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Can You Sue a Doctor for Negligence?

You can sue a doctor for negligence if you suffer an injury because the doctor failed to provide a reasonable standard of care. You also have a right to include any other health care providers in the lawsuit who contributed to the injury, including nurses, pharmacists, and hospitals. This is known as a medical malpractice lawsuit.

Medical negligence by a doctor is a betrayal of the sacred trust a patient places in a doctor based on the doctor’s knowledge and experience. Illinois law recognizes the grievous nature of medical negligence and allows patients to hold doctors accountable through medical malpractice lawsuits when their negligence causes injuries.

How Common Are Medical Errors by Doctors?

Medical errors are the third leading cause of death, exceeded only by heart disease and cancer, according to the most recent studies published by StatPearls, with 210,000 to 440,000 deaths per year. However, these numbers may underrepresent the actual number of deaths caused by medical errors because medical records are not always accurate, and doctors may be reluctant to report errors. 

In an open letter to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2016, Dr. Martin A. Makary, M.D., M.P.H., requested that the CDC list medical errors as the number three cause of death in the United States.  

In the letter, Dr. Makaray asserted that an estimated 251,454 people die from medical errors annually, significantly exceeding the number of deaths for the currently listed third-leading cause of death. According to Dr. Makaray, deaths from medical errors account for 9.7 percent of all deaths in the nation every year. 

Dr. Makaray also asserted that these estimates are lower than the actual number of deaths because they do not include outpatient deaths or patients that die at home because of medical errors.  

In addition, these numbers do not include the non-fatal injuries patients suffer yearly due to medical malpractice, many of which result in permanent, life-altering disabilities.

When Can I Sue a Doctor for Negligence?

You can sue doctors for negligence if you can establish that your case meets the state’s definition of medical negligence. That definition generally includes the following four elements. 

1. The Doctor Owed You a Duty of Care.

To prove that the doctor owed you a duty of care, you must be able to demonstrate the following: 

  • You had established a doctor-patient relationship. 
  • The doctor provided you with medical care. 

When a doctor-patient relationship has been established, doctors must provide a reasonable standard of care. A reasonable standard of care is defined as the level of care a qualified physician would provide based on the patient’s needs and the available information. 

2. The Doctor Breached the Duty of Care

Doctors breach the duty of care when they fail to provide a reasonable standard of care. This may occur when the doctor does any of the following: 

  • Fails to investigate symptoms 
  • Fails to monitor medical conditions 
  • Fails to order appropriate testing 
  • Delays testing 
  • Uses off-label prescriptions without advising the patient of the risks 
  • Fails to competently and timely address emergencies 
  • Fails to understand a patient’s history 
  • Prescribes inappropriate medications 
  • Makes assumptions about a patient’s conditions based on personal biases rather than listening to the patient’s concerns 
  • Fails to obtain informed consent 

3. You Suffered an Injury

A medical error alone is insufficient grounds for filing a medical malpractice lawsuit. Before a doctor can be sued for negligence, you must be able to prove that the doctor’s breach of duty caused you to suffer an injury that you would not otherwise have suffered. 

You can prove you suffered an injury by providing the following: 

  • Medical records 
  • Testimony by medical experts 
  • Testimony of friends, family members, and employers who can attest to your health status before the medical error occurred 
  • Visual evidence, such as scarring, casts, assistive devices, apparent disabilities, or disfigurement 
  • Cognitive function test results for injuries resulting in cognitive impairment 
  • Psychological or psychiatric test results for psychological injuries such as emotional distress 

It is not unusual for a doctor’s insurance company to minimize your injuries to avoid paying compensation. Having as much evidence as possible to support your claims will ensure the court determines your injuries resulted from the doctor’s actions or inactions. Therefore, it is crucial that you follow through with medical treatment. 

Our medical malpractice lawyers can retrieve your medical records and provide medical experts to examine you, interview you, and testify on your behalf to further support your claim. Our medical experts will be experienced in the field of medicine involved and will be able to identify how your doctor violated the reasonable standard of care.

