The Reinartz Law Firm represents victims of medical malpractice throughout New Jersey. Medical malpractice occurs when a healthcare professional deviates from the accepted standard of care for their profession and, in doing so, causes harm to a patient. When this happens, the patient or their family may be able to bring a medical malpractice claim against the wrongdoers who caused the injury, and seek compensation for their damages.
As a medical patient, you have a reasonable expectation that your doctors, nurses and other medical professionals will take care of you. However, sometimes accidents happen during the course of treatment which result in harm to the patient. When medical treatment or a procedure leaves you or a loved one suffering from an injury, infection or even death, you may be able to bring a medical malpractice claim.
What is Medical Malpractice
Medical malpractice occurs when a healthcare or medical provider fails to adhere to an appropriate level of care, and their negligence causes harm to the patient. In these cases, the harm caused by the medical provider can manifest as an injury, disability, impairment, economic loss, and even death.
Standard of Care
A key term in medical malpractice claims is the “standard of care.” When a medical professional provides medical care or treatment, they must do so with a level of care that has been established and agreed upon by other providers in their field of expertise. Many factors determine the appropriate standard of care in a given situation. The generally accepted practices and procedures of other, similarly situated medical practitioners play a critical role. This requires a review of how other doctors in the same geographical area, with similar credentials and experience, in the same practice area, perform and provide treatment for a comparable patient.
The accepted standard of care must be observed during every phase of a patient’s treatment. This includes initial consultations, testing, diagnosis, surgeries and procedures, prescribing of medication, therapy, disease management, and follow-up care.
In medical malpractice claims, establishing a breach of the standard of care can be difficult because there is no uniform rule to define it. The patient’s health, age, condition, ailment, and prognosis are just a few of the factors that also affect the standard of care that should have been followed.
What is Needed to Prove Medical Malpractice?
To prove a New Jersey medical malpractice claim, the injured patient (plaintiff) must demonstrate the following:
- A medical provider-patient relationship existed, creating a duty of care by the provider for the patient;
- The medical provider (defendant) deviated from the applicable standard of care, demonstrating negligence;
- This deviation caused the plaintiff’s injuries and/or illness; and
- The plaintiff suffered damages, as in a compensable injury.
Schueler v. Strelinger, 43 N.J. 330, 344 (1964); Rosenberg v. Tavorath, 352 N.J. Super. 385 at 399-400 (App. Div. 2002).
There are many laws that apply to medical malpractice claims, but generally there are four factors that must be proven to sustain a claim in the courts.
First, it must be shown that the healthcare professional owed that patient a duty of care. This means that there must have existed a relationship where it was understood and accepted that the medical professional would provide medical care and treatment to the patient.
Second, it must be proven that the medical or healthcare professional breached the duty of care owed to the patient. This requires that the injured patient show the medical professional deviated from the accepted standard of care for their profession in treating the patient. The standard of care will vary case-to-case based a number of factors including, but not limited to, the medical professional’s area of specialty, the patient’s medical condition, the specific type of procedure or treatment at issue, the patient’s age, general health, past medical history, etc. The applicable standard of care is frequently disputed in medical malpractice matters, and typically requires the testimony of one or more qualified expert witnesses to establish.
Third, it must be shown that the medical professional’s breach of the duty of care was the proximate cause of the patient’s injury. In some instances, patients have pre-existing conditions that are the source of their pain. Other times, intervening factors, unforeseen complications and known risks associated with surgery may be the cause of a patient’s symptoms. Thus, in a medical malpractice case, the injured patient must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the medical professional’s breach of the duty of care was the proximate cause, or a “substantial factor,” in bringing about their injury.
Finally, it must be shown that the injured patient suffered damages. Damages in these cases may be economic and non-economic. Economic damages typically include bills for medical treatment, out-of-pocket costs, lost wages and the cost of future care, among others. Non-ecomonic damages may include pain, suffering, disability, impairment and loss of the enjoyment of life. Each of these is a separate, compensable category of damages which must be affirmatively proven by the injured patient.
These claims are typically challenging and lengthy, and involve the analysis of complex facts. Because of this, the services of expert witnesses are essential. In fact, New Jersey medical malpractice law actually requires that a plaintiff rely on analysis from an expert witness analysis at the start of a case.
