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Medical Malpractice May Now Be the Third Leading Cause of Death in the United States

May 17, 2016

We rely on doctors and healthcare workers to provide us with quality medical care. In fact, most of us place considerable trust on medical professionals and anticipate that if we ever become seriously ill, a physician will be able to properly diagnose and treat us. Most of the time, we are correct in trusting in our medical professionals. However, evidence is emerging daily as to the commonality of medical malpractice. Surgical errors, misdiagnoses, birth injuries, and more cause the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people annually.

At Montlick and Associates, Attorneys at Law, we understand the seriousness of a medical malpractice injury and fight to see that our clients obtain the compensation they deserve. Accordingly, the following is a look at some important medical malpractice facts and information:

Medical Malpractice under Georgia Law

Actions for medical malpractice are defined in O.C.G.A. 9-3-70. The code states that an action for medical malpractice is any claim for damage resulting from death or injury arising out of:

1. Medical, health, dental, or surgical services, diagnosis, treatment, prescription, or care
rendered by a person authorized to perform such services; or
2. Care or service rendered at a hospital, nursing home, clinic, or other similar institution.

Recovery for medical malpractice is further authorized in the Torts provisions within the Georgia Code at O.C.G.A. 51-1-27. This code article states that any person openly practicing surgery or administering medicine for compensation must act with a reasonable degree of care and skill. Any injury resulting from a lack of such care and skill shall be a tort for which recovery is authorized.

The Georgia Code goes on to explain liability for several specific medical care providers, including emergency care personnel, voluntary health care providers, and more. These provisions are complex, and case law additionally forms an important role in defining medical malpractice in the state. A licensed medical malpractice attorney can assist you in gaining a better understanding of the tort of medical malpractice and evaluate whether you have a potential case.

Medical Malpractice May Be a Bigger Problem Than We Originally Thought

While we have all likely heard tales of people waking up during surgery, having objects left inside of them, or even having the wrong body part removed, few of us realize just how serious the problem of medical malpractice has become. A recent study published in the BMJ proposes that medical error is the third leading cause of death in the United States.

The study opens with the premise that medical errors are likely going underreported as a cause of death. The annual list of the most common causes of death in the United States is created by assessing death certificates. However, death certificates rely on assigning an international code for the cause of death. Therefore, causes of death that are not associated with an International Classification of Disease (ICD) will not be included. Medical malpractice is not listed on the ICD and accordingly not included within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) list of top causes of death.

Looking to the scientific literature on medical malpractice, the researchers attempted to place medical error deaths within the CDC's list. The authors found that at least 251,000 individuals are killed by medical errors annually. This makes medical malpractice the third leading cause of death nationally, right behind heart disease and cancer, and above chronic respiratory disease.

By identifying the problem of medical malpractice, we can best address the solution. Currently, medical malpractice is stigmatized, and physicians avoid reporting it whenever possible due to liability concerns. By bringing medical malpractice into the light, safety officials can develop methods to reduce medical negligence and move towards fewer deaths and injuries.

Frequently Asked Questions About Medical Malpractice

Medical malpractice is a complex claim with which many people are largely unfamiliar. Below is a list of questions commonly asked about medical malpractice and what you should do if you believe you or a loved one has received negligent medical care.

What is a medical malpractice claim?

A medical malpractice claim is a claim filed against any healthcare provider, which may include a doctor, hospital, nurse, dentist, technician, or the like, for negligence. Medical negligence under Georgia law is considered medical care that fails to meet the standard of care exhibited by those with similar experience and training. This negligent care must result in harm or death to the patient to be actionable.

Medical malpractice can take many forms. Some of the most common types of medical errors include, among others:

  • Misdiagnosis
  • Surgical errors
  • Objects left inside the patient during surgery
  • Birth injuries
  • Delayed diagnosis
  • Prescription errors
  • Anesthesia errors
  • Unsanitary instruments or operating rooms
  • Lack of informed consent
  • Surgical errors are perhaps the most publicized due to their frequently horrific outcomes. Surgical errors are often the result of:
  • Incompetence — if your surgeon lacks the skill necessary to perform surgery or has not performed the surgery before, you could become the victim of surgical malpractice.
  • Neglect — some surgeons use substandard care and surgical methods. They may fail to properly sanitize the instruments or operating room. Alternatively, they may not act as careful as they should, resulting in critical errors.
  • Fatigue — the medical profession is a demanding one. Surgeons commonly work long hours, and extreme fatigue can cause medical errors.
  • Drugs or alcohol — surgeons are not immune to the temptations of drugs and alcohol and may even use these vices to cope with the stress associated with their job. Accordingly, it goes without saying that a surgeon under the influence can make devastating errors.
  • Insufficient planning — before surgery, physicians and nurses must carefully prepare so that everything goes smoothly. Poor preparation could leave surgeons without the right equipment or flounder without a proper surgical plan in place.