4. The Breach of Duty Is the Proximate Cause of Your Injuries.

You must prove that your injuries were caused by the doctor’s breach of duty and not something else. The doctor’s insurance company will likely look for evidence that your injuries were caused by something else by looking for evidence of the following: 

  • Your injury preexisted the medical malpractice. 
  • You had a preexisting health condition that caused the injury. 
  • You were injured elsewhere. 
  • Your injury would have occurred even if the doctor had not been negligent. 
  • You are faking your injuries. 

While these attempts by an insurance company can be upsetting, these are common tactics insurance companies use to avoid paying compensation. Our medical malpractice attorneys know how to refute these claims and ensure you receive the compensation you need and deserve. 

Affidavit of Merit 

The Illinois medical malpractice law requires plaintiffs in a medical malpractice case to obtain an Affidavit of Merit before filing a case. This is a legal document that your attorney must sign. It states that a qualified physician practicing or teaching medicine in the same field as the defendant has determined in a written report that your case has merit, and a lawsuit is reasonable.  

Doctor performing surgery

Common Medical Errors by Doctors that Result in Injury

Medical errors most commonly occur in the following settings, according to StatPearls: 

  • Intensive care units 
  • Emergency rooms 
  • Operating rooms 

However, medical errors can happen in any setting, including the delivery room during childbirth, a nursing home, and a doctor’s office. Patients most at risk of experiencing medical malpractice include the following: 

  • Patients who are very young or very old 
  • Patients undergoing new procedures 
  • Patients facing emergencies or requiring fast action 
  • Patients with severe medical conditions 

The most common types of medical errors are discussed below. 

Diagnostic Errors 

The majority of medical malpractice cases against doctors arise from diagnostic errors, which include the following: 

Diagnostic errors occur as a result of the following negligent acts and omissions: 

  • Failure to order appropriate tests 
  • Failure to address abnormal test results 
  • Failure to consider a patient’s history, allergies, symptoms, and current list of medications 
  • Failure to establish a differential diagnosis 
  • Poor communication with the patient, including a failure to establish rapport, provide all the information needed for informed consent, or use a qualified interpreter when needed 
  • Making diagnostic decisions based on intuition and first impression rather than clinical data 
  • Basing a diagnosis on personal biases against psychiatric patients, assuming their physical complaints are psychological 
  • Basing a diagnosis on other personal biases and assumptions because of a patient’s gender, race, appearance, hygiene, or weight 

According to StatPearls, the most frequently misdiagnosed conditions include the following: 

  • Acute cerebral vascular accident – stroke, brain aneurism, or brain hemorrhage 
  • Myocardial infarction – heart attack 
  • Spinal epidural abscess – a treatable infection between the spinal cord and vertebrae that can affect the entire body, including pain, numbness, paralysis, and a loss of bowel or bladder control 
  • Pulmonary embolism – a blood clot in the lungs 
  • Necrotizing fasciitis – a flesh-eating disorder 
  • Meningitis – a deadly viral or bacterial infection 
  • Testicular torsion – an emergency situation in which the cord that carries blood to one of the testicles becomes twisted 
  • Subarachnoid hemorrhage – bleeding around the brain 
  • Septicemia – a systemic infection of the blood that can cause multiorgan failure 
  • Lung cancer 
  • Fractures 
  • Appendicitis 

Surgical Errors 

Surgery is a complex process that requires skill, preparation, and coordination between surgeons, anesthesiologists, and specialists. Safe surgical procedures require constant attention to detail, effective infection control practices, and adherence to strict quality control procedures.  

During every stage of surgery, from preparation through recovery, doctors must closely monitor the patient and remain prepared to respond to emergencies in a decisive, competent fashion.  

