Medical malpractice claims are a type of lawsuit that can be brought against a medical provider or medical facility who has fallen below the accepted standards of health care in the course of treatment and, thus, has caused harm or injury to a patient. These claims are very complex in nature and range vastly in variety. Typically, they involve negligence on the part of a medical provider. A claim may be brought against multiple defendants including a doctor, nurse, pharmacist, or other medical provider and the hospital or medical facility that employs them. In this blog, we’ll discuss the most common types of medical malpractices claims in Canada, including:
- Birth Injuries
- Misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis
- Surgical errors
- Failure to obtain informed consent
- Hospital errors
- Prescription errors
Common Medical Malpractice Claims
Families expecting a child place a significant amount of trust in medical specialists like obstetricians, gynecologists, or midwives. The expectation is that they provide proper medical care for the expecting mother and her baby throughout pregnancy and during labour. If these specialists fail to provide the proper standard of medical care, serious birth or maternal injuries may occur. A child who is injured during birth can face monumental challenges throughout their life. These injuries can be devastating for a family. Trauma that occurs during birth may be the result of an error in the delivery room or during the course of prenatal care. The causes of birth injuries vary and may include failures, errors, or delays, like:
- No prenatal screening
- No diagnosis or treatment of a maternal infection
- No monitoring of a fetal heart rate
- No monitoring of the mother for dangerous conditions like preeclampsia
- Improper administration of medications like Oxytocin (a medication that induces labour)
- Improper use of forceps or vacuum extractors during delivery
- Delayed vaginal delivery
- Delayed cesarean section (C-section) when medically necessary
The resulting birth injuries from these errors can be serious and affect the child for a lifetime. Birth injuries that may occur as a result of these errors include:
- Cerebral palsy: Cerebral palsy affects a child’s mobility, coordination, communication, and cognition. Often, lifetime support for the child is necessary.
- Shoulder dystocia or brachial plexus: This injury occurs when the baby’s shoulder becomes stuck in the birth canal and the medical provider fails to free the shoulder through specialized manoeuvres or applies too much force during extraction. As a result, the nerves can be damaged, which may result in Erb’s palsy (paralysis and dysfunction of the arm) or Klumpke’s palsy (paralysis and dysfunction of the hand).
- Bone fractures: Broken or fractured bones in the skull, neck, back, arms, legs, or other areas can result in serious impairments if they are not quickly diagnosed and treated.
- Oxygen deprivation: Timely deliveries are crucial, especially if the baby is in distress. If an error or delay occurs during delivery, the baby may have a prolonged period where they experience a lack of oxygen. This may have serious consequences and cause brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, or death.
- Facial paralysis: If a child’s nerves in the face are damaged or injured during delivery, this may result in a loss of control or function in their face. Depending on where the injury occurred and which nerves were damaged, the paralysis may affect the mouth, eyes, nose, or an entire section of the face.
- Cephalohematoma: This is an accumulation of blood under the scalp and generally forms when blood vessels located between the skull and scalp are ruptured during birth as a result of trauma. This injury increases the risk of anemia and jaundice which can cause other serious health risks to a baby.
- Caput succedaneum: This injury presents as an elongated appearance of a newborn’s skull and sometimes occurs after a long and difficult labour. While it typically resolves on its own, it can be a risk factor for jaundice and anemia, as with cephalohematoma.
Misdiagnosis or Delayed Diagnosis
There exists an innate trust between a doctor and their patient. That trust means that many patients accept a doctor’s diagnosis without question. We trust that a doctor provides an accurate diagnosis so that we can recover quickly or effectively treat a health condition. Accurate diagnoses are at the core of quality healthcare. However, if that diagnosis is delayed or incorrect, the patient could experience serious repercussions and face lasting consequences.
A variety of different errors can result in misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis. These may include:
- Failure to review the patient’s full medical and family history
- Failure to order the proper tests for screening or evaluation
- Misreading or overlooking critical information in test results like bloodwork, imaging tests, cardiac testing, or pulmonary function testing
- Incorrect reporting of test results
- Failure to refer the patient to a specialist
- Failure to follow up with a patient
- Failure to order X-rays, MRI, CT scan, and other imaging
If a patient’s correct diagnosis is delayed because the medical provider fails to recognize symptoms in a timely manner, the patient may experience a worsening of symptoms or catastrophic system failures. In these instances, it’s imperative to prove that if the diagnosis had not been delayed, the patient would not have suffered harm, injury, or death. These types of medical malpractices claims require that the plaintiff demonstrate that the delayed diagnosis caused or directly contributed to a patient’s injury or death.
Doctors may misdiagnose or delay an appropriate diagnosis for many types of acute or chronic injuries or illnesses. Common conditions in missed or delayed diagnosis cases include:
- Heart attacks: Patients suffering from a heart attack who are sent home from a medical facility without being properly evaluated can experience serious issues as a result, including death.
- Cancer: If a diagnostic error occurs when evaluating a patient with cancer, they may require more invasive treatment as a result of a disease that advanced or spread.
- Acute conditions like an appendicitis: If a patient with an acute condition experiences a delayed or misdiagnosis, they could face serious complications like infections that require more extensive medical treatment or intervention.
The prospect of invasive surgery can be scary for anyone. You are required to put your faith in a medical team and trust that they will perform their duties to the highest standard of medical care. Unfortunately, surgical errors are one of the most common types of medical malpractice.
