being that malpractice cases must be filed within either three years from the date of injury or one year from the date of discovery. Whichever of these dates comes first is the governing rule. Exceptions to this primary statute include the following:
- Minors six and over when injury occurs have three years to file a case.
- Minors under the age of six when injury occurs must file a suit either within three years or before their eighth birthday, whichever provides a longer time.
- Cases involving birth injuries from labor and delivery must be filed within six years from the date of birth, although there are appellate and supreme court cases that hold that such cases may be brought by the child’s 8th birthday.
- If fraud is found to be involved by any party, the statute of limitations may be extended under very limited circumstances.
- Where a foreign body is left in a person’s body from a surgery, where the foreign body was not therapeutic, then a law suit must be filed within one year from the date of discovery of the foreign object.
There are other exceptions to the statute of limitations deadline, and procedures may be available that may extend the deadline. However an attorney must be contacted regarding potential extensions of the deadline. The law is very complex regarding time limits to commence a lawsuit, so you should only rely on the advice of a lawyer, not on anything that is discussed herein. Also, the law is always changing, so be sure to have an attorney advise you on the present deadlines to file a malpractice lawsuit (or in the Kaiser cases, then instead of a lawsuit, a written demand for arbitration must be sent within the same deadline).
Is Kaiser legally responsible for malpractice, and how can I seek compensation from Kaiser?
Our office, at any one time, has multiple Kaiser cases. Such cases are pursued not by way of filing a lawsuit, but instead by written demand for arbitration with Kaiser under the same deadline. Such cases proceed through an arbitration process where a retired judge or highly experienced lawyer is appointed to hear the evidence and make a decision on awarding money to the claimant or not.
The Teal & Montgomery Office has particular success with Kaiser arbitrations, handling between 20 and 25 Kaiser malpractice cases at any one time. We like the arbitration system, and would be pleased to explain our strategy in that we prefer taking a case through arbitration with Kaiser rather than going through a jury trial with 12 jurors.
When to seek help
Patients or their families should seek legal help early if any medical negligence is suspected. Waiting can lead to missing the deadline and making the wrong decisions, and making statements to health care providers you wish you never had made. It is critical to have early information from an experienced medical malpractice trial lawyer to avoid mistakes. Having the right knowledge and insight from the very outset, instead of guessing at issues and guessing at the applicable law, can make all the difference in a successful medical malpractice case.