What Qualifies As Medical Malpractice In North Carolina
Medical Malpractice Claims in North Carolina
If you or a loved one has suffered injuries because of a medical care provider, you may be entitled to receive compensation for your losses by pursuing a medical malpractice suit. However, securing the compensation you need is often no easy task in North Carolina. At Plumides, Romano & Johnson, PC, our personal injury attorneys are skilled negotiators and aggressive
litigators on standby to fight for your rights in medical malpractice claims. We understand just how devastating and frustrating losses due to hospital negligence, a doctor’s errors, and substandard care are, and have the resources to pursue the justice you deserve. Contact PRJ Law as soon as possible for a free consultation.
How long do I have to file something?
In general, the statute of limitations (time limit) for filing a personal injury case is three years from the last act that gave rise to the injury. Under North Carolina General Statute § 1-15, however, there are exceptions to this in medical malpractice cases. Because injury from medical care can take time to present itself, you have up to four years to file as long as it is within one year of when the injury reasonably should have been discovered, or actually was discovered. Another exception is when the injury stems from a foreign object being left in victim (yes, there have been cases of scalpels, clamps and other surgical tools being left inside patients) by medical staff, in which case you have one year from the discovery of the injury but no more than 10 years after the date of the surgery. Finally, if the case involves a wrongful death, you have only two years to file a claim.
What do I have to prove to have a successful claim?
As with any personal injury case, the injured party must be able to show that the offending party was negligent, meaning that they failed to use reasonable care. Medical care providers in particular owe a duty of care to their patients. Dishearteningly common examples of medical malpractice claims include:
- Failure to diagnose (cancer and heart disease are the most common) or misdiagnosis
- Error in the administration of anesthesia
- Prescription error
- Mistake during childbirth that harms the baby or mother
However, just because you suffer an injury while under a medical professional’s care does not necessarily mean that you automatically have a medical malpractice claim against that doctor. Medical malpractice claims are extremely fact-specific, so determining what the standard of care is in your case, whether it was breached, and the other required components for negligence require a personalized evaluation of your case. You must show:
- The medical professional had a standard of care, or duty of care, they owed the injured party;
- The medical professional did not meet that duty;
- The mistake/failure caused the injury; and
- The injury/their negligence caused damage to the injured party
MEDICAL MALPRACTICE CLAIMS
Standard/Duty of Care
Because there are so many different types, specialties and subspecialties of medical professionals, this can be a tricky one. In fact, North Carolina law requires that an expert witness give testimony as to what the standard of care is in each medical malpractice case. Determining the relevant standard of care depends on factors including:
- The specific health issue being treated
- The standards similar members of the same healthcare profession use
- Specifics about the patient’s overall health and age
Failure to Meet the Standard of Care
This part deals with what the healthcare professional did wrong. However, you must be able to show that their actions fell so far below the applicable standard of care that it was negligent.
Doctors, after all, are allowed to make mistakes—but they are not allowed to be negligent.
This is another tricky one. You have to be able to show that the doctor’s breach of care directly contributed to or caused your injuries. You have to show that if it weren’t for the doctor’s actions (or inaction), you would not have suffered injuries.
However, note that the doctor’s breach doesn’t have to be “the” cause—it just has to be “a” cause. Causation is one of the elements that often has to be proven with expert testimony.
As an element, “damages” refers to the injury you suffered that causes you loss and/or harm. However, these damages don’t typically include harm that is caused by your own negligence (for example, if you disregard your aftercare instructions post-surgery).
The word damages also refers to the money you are awarded in court as compensation for your injury. This can include economic damages, damages for pain and suffering, and punitive damages.
- Economic damages are to compensate you for things such as past, present and future lost wages and medical bills. There is no limit in North Carolina on the amount of economic damages one can recover in medical malpractice claims.
- “Non-economic,” or pain and suffering, damages cover things like loss of enjoyment of life, scarring, discomfort, stress and anxiety. The North Carolina legislature acknowledges that these intangible, psychological injuries from the injury itself and continual recovery can be hugely detrimental to a person’s life. Under North Carolina General Statute § 90-21.19, however, there is generally, with certain exceptions, a $500,000 cap on this type of damages in medical malpractice cases.
- Punitive damages serve to punish the healthcare professionals for actions that are egregiously wrongful and to deter others in the field from committing similar wrongful acts. Receiving punitive damages requires that you show that the injuries were caused by the defendant’s fraud, malice, or reckless disregard for the probable outcome of their actions (“willful or wanton conduct”). Punitive damages are limited to either $250,000, or three times the amount of economic and non-economic damages, whichever amount is greater.
Proving all of the elements in a medical malpractice case can be extremely difficult, and requires the help of an experienced personal injury attorney who understands the experts and other evidence required to prove a case. Please contact one of PRJ Law’s personal injury attorneys for a free individualized evaluation of your case and customized plan of attack.