Sherman Sizemore went to Raleigh General Hospital on Jan. 19, 2006 for what he thought would be a routine exploratory laparotomy. But what happened in the operating room changed his life forever.
Before the surgery, staff gave Sizemore paralytic drugs. But for the first 16 minutes of the procedure, they neglected to turn on his inhalational anesthesia. That meant that the 73 year-old minister and coal miner was conscious as the surgery began. He was able to feel every incision, and hear the doctor’s every word–but he couldn’t move or cry out for help.
The experience caused Sizemore overwhelming trauma. After surgery, he was a different person. He couldn’t sleep, and he couldn’t bear to be alone. Two weeks after his hospital visit, he took his own life. Later on, his children sued for damages and won. They proved that staff negligence had cost their beloved father his life.
Sizemore’s story may be rare, but doctor negligence isn’t as uncommon as you might think. Medical malpractice is the third leading cause of death in the U.S., behind heart disease and cancer.
Sometimes, patients and their families don’t realize that they can sue a doctor or hospital for negligence. Or, they are unsure how to do so. But there’s no reason to be afraid. Read on to discover valid reasons for suing doctors, and how you can win the settlement you deserve.
Table of Contents
Suing Doctors for Malpractice
First let’s discuss some of the types of mistakes doctors make and the detrimental impact these mistakes can have:
- Your doctor administered the wrong medication
- A doctor misdiagnosed the condition or disease
- Wrongful death (a loved one dies because of medical negligence)
- Harmful errors occurred during surgery
- Doctor didn’t follow “standard of care” during treatment
- Reuse of needles/equipment
This is just the tip of the iceberg. Mistakes happen in so many different ways, each causing their own set of trauma. When a doctor makes a mistake it can cause physical, emotional, and mental anguish. It can also impact relationships, finances, and so much more.
For many victims, suing doctors for compensation can seem unattainable. And we get it. But when you hire a skilled medical malpractice lawyer, you’ll have someone to guide you through the entire process.
A knowledgeable medical malpractice attorney can help you compile the evidence you need for your case. This will likely include medical records, specifics about your treatments (dates, records of mistakes, etc), proof that the physician is at fault, and evidence that you or your loved one was injured because of negligence, or that they didn’t follow the “standard of care.”
Your lawyer will represent you, negotiate on your behalf, and seek the highest level of compensation possible. Oh, and we can’t forget to mention that most medical malpractice lawyers work on a contingency basis. This means that you won’t have to pay any money out of pocket unless you win your case. So no need to worry about finances either!
Reasons To Sue Your Doctor Or Hospital
When doctors commit malpractice, it can be challenging to face them directly. Maybe you’re an exceptionally nice person, and you don’t want to ruin their day. Plus, you’re thinking there’s a good chance your injury was an honest mistake. Nobody does stuff like that on purpose, and Dr. Schmo seems like a professional. Who doesn’t want to give second chances?
But here’s the thing. Dr. Schmo’s intention isn’t the problem, the outcome is. If you were injured because of the doctor’s mistake, you deserve compensation. After all, the doctor’s negligence made you suffer physically, emotionally, mentally or all of the above. Think of it like a money-back guarantee. You didn’t get what you paid an arm and a leg for (hopefully not literally too), so you should “get your money back.”
That’s why doctors have crazy expensive insurance that you ultimately have to pay for as the patient — to give the patients they wronged their “money back,” that is. “Sorry I couldn’t give you the smooth and successful surgery you paid for, here’s $X,XXX,XXX to cover what you paid plus the damages we caused and the years of nightmares, PTSD, and other troubles. If you didn’t get what you paid for, you deserve your money back.
Medical Lawsuits Help Keep Doctors Honest
Let’s say you’ve been visiting your doctor for years. You talk news, politics — they’ve seen your child grow up, maybe you’ve even shared a meal or two together. You don’t want to spoil a personal relationship. Who does? But listen: malpractice is malpractice. Whether or not your doctor is a likable guy is besides the point. If you believe your doctor is your friend, pay attention to how he or she navigates the situation.
If they don’t sweep it under the rug, or try to hide their negligence, and they not only apologize, but insist that you deserve compensation, guess what? That doctor may actually be a friend, since they’re making sure you’re treated properly (at least the second time around). Fact is, making sure you’re compensated for the malpractice isn’t just good for you — it’ll make that doctor a better doctor too.
Holding Doctors Accountable Is Healthy
Many people resist suing for malpractice. Who wants to be the reason their doctor loses their job and respect as a medical professional? First and foremost, if you or a loved one has been injured, the medical professional responsible should be held accountable, or else they may cause the same harm to somebody else. But you should also know, doctors don’t really lose their license to practice because of one incident. Their behavior must go beyond ordinary negligence and into the reckless endangerment and a threat to society category. It usually takes two determinations. In fact, almost all doctors get sued for malpractice at least once during their career.
Now that we’ve covered that, consider yourself. A lawsuit can help cover medical bills, lost wages, and compensation for physical and emotional suffering. Not only that, think about the last time you did something you got in trouble for. Maybe it was a parking fine, or a speeding ticket. Were you less or more careful afterward? The same applies to doctors and other medical professionals. Consequences make you think twice before making the same mistake, and that’s a great thing, for every patient that doctor has in the future. Therefore, it’s critical to hold medical professionals accountable for their actions.
