Properly illustrating your pain and suffering damages at trial for the jury to understand is essential in order to be adequately compensated for your injuries. As stated above, while juries may have a relatively easy time determining the amount of compensation for economic damages because those are numbers can be seen reflected in medical bills and documented lost wages, they often struggle with placing a monetary value on someone’s pain and suffering because these are admittedly abstract concepts.
It is not easy to get a full picture of the increase in medical malpractice cases in South Africa, as there is no central register. Cases can be settled in court, out of court or via mediation. If matters are settled out of court or via mediation, there is no public record of compensation. However, if all sources of information are collated, it would certainly appear that both the number and levels of claims are increasing, and this is affecting the overall cost of health care in the country, including what you pay for medical scheme cover.
In the private sector, many legal contracts of all kinds stipulate the use of mediation or arbitration in the first instance, so it is quite common. Typically, a retired judge or senior advocate presides over the matter. In mediation, he or she listens to both sides and assists the parties to reach a compromise. In arbitration, the presiding officer can impose a binding decision, and can decide whether compensation is due and if so, how much.
In a handful of states, the court sets (or at least can consider the reasonableness of) the percentage that a plaintiff’s medical malpractice lawyer can receive after a successful case. For example, in Arizona, either party may request that the court review the reasonableness of an attorney fee agreement in a medical malpractice case. And in Tennessee, the court itself sets the amount that the attorney will receive, and the lawyer's "cut" may not exceed 33 and 1/3 percent.
Doctors or healthcare providers are negligent if they fail to provide the standard of care that a reasonable doctor or healthcare provider practicing in the same area would provide in similar circumstances. If the negligence causes injuries or illness to a person, then the doctor or healthcare provider may be liable to pay damages (money to pay for the harm done) to the person. It’s no excuse for a doctor to say, “I did my best. I just didn’t know any better.” If the doctor should have known better, they may be liable. For example, let’s say that you see your doctor because you are not feeling well and your doctor prescribes a drug to treat the symptoms you described. You take the drug and it harms you. It turns out that it was not appropriate, considering your medical history and the other drugs you were already taking. If other doctors with a similar practice would not have prescribed the drug, your doctor may be negligent.
My younger brother died almost 2 years ago. He coded (his heart stopped beating) a couple days after a colostomy procedure. The doctors rushed him into surgery as he was clearly bleeding internally. They didn't find the source of the bleed, but after looking for a while, gave up and closed the surgery anyway. He continued to bleed, which led to two more surgeries, more complications and his eventual death.
For example, the standard of care for an eight-year-old child with a cough who is complaining of chest pain would be different than the standard of care for an 80-year-old man who’s complaining of the same symptoms but has smoked a pack of cigarettes daily for most of adulthood. In the case of the child, a reasonable, competent doctor would probably diagnose and treat the child for bronchitis, but that same doctor would run tests to determine whether the elderly smoker had lung cancer.
I fear misdiagnosis cases a lot. This is particularly because of the statute of limitations and its unforgiving nature in situations like this. Whereas there are exceptions in the statute of limitations for continuing treatment of that condition (which once misdiagnosed, that isn’t the case anymore) and the foreign object discover rule, in misdiagnosis cases these exceptions don’t work. More importantly, if a doctor misdiagnoses the condition, that mistake might not manifest itself until after the statute of limitations expires! Meaning, the patient cannot sue!
According to Joseph’s Incorporated, proof of negligence is decided on the basis of a balance of probabilities. If you want to pursue a case, the onus is on you to prove negligence, as well as damage due to the negligence (see “Burden of proof”, below). Medical experts have to provide relevant, credible, reliable information, as it is certain that opposing lawyers will look for any opportunity to discredit them.
Putting a dollar amount on suffering is difficult for every party involved in a lawsuit. Some attorneys estimate pain and suffering damages using a formula based on the total of the other compensatory damages: compensatory damages x (a number from 3 - 10) – compensatory damages. The number you multiply by depends on the severity of the injury. For example, a minor injury would be a “3,” paralysis would be a “10.”
I was an RN and suffered serious and permanent harm from my cancer surgery. There were many errors, including my waking up during surgery, life-threatening infection, internal sutures that did not dissolve, renal failure, a collapsed lung after hospital discharge, abscesses and wound dehiscence. Years later, I am homebound and unable to work. I would be making $80-100,000/year now or more but am stuck barely above poverty on Social Security Disability. Since I and the various insurances have spent over $2 million for my care, and I do not have enough money to obtain all the care and medications I need, I am very unhappy. I have a potential new abscess now. It is a living horror, and the cancer may return. I am always in pain. No attorney would take my case. Even the failure to diagnose the cancer for years, with facts right there for every doctor I went to with my symptoms, isn't actionable. I am however, alive.
Ways an accident has affected you can be very personal in nature. For instance, an injury victim may have been a member of a bowling league with her spouse for twenty years prior to an accident occurring. They bowled together every Thursday evening with their friends and this weekly ritual became a cornerstone of bonding in their marriage. Following the accident however, the injury victim suffered neck injuries that prevented her from being able to bowl. She begins to feel isolated from her spouse and her friends. Thursday evenings are now spent utilizing heating pads and taking prescription narcotics in attempts to alleviate the pain.
Failure to diagnose and misdiagnosis of an illness or injury are the basis of many medical malpractice lawsuits. Misdiagnosis on its own is not necessarily medical malpractice, and not all diagnostic errors give rise to a successful lawsuit. Even highly experienced and competent doctors make diagnostic errors. Instead, the misdiagnosis or failure to diagnose must result in improper medical care, delayed treatment, or no treatment, which in turn must result in a worsening of the patient's medical condition in order for the malpractice to be actionable.
VII. Negligence cannot be attributed to a doctor so long as he performs his duties with reasonable skill and competence. Merely because the doctor chooses one course of action in preference to the other one available, he would not be liable if the course of action chosen by him was acceptable to the medical profession. VIII. It would not be conducive to the efficiency of the medical profession if no Doctor could administer medicine without a halter round his neck.
Doctor negligence claims can be complex as it can often be difficult to show that the injury or illness you are suffering from has been caused or exacerbated by the negligence of your GP. Your solicitor will arrange for you to be assessed by an independent medical expert who will assess your injuries and/or illness and will advise on whether the symptoms you are experiencing have been caused by the negligent actions (or inactions) of your GP.
In order to take legal action against a medical doctor for malpractice, you cannot just simply file a lawsuit with the court. Rather, you must first send a notice to the doctor, indicating to him or her that you are planning to file a lawsuit for medical malpractice. After filing the notice, there may be a waiting period before the injured patient is eligible to file a lawsuit.
* Fee-for-service model. Taking a malpractice case to court could cost over R200 000 due to the high fees advocates and attorneys charge. A decision on costs will be made by the court and will depend on the merits of the case. However, even if the case is successful, the awarded compensation might be less than the legal costs, and if the case is unsuccessful, you might have to pay your legal fees, as well as the those of your doctor.
Medical malpractice cases can be complex. It can sometimes take a medical expert to understand what really happened. Yet it is a jury of non-medical people who will decide whether you win or lose your malpractice case. Your lawyer and your medical expert witness must be able to present difficult medical issues to the jury in a way that is easily understandable and that makes common sense.
Proving medical negligence in these cases is inherently difficult and technical work. Furthermore, juries tend to favor the doctor in medical malpractice trials, making winning a lawsuit – or even a settlement -- against a doctor tricky. This is why these types of personal injury cases are often referred to lawyers whose regular caseload includes a good portion of medical malpractice cases. You’ll need an experienced attorney to successfully sue a doctor.