New Jersey law requires a supportive opinion from a medical professional at the outset of a case establishing the appearance of a deviation from the standard of care. In this “Affidavit of Merit,” a qualified healthcare provider must attest that it appears that the defendant deviated from the required standard of care, based on available medical treatment records. The Affidavit of Merit must be filed within 60 days of the filing of defendant’s Answer to the Complaint.
New Jersey statute of limitations for medical malpractice claims is generally two years. This means that you must file your lawsuit within two years of the date of your injury.
Pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2A:14-21, if the injured person is a minor, the 2-year period doesn’t start to run until they reach the age of 18. For injuries sustained at birth, complaints must be filed before the injured child’s 13th birthday.
In other cases, the statute of limitations may be extended. Under the “discovery rule,” where an injury or harm is not immediately apparent, the 2-year statute of limitations may not begin to run until the time that the patient discovers the injury, or reasonably should have discovered that they were injured.
Medical Malpractice Damages
You may be entitled to compensation if you successfully prove a medical malpractice claim. These monetary awards compensate you for the damages you have suffered. You may be entitled to both economic damages as well as non-economic damages for pain, suffering, disability, impairment and loss of enjoyment of life.
In certain situations, you may be entitled to punitive damages. These damages are rare, but can be awarded if a healthcare provider engaged in extraordinarily reckless or intentional behavior. N.J.S.A. 2A:15-5.14 caps punitive damage amounts at $350,000 or five times the amount of the compensatory damages, whichever is greater.
Medical negligence is generally attributed to the professionals responsible for a patient’s diagnosis, medication, medical care and/or treatment. Commonly, that includes doctors, nurses, radiologists, anesthesiologists, and pharmacists. It can also include others.
Managed care organizations, medical corporations, clinics, and hospitals may also be sued for the actions of their employees. If more than one party is responsible, you can bring a claim against all responsible parties.
Types of Medical Malpractice
Medical malpractice may happen in a variety of healthcare settings, from your primary care physician’s office to the hospital’s operating room. Likewise, there are many different ways that malpractice and medical negligence can occur. The following are a few of the more common types and causes of medical malpractice.
- Failure to diagnose
- Delayed Diagnosis
- Failure to Refer
Nursing Home Negligence
- Prescription drug errors
- Inadequate staffing
- Insufficient training
- Operating on the wrong site
- Operating on the wrong patient
- Leaving surgical equipment inside the patient
- Poor preoperative preparation and planning
Errors Related to Anesthesia
- Too much anesthesia
- Not enough anesthesia
- Inadequate patient monitoring during anesthesia
Obstetrical and Delivery Errors
- Prenatal Care Negligence
- Birth Injuries
- Wrong dosage
- Issuing the wrong medication
- Ignoring/missing medication allergies
- Negligent side effect warnings
- Dangerous medication interactions
- Post-surgery infections
- Negligent germ transmission by staff
- Flawed antibiotic use
Reckless behavior by the Medical Provider
- Drug or alcohol use
Emergency Room Oversights
- Insufficient patient history practices
- Poor doctor oversight
Urgent Care Clinic Errors
- Staffing issues
- Inadequate training
- Insufficient emergency preparedness
- Bad diagnostic equipment
Outpatient Clinic/Ambulatory Care Center Problems
- Premature discharge
- Staff inexperience
- Performing a surgery that should be an in-patient procedure
Orthopedic Medical Malpractice
- Defective surgical implants
- Improper implant placement
- Dirty musculoskeletal allografts
- Documentation issues
- Bad charting
- Poor Communication
What Medical Malpractice Is Not
Dealing with impolite or rude healthcare professionals is frustrating. An bad outcome, adverse reaction, being unresponsive to treatment, or suffering a failed surgical procedure is unfortunate. A missed diagnosis in the ER can lead to a worsened condition. And death after medical treatment is tragic. But these situations and events are not always indicative of medical malpractice.
Even errors by your medical team may not be malpractice. Medical providers aren’t infallible. They’re human and they make mistakes. Further, their are various known risks associated with certain medical treatments. It’s when an injury is caused by a deviation from the standard care that malpractice may be an issue.
