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Understanding the elements of Pennsylvania medical malpractice claims

When people suffer harm as a result of their health care provider’s negligence or recklessness, they may choose to take legal action, seeking compensation.

When people in Pennsylvania and elsewhere seek medical treatment, they do not expect their conditions to worsen as a result of their health care providers' actions. Unfortunately, medical mistakes can and do occur, often resulting in additional ailments or worsened conditions for patients. In fact, research shows as many as 251,000 deaths may result from medical errors each year, according to The Washington Post. In order to help protect their rights, it behooves those who have suffered injury while under the care of a health care professional to understand the elements of medical malpractice claims.

What is a standard of care?

It is understandable that physicians cannot always heal or save every patient. However, they are expected to uphold a certain standard of care. Should they breach of violate that standard, it may be considered medical negligence. Patients may choose to take legal action in cases when a breach of the standard of care directly causes in their injuries.

What are the time limits for legal action?

As is the case for other types of legal action, state law specifies a statute of limitations on medical malpractice actions. Patients who suffer injury while under a health care provider's care have two years to file a civil claim. While the countdown begins when the patient discovers the injury or should have reasonably discovered it, there is a seven-year limit on the discovery rule.

What damages can be awarded?

When people file claims for doctor errors, they may be awarded compensation in the form of compensatory or non-economic. Compensatory damages pay patients for their actual costs, such as lost income resulting from taking time off work and medical bills. Non-economic damages are the intangible costs of medical mistakes, like patients' pain and suffering. There is no cap on the amount the court may award in compensatory and non-economic damages.

In some cases, patients may also be awarded punitive damages. This type of damages may serve as a form of punishment for health care providers when their reckless actions resulted in harm to a patient. Unlike other types of damages, the court cannot award a punitive amount that exceeds 200 percent of the compensatory damages awarded. Additionally, 25 percent of any punitive damages that people receive are paid to the state's MCARE Fund rather than to them.

Seeking legal guidance

Even when they seem cut and dry, medical malpractice cases in Pennsylvania may be difficult to navigate. An attorney may help people understand their rights and guide them through the process, including determining whether their injuries or condition were suffered as a result of negligence on the part of their health care provider.

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