Can I file a medical malpractice claim if I am not satisfied with the medical care I received?

Mere dissatisfaction, without more, will not form the basis for a medical malpractice claim. Rather, you must show that your physician or medical professional failed to meet a reasonable standard of care consistent with that in the industry. You must also demonstrate that you experienced an injury due to the lack of proper care. So if for example, you had a rhinoplasty surgery and you did not like the final look, you probably could not file a medical malpractice claim, without more evidence of actual negligence. On the other hand, if you had a rhinoplasty surgery and you contracted a severe infection that was traced to unsanitary surgical instruments, you may be able to file a medical malpractice claim because using dirty instruments fell below the reasonable standard of care in the industry.

What should I do if I am injured due to medical malpractice?

Medical malpractice can be hard to detect. You may struggle to trace your illnesses or injuries to the medical professional responsible for your care. At times, years will pass before a victims uncovers that he or she has been the victim of medical malpractice. Additionally, underlying illnesses can conceal medical malpractice.

If at any time you suspect that you have been injured due to medical malpractice, speak with a lawyer practicing in this field as soon as possible. You have a limited time within which to bring your medical malpractice action. Georgia law sets out the statute of limitations for these actions in O.C.G.A. 9-3-71. Generally, you will have two years from the date that the medical malpractice related injury or death occurred to bring your action, but several exceptions are set out in O.C.G.A. 9-3-71 to 9-3-74.

However, in cases involving claims against government entities, even shorter deadlines may apply. Alternatively, some cases allow longer time frames, such as when the injured person is a minor. It is also important to note that other types of claims, such as, by way of example, those involving contract matters, can have different applicable time deadlines. Additionally the law can vary from state to state. The longer you wait, however, the more difficult it will become to establish your claim with sufficient evidence. As such, do not delay in seeking legal assistance. Statutes of limitation can be complex to calculate, and your best course of action is to consult with a lawyer as soon as possible who can better assist you promptly.

How can I prove my medical malpractice case?

There are several different pieces of evidence that could prove important to your medical malpractice case. You will likely have to introduce expert testimony to prove negligence because medical malpractice requires a showing that the medical professional failed to meet standards of care in the profession. Another individual in the profession is often the strongest voice to establishing negligence. Medical records will be introduced and could be hotly contended. Witnesses, which may very well be other medical professionals, could testify on your behalf. These are just a few potential avenues for evidence, and your lawyer will assist in gathering the necessary evidence and testimony in your case.

What expenses are involved in a medical malpractice case?

Prosecuting a medical malpractice case can be expensive, but your attorney may cover some or all of the costs depending upon your fee arrangement. Expenses can include depositions, expert witness fees, costs to obtain medical records and more. Most medical malpractice attorneys will accept these cases on a contingency fee basis, which means that you will not have to pay attorney's fees unless your attorney recovers for you. This is critical to many malpractice victims because it allows them to hire the help they need without massive out of pocket expenses.

How a Medical Malpractice Attorney Can Help

Medical malpractice claims are some of the most complicated tort actions. They involve difficult issues of professional responsibilities, standards of negligence, reasonable outcomes, and more. An attorney can handle all of the stressful contacts with insurance companies and others, assist in gathering evidence, and ensure all documents are timely filed. You may need to retain expert witnesses in support of your action, but a lawyer can find these individuals and strive to get their testimony admitted under the rules of evidence. Without extensive experience as to this unique field of law, your case may stall, be dismissed, or ultimately not succeed.

Put Our Law Firm's Over 39 Years of Legal Experience to Work For Your Case!

If you or a loved one may have been the victim of medical malpractice, the Atlanta Medical Malpractice Lawyers at Montlick and Associates, Attorneys at Law, offer the dedicated representation you need. For over 39 years, our firm has represented malpractice and accident victims across Georgia, including but not limited to Albany, Athens, Atlanta, Augusta, Columbus, Gainesville, Macon, Marietta, Rome, Roswell, Savannah, Smyrna, Valdosta, Warner Robins and all smaller cities and rural areas in the state.

No matter where you are located, our attorneys are just a phone call away, and we will even come to you. Call us 24 hours a day/7 days a week for your Free Consultation at 1-800-LAW-NEED (1-800-529-6333). You can also visit us online at and use our Free Case Evaluation Form or 24-hour Live Online Chat.

Please Note:
All information provided by our blogs is general in nature and should not be relied upon as legal advice. Consult a Montlick attorney for details about your unique situation.