How Medical Malpractice Attorneys Can Help
An experienced medical malpractice lawyer can review the facts of your matter, identify relevant issues, and prepare and pursue a viable case. A lawyer can take the legal burden off of you by obtaining complete sets of medical records from all necessary providers in an efficient and cost-effective manner, and then provide them to one or more qualified expert witnesses to review the case. If the reviewing expert finds a basis for a claim, the medical malpractice lawyer can then file and pursue the case in court.
In New Jersey, there are a number of special rules that apply in medical malpractice matters. There are strict limits on the time in which a medical malpractice lawsuit may be filed. There are also certain requirements that must be met at the outset of a case, including the filing of an Affidavit of Merit from a qualified professional. The Affidavit of Merit is a sworn statement by a qualified professional stating that, at first blush, it appears there was a deviation from the accepted standard of care. Without such an affidavit, or affidavits, where there are defendants in multiple medical specialties, the injured patient’s case may be dismissed.
At The Reinartz Law Firm, we have the experience and resources to pursue justice for injured victims of medical malpractice. Cases accepted by the firm are thoroughly reviewed, all medical records are obtained at the outset of the client’s retention, and the case is reviewed by one or more qualified medical professionals. Further, all lawsuits filed in court are prepared as if they will go to trial since this is the only way to maximize the client’s claim.
What to Expect When You File a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit
Once a medical malpractice lawsuit is filed in court, litigants should be prepared to participate in the prosecution of the case. Although the medical malpractice lawyer will generally do most of the work, litigants will nonetheless need to meet with their lawyer to sign various authorizations for medical records and to review case documents and written discovery. Additionally, litigants will need to attend a deposition, where they will be questioned by the defendants under oath, and attend one or more independent medical examinations by doctors who will offer testimony in the case on the nature and extent of the injuries. Finally, if there is no pre-trial settlement, the injured patient will need to attend the trial of their case in court and provide testimony on various issues.
Without the assistance of a lawyer, victims of malpractice would be at a severe disadvantage in court proceedings. A lawyer can help level the playing field, guide you through the legal process, and protect the integrity of your case against attempts to have it dismissed by defense lawyers.
Medical Malpractice Laws in New Jersey
Medical malpractice cases are complex matters and the law surrounding these claims is constantly evolving and being interpreted by the courts. In particular, these cases typically require the testimony of one or more expert witnesses to support the claims of the injured plaintiff. Experts can range from medical doctors and nurses to economists, vocational experts, pain management specialists, and more. Expert witnesses offer testimony on various issues, including the applicable duty of care owed to the patient, breach of the duty by defendants, causation, and damages.
No two cases are factually identical, thus each case requires an individualized review and retention of necessary expert witnesses to support the claims. Damages that are recoverable in these cases may include money damages for pain and suffering, medical bills, lost wages, the cost for continuing treatment, and others. New Jersey medical malpractice claims typically have a two-year statute of limitations, so it’s important that you don’t wait too long to contact an experienced New Jersey medical malpractice lawyer regarding your claim.
Committed to You
Rich Reinartz, Esq. is proud to represent wrongfully injured victims of medical malpractice. At the Reinartz Law Firm, we handle a variety of medical malpractice matters including, but not limited to, cases involving:
- Birth Injuries
- Prescription Errors
- Surgical Errors
- Neglect and Abuse Claims
- Medication Issues
Contact The Reinartz Law Firm Today.
Medical malpractice can be difficult to detect. Were your injuries the result of expected risk factors that were unavoidable? Or are you suffering due to the negligence of one or more medical professionals who were charged with your care? The vast majority of doctors are good people, but sometimes mistakes happen.
Do not delay in contacting an experienced lawyer to seek help with a medical malpractice claim. We work on a contingency basis, which means we will review your case at no cost to you and we only get paid when we obtain compensation for you. The window to file a medical malpractice lawsuit is a short one, considering the statute of limitations and the time it takes to obtain medical records and research your case.
Contact the Reinartz Law Firm today to discuss your medical malpractice claim. Our lawyers are available to provide you with a free consultation.