Surgical errors may stem from a few seconds of inattention and result in permanent harm, such as the following: 

  • Brain damage from oxygen deprivation, anesthesia errors, or restriction of blood flow 
  • Organ damage or sepsis from sponges and other surgical objects being left behind 
  • Surgery at the wrong site 
  • Surgery on the wrong patient 
  • Infection from non-sterile instruments or contaminated clothing 

Medication Errors 

Medication errors may occur due to a doctor misdiagnosing a condition, prescribing medication to the wrong patient, or failing to thoroughly review a patient’s medical information. In some cases, a doctor’s handwriting can lead to medication errors. The most common medication errors include the following: 

  • Incorrect medication 
  • Incorrect dose 
  • Improper administration of medication 
  • Failure to prescribe necessary medications 
  • Failure to adequately manage pain 
  • Failure to modify medication due to side effects 
  • Inappropriate prescriptions 
  • Delayed administration of medication 

Psychiatrist Malpractice 

Psychiatrist malpractice may stem from medical negligence or intentional misconduct, such as abuse. Psychiatric patients may be uniquely vulnerable to medical malpractice because their mental status can make it easier for a psychiatrist to make assumptions or take advantage of them. 

Psychiatric Negligence 

Psychiatrists are medical doctors that specialize in medical treatment for mental health conditions. Like other physicians, psychiatrists commit diagnostic errors. Psychiatric conditions often include symptoms that mimic physical conditions needing treatment. For example: 

  • Chest pain could be caused by anxiety or a heart condition. 
  • Nausea and vomiting could be caused by anxiety or serious physical conditions such as food poisoning, ulcers, or cancer. 
  • Fatigue may be caused by depression or serious physical conditions such as a virus, bacteria, or cancer. 
  • Headaches may indicate excessive stress or a serious condition such as a brain tumor. 

If a psychiatrist assumes all of the patient’s symptoms are “in their heads,” this could prevent the patient from seeking necessary medical care.  

Psychiatrists have a duty to take patient complaints seriously and eliminate physical causes of psychiatric symptoms before diagnosing psychiatric conditions, especially when new symptoms present suddenly. 

Psychiatrists generally do not spend sufficient time with their patients to ascertain psychological health and often do not coordinate care with their patients’ primary care doctors or mental health counselors. As a result, a psychiatrist may commit the following errors: 

  • Medication errors, including over-drugging and failure to monitor side effects 
  • Failure to notice suicide warning signs 
  • Failure to refer patients to other doctors as necessary 
  • Failure to learn about the patient’s full medical and mental health background before developing a treatment plan 

Psychiatric Sexual Abuse 

In addition to medical negligence, psychiatric patients are also at risk of experiencing abuse by their psychiatric providers. Psychiatric patients may provide more personal information to their psychiatrists than their other health care providers. An abusive psychiatrist may take advantage of this. 

Psychiatric sexual abuse includes the following: 

  • Unwelcome sexual contact 
  • An inappropriate romantic relationship 
  • Unprofessional discussions of sexual topics 
  • Requiring patients to remove clothing 
  • Exposing themselves to patients 
  • Molestation 
  • Rape 
  • Exploitation 

It is illegal in Illinois for a psychiatrist to pursue or maintain romantic relationships with patients.  

OB-GYN Malpractice 

OB-GYN malpractice includes negligence related to the following: 

  • Women’s reproductive health 
  • Prenatal and post-partum care 
  • Childbirth 

Birth Injuries 

Birth injuries may occur from negligent prenatal care or negligence during childbirth. Birth injuries can cause serious harm to the mother or the child. The most serious birth injuries stem from the baby being deprived of oxygen, which can lead to permanent brain damage and disabilities, including cerebral palsy. 

A doctor may be liable for birth injuries as a result of the following acts and omissions: 

  • Improper forceps use 
  • Improper vacuum extraction 
  • Failure to timely respond to emergencies 
  • Failure to diagnose health conditions during pregnancy 
  • Untimely c-sections 
  • Inadequate fetal monitoring 
  • Failure to detect oxygen deprivation 
  • Failure to detect uterine hemorrhages during pregnancy, birth, or the post-partum period 

Gynecological Errors 

Gynecological malpractice can result in women experiencing the following serious injuries: 

  • Loss of reproductive ability 
  • Delayed diagnosis of serious health conditions such as cancer 
  • Long-term pain and suffering 
  • Severe emotional distress 

Reproductive harm can lead to permanent sterilization. Our OB-GYN malpractice attorneys recently obtained a $1.95 million settlement after a gynecologist unnecessarily removed a 28-year-old woman’s uterus and both ovaries during surgery for a mass on her left ovary. 

Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect 

Most nursing home abuse and neglect is committed by nursing staff, but doctors also commit medical malpractice in nursing homes through the following acts and omissions: 

  • Improper prescription of antipsychotic medications 
  • Slow or inadequate response changes in the patient’s condition 
  • Delayed orders 
  • Lack of face-to-face visitation or follow-up with residents 
  • Insufficient communication with nursing staff, families, and patients 
  • Failure to recognize signs of nursing home abuse or neglect 

The living conditions patients endure in many Illinois nursing homes are dismal, and doctors could improve patient experiences and reduce injuries by providing more attentive care. 

Doctors during surgery

How Much Is a Medical Malpractice Case Against a Doctor Worth?

According to Forbes, the average medical malpractice award is $679,000 nationwide. According to The Telegraph, Illinois ranks sixth in the nation for nuclear verdicts, defined as verdicts higher than $10 million. Medical malpractice cases account for 40 percent of these verdicts.  

Our attorneys know what it takes to win multi-million dollar settlements and verdicts. Below are a few examples of our successful results in medical malpractice cases against doctors:  

  • $40 million verdict on behalf of the now 19-year-old woman who suffered a severe and permanent brain injury during birth due to a delayed C-section delivery 
  • $20 million verdict on behalf of a child who suffered preventable HIE and asphyxia injuries at birth 
  • $17.7 million settlement for a former police officer who suffered a life-altering brain injury due to nursing staff negligence at a Chicago hospital. 
  • $14 million record verdict against a doctor and hospital for ignoring abnormal chest X-ray results, substantially delaying a lung cancer diagnosis 
  • $9 million birth injury settlement for the family of a baby who suffered permanent brain damage after a doctor failed to test the mother for Group B Strep Meningitis during pregnancy 
  • $8 million settlement due to a hospital’s failure to treat a kidney stone which led to a woman’s wrongful death 

We handle each case with the same skill, dedication, and zeal as the above cases. We will not stop fighting until we win you full, fair, and complete compensation. 

How Long Do I Have to Sue a Doctor in Illinois?

The Illinois statute of limitations for most medical malpractice cases is two years from the date of the injury or from the date you discovered or should have discovered the injury. However, the state imposes a hard limit of four years from the date of injury. 

If the injury resulted in death, you have until the date the statute of limitations would have expired for the deceased had they lived or one year from the date of death, whichever is later. 

There are some exceptions to the statute of limitations in cases involving children and people with disabilities who cannot file. Our medical malpractice attorneys can help you determine how the statute of limitations applies to your case.  

It is important to contact an attorney as soon as possible after you are injured or discover an injury to ensure your attorney has sufficient time to thoroughly investigate your case and gather the required evidence ahead of the statute of limitations

Can I Sue a Doctor that Lacks Medical Malpractice Insurance?

If you suffer an injury through medical malpractice, you can sue the doctor whether or not the doctor carries insurance. However, if you prevail, the proceeds you can collect will be limited to the doctor’s unprotected assets.  

Illinois law does not require doctors to carry medical malpractice insurance. However, most practices and hospitals that employ doctors provide insurance or require doctors to carry it. In addition, many doctors carry medical malpractice insurance voluntarily to avoid exposing their assets in the event of a lawsuit.

How Levin & Perconti Can Help With Your Doctor Negligence Claim

If you have been injured because of a doctor’s negligence, you have a right to pursue significant damages. We are a full-service law firm, and we can help by providing the following services: 

  • Gather the medical records necessary to prove your claim 
  • Obtain expert witness testimony to support your claim 
  • Obtain and submit the required Affidavit of Merit
  • File your lawsuit in a timely fashion
  • Skillfully negotiate for a fair and reasonable settlement
  • Persuasively present your case to a jury 

Patients visit their health care providers believing that doing so will improve or maintain health. No one deserves to suffer an injury at the hands of a doctor. If your doctor has caused an injury through negligence, we want to help. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.