Malpractice claims involving surgical errors are most often related to issues like:
- Lack of or poor explanation of the risks of surgery
- Wrong-site surgeries where the wrong part of the body is operated on
- Wrong-procedure surgeries where the wrong operation is performed
- Wrong-patient surgery
- Unnecessary surgery where the patient doesn’t need the surgery performed
- Failure to remove all surgical equipment from inside the patient
- Damaging organs, tissue, or bones during surgery
- Errors involving the anesthesia administered
- Errors related to the post-surgical monitoring of a patient
Failure to Obtain Informed Consent
Before a doctor or medical team can begin a procedure or provide treatment, they must obtain permission from the patient or appropriate representative. This is called informed consent. The only instances where informed consent may not be required are in emergency cases. Informed consent is only achieved when the patient or representative (if the patient is a child or otherwise unable to provide informed consent) is provided with complete information about the procedure or treatment to be rendered, including details like:
- Why it is required
- What the expected recovery time will be
- The benefits or resolutions expected
- Any alternative treatments or procedures available
- All possible risks, complications, and side effects that may occur during or after the procedure
- Any consequences the patient may experience if they do not receive the treatment or select an alternative treatment
The doctor or medical professional can assume the patient has the capacity to receive and interpret the information given about the procedure unless there is a reason to believe they do not have the capacity to do so.
The information the medical provider gives must also be correct, impartial, and unbiased. If incorrect or inaccurate information is given, informed consent has not been obtained.
If a medical provider does not obtain adequate informed consent, that could constitute negligence, and they could be responsible for any negative outcomes.
Hospitals and other medical facilities, especially those located in major metropolitan areas, provide medical service to large numbers of patients on a daily basis. Every single person who is employed by the hospital is responsible for providing a high standard of medical care to each patient serviced by the hospital. Hospitals and other medical facilities put in place tested policies and procedures that are designed to minimize or eliminate errors that could result in unnecessarily negative outcomes. If an employee fails to perform their duties, the administrators of the hospital may be liable in a medical malpractice claim.
When hospital employees don’t adhere to the established procedures or fail to communicate to the medical team effectively, patients suffer. As a result, serious errors may occur, including:
- Emergency room errors: Prompt, accurate decision-making of the medical team is vital for treating patients who have been brought to the emergency room. Errors like failing to properly prioritize patients, missing or delaying a critical diagnosis, and failure to monitor patients in the facility may constitute a medical malpractice claim.
- Nursing malpractice: Nurses are important members of a medical team and perform a variety of vital tasks in caring for hospital patients. If they fail to uphold the standard of care by failing to communicate or follow standard procedures, they could seriously endanger a hospital patient.
- Defective or broken equipment: When a hospital or medical facility uses equipment that doesn’t work, serious consequences can occur. It is the duty of hospital workers to properly maintain equipment and stop using defective equipment. If defective or broken equipment causes harm to a patient, the manufacturer of the equipment may also be liable.
- Falls in hospitals: The grounds, floors, and corridors of hospitals and other medical facilities should be clear to allow patients, families, and staff to move about safely. If conditions are not ideal for clear paths and movement and a fall occurs, that could be very dangerous, especially to a patient.
These errors can result in a wide variety of issues, including death.
Prescription drugs are powerful and intended to effectively treat diseases and ailments. However, if improperly administered, they can be dangerous and cause lasting injury, disability, or even death. If a doctor fails to order the correct medicine for a patient, or the pharmacist fills the wrong prescription or the incorrect dosage, patients may suffer serious adverse reactions.
Common reasons prescription errors occur include:
- Failure to review all the necessary paperwork
- Inadequate communication between medical providers
- Staff members who are inadequately trained
- Staff members who are too tired to properly perform their duties
- Insufficient staff
- Improper labelling of prescriptions
- Giving a prescribed drug to the wrong patient
- Illegible handwriting on a prescription
- Inadequate or incomplete supervision
If a medication is not properly administered, a patient may experience:
- An allergic reaction
- Unintended side effects that may be diagnosed as a new ailment
- Unhealthy medication interaction
- Lack of intended treatment for the disease or ailment
- Longer than necessary duration of hospitalization
What to Do If You Think You Have a Medical Malpractice Claim
Regardless of what type of malpractice you experience, the results can be devastating and far-reaching. At Klein Lawyers, we understand that the complications and aftermath you face may feel monumental. The damage you experienced has the power to change the course of your life. In many cases, medical negligence is preventable, which makes its reality all the more infuriating.
We are experienced lawyers, and we know how to hold accountable medical professionals who fail to provide the proper standard of care. Why does experience matter? Because while some medical errors are obvious, as is the case with wrong-site surgeries, others are much more difficult to identify and even harder to prove in a court of law. Many claims may not be apparent until years after the instance of malpractice. Without tough, experienced lawyers on your side, you risk not obtaining the compensation you may justly deserve. The medical field is incredibly complex, and malpractice claims prove that. In addition, many instances of medical negligence aren’t reported.
The team at Klein Lawyers is here to help you and your family recover the compensation you deserve for the losses caused by medical malpractice. Our law firm has extensive experience handling complex litigation, and we will draw upon our knowledge, resources, access to experts, and determination to build a claim for damages on your behalf. If you suspect that you or a family member suffered harm as a result of medical malpractice, we can help. For more than 20 years, our team has been advocating on behalf of clients in a wide range of complex legal matters. Contact us today for a free consultation about your medical malpractice claim.