Washington, DC Medical Malpractice Law


What is Medical Malpractice

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 Negligence

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.

Informed Consent

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 Washington D.C. Malpractice Cases

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.

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. Washington D.C. applies joint and several liability to compensatory damages. If punitive damages are awarded, the defendants are proportionately liable for the damages according to the percentage of their fault in relation to the punitive damages awarded to the plaintiff.

The Statute of Limitations for Medical Malpractice in Washington D.C.

The statute of limitations limits the amount of time a person alleging medical malpractice has to file a lawsuit against health care providers. In Washington, D.C., a person has three years to pursue a medical malpractice claim, starting from the date the plaintiff knew or with the exercise of due diligence should have known of the injury.

For minors, the statute of limitations for a medical malpractice claim starts to run on the minor's eighteenth birthday.

Additional Rules for Washington D.C. Malpractice Cases

Additional rules affecting malpractice litigation in the District of Columbia include:

Alternative Dispute Resolution

In Washington D.C., the parties to a malpractice case are required to enter into mediation. Mediation is to occur without discovery or, with the agreement of all parties, with limited discovery that will not interfere with the completion of the mediation within thirty days of the initial scheduling and settlement conference. Each party submits a confidential mediation statement summarizing their interpretation of the facts and law, and provides supporting materials they believe will be helpful to the mediator. Mediation proceedings are confidential and, if it is unsuccessful in resolving the case, no party is bound by anyting said or done during the mediation.

Apology Law

For medical malpractice actions brought in the District of Columbia, an expression of sympathy or regret made in writing, orally, or by conduct made by or on behalf of the healthcare provider is inadmissible as an admission of liability. However, this rule does not apply to an actual admission of liability.

Why Consult a Medical Malpractice Lawyer

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.

Copyright © 2016 Aaron Larson, All rights reserved. No portion of this article may be reproduced without the express written permission of the copyright holder. If you use a quotation, excerpt or paraphrase of this article, except as otherwise authorized in writing by the author of the article you must cite this article as a source for your work and include a link back to the original article from any online materials that incorporate or are derived from the content of this article.

This article was last reviewed or amended on Feb 14, 2016.