You suffer severe trauma to your left arm in a car accident, and are immediately taken to the hospital by an ambulance. You are examined by doctors in the emergency room and it is determined that you will need immediate surgery to stop the bleeding and prevent further injury. After being escorted to the operating room, your surgeon quickly glances at a chart to see the type of procedure he will be performing. When you wake up, you realize that your right arm is missing. Instead of receiving treatment on your left arm, which was clearly damaged, your right arm, which was in perfectly good condition, has been amputated. Prior to surgery, the doctor had carelessly checked a chart and believed you were a different patient, who was later scheduled to have his right arm amputated due to infection. As a construction worker, you no longer have the ability to perform the work you once did.
To win a case based on gross negligence, the same four factors needed to prove a negligence claim must be shown: duty, breach, injury, and damage. However, the breach of duty must have been so egregious that it would have been obvious to anyone, even those not in the healthcare community.
Duty: In this instance, a doctor/patient relationship was established when the surgeon accepted the responsibility to perform your procedure. When this relationship was established, the surgeon had a duty to perform his job in a reasonable and careful manner, as any other surgeon would under similar circumstances.
Breach: The surgeon breached this duty when he acted hastily and failed to take certain pre-surgery steps required and accepted by healthcare professionals. By not closely examining the chart to determine the type of procedure he would be performing, the surgeon committed a breach a duty which was so egregious it would be considered gross negligence.
Injury: As a result of this breach, you had a limb amputated. Additionally, the wounds on your left arm went untreated and became infected, resulting in serious tissue damage.
Damage: You must show that you suffered damages that are compensable. In this case, you may be able to recover compensation for pain and suffering, loss of income, loss of potential future income, and mental anguish.
Just because a patient suffers an injury while under the care and attention of a doctor, it does not automatically mean the individual has a medical malpractice suit against the healthcare professional.
- Prior to surgery, patients are warned of the risks involved in the procedure. The patient must then understand the risks involved and authorize the surgery, despite its risk factors.
- If a patient received follow-up care instructions to the surgery, but fails to closely follow them, and an injury results, they will likely not have a medical malpractice suit.
The physician’s negative act and breach of duty must be the direct cause of the injury for a medical malpractice suit to prevail.