Medical malpractice cases involve allegations that a health care provider violated the governing standard of care while treating a patient, resulting in an injury to the patient. The harm from medical malpractice can result from either an action taken by the health care provider, or by omission, the failure to take a medically appropriate action.
A medical malpractice case may be pursued by an injured patient against any licensed health care provider, including a medical doctor, nurse, physical therapist, and mental health care professional.
Medical malpractice actions are normally based upon the theory of negligence, alleging that a medical professional violated a duty of care to a patient, resulting in an injury to the patient. Examples of medical malpractice include,
Failure to diagnose a medical condition or disease,
Misdiagnosis of a medical condition or disease,
Failure to provide medically appropriate treatment,
An unreasonable delay in the start of treatment for a diagnosed medical condition or disease;
Mistakes in the prescription or dosing of medication.
Medical malpractice cases may also result from the assertion that a patient did not give informed consent for a medical procedure, with the patient alleging that the procedure involved a material risk that was not properly disclosed by the physician, and that the patient would not have agreed to the procedure had the patient been aware of the risk. The proper performance of a medical procedure is not a defense to an informed consent action. While an informed consent case can potentially be based on an allegation of battery, in general the allegation will be that the outcome of the medical treatment was different than it would have been had the patient been able to make an informed choice.
Informed consent claims can also arise based upon changes to a course of treatment or surgery made after consent was given. In some contexts obtaining the patient's consent is not necessary, For example, in trauma care or cases involving a patient with a mental health problem it may not be possible to obtain consent prior to the commencement of medical treatment, or consent must be obtained from a third party such as a guardian, spouse or parent.
Damages in medical malpractice cases normally take the form of economic damages such as wage loss, the cost of medical care, and other out-of-pocket expenses, and non-economic damages for pain and suffering resulting from the injury. In rare cases, the level of misconduct may rise to the level that a victim of malpractice can recover punitive damages against the defendant.
Idaho caps non-economic (pain and suffering) damages at $250,000, adjusted annually for inflation. The cap does not apply to willful or reckless negligence, or to acts that constitute criminal felonies.
Joint and Several Liability
When more than one defendant is sued, under joint and several liability each defendant may be required to pay the full amount of the verdict. This policy helps ensure that a malpractice victim will be fully compensated even if one of the defendants has insufficient funds or insurance. Idaho follows a modified rule for joint and several liability, under which defendants are liable for damages in proportion to their percentage of fault for the damages awarded. However, joint and several damages may still be awarded in cases where the defendants were acting in concert or when a defendant was acting as an agent or servant of another party to the lawsuit.
The Collateral Source Rule
Under the traditional collateral source rule, payments received by the malpractice victim from third parties such as medical insurance companies would not be considered in the calculation of damages. Idaho has abolished the collateral source rule, such that a defendant can normally be held liable only for damages that remain after collateral source payments are taken into account. Evidence af the amount paid by insurance companies may submitted to the jury for the purpose of determining the reasonable value of medical services received by the plaintiff.
The statute of limitations limits the amount of time a person alleging medical malpractice has to file a lawsuit against health care providers. In Idaho, the normal statute of limitations for a malpractice claim is two years from injury. Where the claim arises from a foreign object left in a patient's body, the statute of limitations is one year from reasonable discovery or two years from the date of injury, whichever is later. For injuries to minors, the claim must be brought within six years of the date of the act or omission alleged to have caused the injury, or within two years of the minor's eighteenth birthday, whichever occurs sooner.
Additional rules affecting malpractice litigation in the State of Idaho include:
Pretrial Screening of Malpractice Cases
Before a medical malpractice case may be filed, Idaho requires that the case go through prelitigation screening through a system managed by the Idaho State Board of Medicine. The screening process is informal in nature, and the result is nonbinding. At least one panel member must be a licensed attorney, and the panel must include at least one licensed physician. For claims against hospitals, the panel must include at least one additional member who at the time of the screening is serving administrator of a licensed acute care general hospital within the state of Idaho. The members of the panel must select by unanimous decision a layperson panelist, an adult citizen of Idaho who is not a lawyer, doctor or hospital employee.
At the conclusion of the process the panel must prepare a unanimous report, or majority and minority reports, and the reports must include findings on the merits of the dispute. If the panel is unanimous in its findings in relation to an amount of damages that should be awarded to a claimaint, they may advise the parties and certain other affected entities of that finding.
Medical Expert Witness Restrictions
Expert testimony is required to be submitted in malpractice claims alleging injury as a result of the provision of or failure to provide health care services, or any matter incidental or related to such a claim. An expert's testimony is admissible only if a proper foundation is laid, including establishment that the expert witness possesses professional knowledge and expertise coupled with actual knowledge of the community standard applicable to the claim to which the expert opinion testimony is addressed.
An apology law prevents a plaintiff from using an apologetic or concilatory statement made by a defendant as evidence of the defendant's liability. Idaho has a broad rule that excludes from evidence in a malpractice case any statements, affirmations, gestures or conduct expressing apology, sympathy, commiseration, condolence, compassion, or a general sense of benevolence, including any accompanying explanation. However, a statement of fault that is otherwise admissible remains admissible, even if made within an excludable statement of apology.
If you believe that you have been injured by medical malpractice, a lawyer can help you by reviewing the facts and medical records of your case to determine if you have a viable case under the laws of your state. Medical malpractice cases are complex, and are very costly to litigate. Medical malpractice lawyers working on contingency fees will advance the cost of litigation, recovering those costs from the eventual verdict or settlement. A malpractice lawyer should be aware of changes in the law, and can help you avoid missing a filing deadline.