Suing Your Doctor Doesn’t Have To Break the Bank
Are you scared to hire a malpractice lawyer because you think you’ll lose and it’ll break your bank? That’s understandable, but I’ve got some good news for you. Most malpractice lawyers can offer you a free consultation to assess whether your case is viable. This allows you to explore the possibility of a lawsuit without leaping before you look. If a lawsuit isn’t feasible, no harm done. And again, you can work on a contingency fee basis, which means you only pay if you win your case!
If It’s A Small Mistake, Is It Still Malpractice?
Just because your injury doesn’t seem big, doesn’t make it less likely to be a successful lawsuit. An injury is an injury and malpractice is malpractice. A doctor’s negligence — even a seemingly small error — can cause all sorts of unforeseeable future medical issues. Even if your injuries are small, your case should be successful as long as you can prove negligence.
What Kinds of Damages Can You Sue A Doctor For?
You can recover many different types of damages when suing a doctor. These include general damages (for pain and suffering, loss of future income), and special damages (medical bills, loss of past income). Sometimes, victims can recover punitive damages when they prove that their health care providers knew that their actions were harmful.
The amount you are awarded will depend on the specifics of your case. If you believe that you or a loved one are a victim of doctor negligence, contact Hampton & King for a free consultation to discuss your case. Our attorneys will explain the ins and outs of suing a doctor, and use their medical malpractice expertise to help you win the compensation you deserve.
Now that we’ve covered the reasons, let’s address some of the most commonly asked questions about suing doctors.
FAQs About Suing Your Doctor
Do doctors lie to patients, and what do I do if my doctor lies to me?
Sadly, lies are fairly commonplace in the doctor-patient relationship. Many doctors have the tendency to tell only half-truths, minimize problems, or give over simplified explanations, and studies have shown that many outright lie or hide mistakes. If you believe your doctor is lying to you, consider speaking with a medical malpractice lawyer to figure out your options. You may be pleasantly surprised with your rights.
How do I file a lawsuit against a doctor?
The easiest answer to this question? Go straight to the source. Call the best medical malpractice lawyer in your area and find out if you have a case, and what needs to be done if you do. Easy peasy. That said, the first step will be to report the doctor to your state’s medical complaint board. Second, you’ll start the investigation with your lawyer, and then third, file your malpractice suit against the doctor. Here’s our guide to filing a malpractice lawsuit.
Should you sue your doctor?
Yes! Kidding. It depends of course. You have to be able to show that the doctor harmed you (or a loved one) because he or she was incompetent. If they operated on the wrong part of your body, prescribed the wrong medication, or failed to inform you about a significant risk, for example, you probably should sue. To find out if you have a case and should sue your doctor, read this.
How long can you wait to sue a doctor?
Two years is usually the rule for most states, and every state gives you at least one year. You typically have two years from the day the malpractice happened to file. In Texas for example, you’d have at least two years, but in some cases, 6 years.
Why is it so hard to sue a doctor?
One reason it can seem difficult to sue your doctor is because you, as the victim, have to provide the proof, as the doctor is innocent until proven guilty. What many people don’t know (until they experience it), is how much a good medical malpractice lawyer does to help you provide that proof — your attorney should bear the lion’s share of the work.
Can you sue a doctor without a lawyer?
Yes. But there’s a bazillion reasons not to. If you’re interested in this route, there’s nothing wrong with looking into it more, but in most cases, suing your doctor without a lawyer is more or less like building the Rainbow Bridge without an engineer.
Can a doctor just stop treating you?
Yes, technically your doctor can stop treating you for any reason, as long as it’s non-discriminatory. But that said, your doctor has to follow the right protocol. You have the right to walk away whenever you want, but your doctor doesn’t. Your doctor has to take the right steps, and if he or she doesn’t, you may be able to sue them for malpractice.
What to do if a doctor mistreats you?
Doctors exist to serve their patients by treating them — mistreating is the exact opposite of their job. They’re here to serve, not to bully, talk down to, or harm people. So if a doctor mistreats you, they’ve violated their hippocratic oath (“first, do no harm”) and need to be held accountable. If they’re rude, consider tactfully correcting them and reminding them of their duty. If the problem is more severe, like negligence or malpractice, call a medical malpractice attorney to discuss your options, and take action.
Can suing actually be a good thing?
The main benefit of a successful lawsuit is that it’ll help lift financial burdens, but medical malpractice cases serve another great purpose. For one, when patients bring their malpractice cases to court, it holds doctors accountable. Filing a suit teaches doctors to be more careful with their patients, which helps prevent future malpractice. Ideally, that doctor’s future patients won’t have to suffer from malpractice like you had to. Secondly, more doctors held accountable = less malpractice as a nation. You suing your doctor for malpractice contributes significantly to safer hospitals and medical centers across the nation.
Filing a lawsuit can offer you a chance to find peace of mind, help others avoid negligent doctors, and receive the compensation you deserve.
Can you sue a doctor personally?
If your doctor has been negligent with your treatment and/or diagnosis, you can sue the doctor personally, for malpractice. Again, you have to be able to show that your doctor harmed you in a way that a competent doctor wouldn’t have in the same situation.