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Medical Malpractice Basics

People who suffer serious injuries, including permanent disabilities, cancer, nerve damage, brain damage, cerebral palsy, surgical complications or death from medical errors should consider having their situation reviewed by an experienced medical malpractice attorney. Before speaking to an attorney, it is helpful to understand some basic information concerning the law and the legal issues involved in bringing medical malpractice cases.

Every medical malpractice case, including those in Pennsylvania, requires that an injured person (the plaintiff) prove four basic criteria. First, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the physician, nurse or other health care provider had a “duty” to the plaintiff. That means that the plaintiff was under the care of the health care provider. This criterion is rarely disputed and is generally easy to prove. Second, the plaintiff must prove, through expert medical testimony, that the health care provider “deviated from the proper standard of care” in his or her treatment. Third, the injured person must prove that the health care provider’s deviation form the standard of care was a “cause” of the plaintiff’s injuries. Finally, the plaintiff must be able to demonstrate that he or she actually suffered injury.

Although the plaintiff has the burden to prove each of the four criteria discussed above, this legal burden is only to a standard of “more likely than not,” which is substantially less than the criminal standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Nevertheless, the plaintiff’s burden of proof means that he or she must hire medical experts who are willing to stard up during trial and publicly testify against their colleagues. These medical experts are expensive and must be hired long before the case ever sees the inside of a court room.

Under the Pennsylvania Medical Availabilty and Reduction of Error Act (MCARE Act), plaintiffs must hire medical experts to review every case and provide a Certificate of Merit within 60 days of filing any medical malpractice case. This Pennsylvania statute enacted in 2002 was designed to reduce the number of frivilous lawsuits, but it also has the effect of increasing the expense of bringing a medical malpractice case. Although virtually all medical malpractice cases are contingency based (meaning that the injured plaintiff only pays an attorney’s fee when there is a settlement or successful verdict), the attorney’s costs of litigating cases are substantial and can often exceed $100,000. Such enormous costs do not include the long hours spent by attorneys and their staff.

Despite the difficulties in proving and winning medical malpractices cases, any situation involving serious injury, including permanent disabilities, cancer, nerve damage, brain damage, cerebral palsy, surgical complications or death should be discussed with a qualified and expereinced medical malpractice attorney. At my law office there is never any charge for a consultation or a phone call with a trial lawyer, who is also an experienced doctor. All cases are handled on a contingency basis, which means there is no cost to the injured person unless money is recovered on their behalf.