What constitutes medical malpractice in California?

People who suffer an injury or illness due to medical negligence should know how to identify it and what to do about it.

People make mistakes, there is no doubt about that. However, medical professionals who commit an error can seriously harm someone's life. Increased illness, injury or even death can stem from a health care professional's negligence.

When that occurs, victims in California have the right to file a lawsuit to recover damages. It is imperative to understand what constitutes the act as well as what can be done about it.

Defining medical malpractice

In California, medical negligence occurs when a professional deviates from the standard of care as he or she is treating a patient. These acts can take many forms, such as the following:

  • Misdiagnosing, failing to diagnose or delaying a diagnosis
  • Making a mistake during surgery
  • Providing the wrong medication or wrong dosage
  • Failing to deliver a baby in a timely fashion when the infant is in distress

Each of these mistakes and more could be viewed as medical malpractice. What's more, each can have a devastating impact on the patient.

Time limits

When deciding to file a lawsuit based on medical negligence, people should be aware that there is a statute of limitations. According to the California Courts, victims have the shorter of one year from the either the date they knew or should have known about the injury to file a claim, or three years from the date the incident actually took place. Additionally, state law dictates that when a health provider is going to be sued, the plaintiff must give the entity 90 days' notice prior to initiating the claim.

The law does make an exception when the event concerns a minor patient. Generally, these claims must be filed within three years of the incident. However, if the victim as younger than 6, the claim should be initiated within three years or before the child turns 8, whichever is the longer timeframe.

Damages available

Someone suing for medical malpractice can recover compensation for economic damages, such as bills, time missed from work and the cost of medication. These claims can also account for emotional losses the victim experiences. Lastly, there are punitive damages, which are intended to punish defendants who acted especially negligently. As the Consumer Attorneys of California points out, the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act limits the amount of money a victim can recover for emotional losses to $250,000.

Building a successful claim

There are three basic elements to a successful medical malpractice lawsuit: demonstrating the patient was under the care of the defendant, showing that the defendant strayed from the duty of care and illustrating how that deviation caused the patient harm. In many cases, proving this case will require testimony from another medical professional who works in the same field and with similar patients as the defendant does.

These lawsuits are often a necessary part of ensuring victims can move forward with their lives. People wishing to learn more about this topic should speak with a medical malpractice attorney in California.