We go to the doctor or the hospital for one reason: We are sick or injured,
and we want to get better. It’s a reasonable expectation, but it
doesn’t always happen that way; in fact, medical error is now the
third leading cause of death in America.
When a doctor, hospital or other medical professional commits a medical
error that causes the patient further harm, it stands to reason that the
facility should pay for the error. However, a recent
article in the Chicago Tribune examines some of the factors that cloud this issue, causing patients to
pay for these mistakes more often than they should.
Some hospitals have a policy in place that if they make a mistake in providing
care that makes the patient worse, the follow-up care is free. However,
not every facility has this policy, and unfortunately, the criteria for
deciding on these policies are usually more financial than ethical. Medical
facilities typically weigh the risk of malpractice lawsuits against the
cost of transparency when making these policies. The facilities that willingly
offer free care have determined transparency is less costly; those that
do not are usually gambling that any resulting lawsuits will cost them
less in the long run.
The Burden of Proof
If a medical error occurs, the burden of proof regarding negligence falls
to the patient. If the medical staff warn the patient of the risks of
a certain procedure and/or are quick to notify the patient and family
if something goes wrong, the hospital may try to claim it did all it reasonably
could, or state that the error was unavoidable—making it more difficult
to prove negligence or malpractice. In such cases, patients are often
left footing the bill.
The upshot is that if you or a loved one experiences a medical error,
you have a theoretical or ethical right to compensation—but getting
that compensation doesn’t happen automatically. The murkiness of
this issue underscores that you need an experienced
Washington D.C. medical malpractice attorney
in your corner to help ensure you receive the settlement to which you are