Medical malpractice lawyers hear about some of the worst medical procedure outcomes from their clients.
They sit in consultations with individuals who put their trust in the hands of skilled healthcare professionals, only to find themselves the victims of unfortunate incidents or outright negligence.
These kinds of experiences are never easy to hear. However, medical malpractice lawyers have dedicated their lives to helping patients hold healthcare professionals and facilities accountable for their actions.
In this comprehensive guide, we answer some of the most common questions about medical malpractice lawsuits, including:
- What is medical malpractice?
- What is the process for filing a medical malpractice claim?
- What is the medical malpractice statute of limitations?
- Who has the burden of proof in medical malpractice cases?
- What kind of damages can medical malpractice lawyers seek?
- Do all medical malpractice cases go to court?
- How do you find medical malpractice lawyers?
What is medical malpractice?
Medical malpractice is the legal term for harm or injury a medical professional or facility causes to a patient. When their actions or omissions fall below the duty of care expected from the medical community, medical malpractice attorneys can seek fair compensation on your behalf.
You must meet 4 criteria before an incident is considered medical malpractice by the courts in New Mexico:
- Duty of care. Healthcare practitioners must have a legal obligation or duty to provide medical care and treatment to you. This duty is established when a patient-physician relationship forms.
- Breach of duty. Healthcare providers must have failed to meet the standard of care that a reasonably competent and skilled professional in the same field would have provided under similar circumstances.
- Causation. The breach of duty must directly cause the patient’s injury or death. Medical malpractice attorneys must prove that negligent actions or omissions played a substantial role in your negative outcome.
- Damages. Patients must suffer significant harm or damages because of the healthcare provider’s negligence. Physical pain, emotional distress, medical expenses, lost wages, and other losses qualify.
Common examples of medical malpractice
Medical malpractice can take many forms. If you’re not sure whether your situation falls under this category, it’s best to consult with medical malpractice attorneys who can evaluate your case and make recommendations for proceeding.
Some examples of medical malpractice include:
- Medication errors. Medication mistakes can involve prescribing the wrong medication or dosage or failing to consider a patient’s allergies or potential drug interactions. Errors of this magnitude can worsen medical conditions, cause adverse reactions, or even life-threatening complications.
- Misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis. Healthcare providers who fail to accurately diagnose a patient’s medical condition or take too long to discover the issue can delay treatment or prescribe the wrong treatment, causing further harm.
- Surgical errors. Surgical mistakes can include operating on the wrong body part, leaving surgical instruments inside a patient, or making errors in performing the procedure. These types of mistakes cause serious complications, infections, and the need for additional surgeries.
What is the process for filing a medical malpractice claim?
You must follow a specific process for filing a medical malpractice claim in New Mexico. The first and most important step you can take is to consult with an attorney as soon as possible after the incident.
Medical malpractice cases are complex. Seeking the expert counsel of a medical malpractice lawyer can mean the difference between a successful and unsuccessful outcome.
Medical malpractice attorneys evaluate your case to determine if you have a valid claim. Then, they guide you through the rest of the process.
If your attorney validates your medical malpractice claim, the next steps include:
- Gathering supportive evidence such as medical records relating to your treatments. This includes doctor’s notes, initial diagnosis of your condition, imaging scans, and test results.
- Filing the complaint in the appropriate New Mexico court system is the next step. Your attorney handles this part of the case. The defendants are served with your complaint and given a specific timeframe to respond.
- Conducting the discovery phase follows once the defendants respond to your claim. Attorneys for both parties share information and evidence.
- Discussing a possible settlement sometimes happens after the discovery phase, especially if you have a strong case and the defendants want to avoid public embarrassment in the courts. Most medical malpractice cases are settled.
If you’re unable to reach a settlement, then a court date is set and both parties make their arguments before the court.
What is the medical malpractice statute of limitations?
One of the most important reasons to consult with a medical malpractice attorney is to ensure you don’t miss the deadline for filing a claim.
In New Mexico, victims of medical malpractice have three years from the date of the alleged malpractice (or from the date the patient first discovered it) to file their claim.
As with every other aspect of a medical malpractice lawsuit, the statute of limitations is complex. Some exceptions to the rule apply under certain conditions. A qualified medical malpractice attorney can provide the best guidance in these situations.
Who has the burden of proof in medical malpractice cases?
Medical malpractice attorneys must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that their clients have a case. They must demonstrate through ample evidence that the defendant’s actions or omissions rise to the level of negligence or malpractice.
To meet the burden of proof in medical malpractice cases, most New Mexico medical malpractice attorneys rely on the testimony of expert witnesses with relevant experience in the same medical field as the defendant. Experts can establish the appropriate level of care and offer their opinion on whether the defendant’s breach of that care caused your injuries.
Defense attorneys can call on their own expert witnesses to provide a rebuttal or opposing viewpoint that supports their clients.
What kind of damages can medical malpractice lawyers seek?
Medical malpractice attorneys in New Mexico can seek various types of damages for their clients depending on the specific circumstances of the case. Damages aim to compensate you for your losses and harm from medical negligence.
Some examples of the types of damages your attorney may seek include:
- Compensatory damages cover your actual financial losses for things such as future medical treatment, surgeries, therapies, and other related costs. They also cover lost wages for time off to recover and any future lost earning capacity if your injuries caused a permanent disability.
- Punitive damages are rare but intended to further punish a defendant whose actions were so egregious the courts didn’t feel like compensatory damages were enough.
- Wrongful death damages are appropriate if the medical professional’s actions caused the death of the patient. Surviving family members may be entitled to damages to cover funeral expenses, loss of financial support, loss of companionship, and other related losses.
Your attorney can discuss which damages are appropriate to pursue in your case during your initial consultation.
Do all medical malpractice cases go to court?
No. In fact, most medical malpractices cases are settled before they ever see the inside of a courtroom in New Mexico. Going to court is expensive, time-consuming, and can cause undue emotional stress for victims.
Most medical malpractice attorneys understand the value of pursuing a settlement. Attorneys for the plaintiffs often agree because having a medical malpractice case play out in court can draw unwanted attention to their clients.
Settlements are possible at any stage of the medical malpractice claims process. They’re most common after the discovery phase, when defense attorneys have a chance to review the evidence against their clients.
How do you find medical malpractice lawyers?
Medical malpractice lawyers have a specific skillset. It’s important to find an attorney with the right experience and expertise to achieve a favorable outcome in your case.
Ask for recommendations from colleagues, family, and friends. Check out reviews for local medical malpractice attorneys. You also can reach out to the New Mexico Bar Association to request a list of qualified lawyers in your area.
Look for an attorney that provides a free consultation. The initial meeting gives you the opportunity to determine if the lawyer is a good fit for your needs.