Your top questions about medical malpractice answered

If you have suspicions that you or a loved one has been harmed by a medical error, you may wonder what to expect if you decide to pursue a medical malpractice claim. Although this type of claim is complicated, understanding the basics about this legal area can significantly help you understand the issues involved, should you opt to file this type of lawsuit.

What is a medical malpractice lawsuit?

When you visit a doctor, surgeon or other medical provider, you expect them to use their experience and years of medical training to help you get better. However, this does not always occur. Sometimes, you actually get put in a worse position than before you sought medical treatment, not because of the limitations of medicine, but because the medical provider made an error, which caused you to suffer harm. In such cases, you may suffer a variety of economic (e.g. additional medical expenses) and noneconomic losses (e.g. pain and suffering). The purpose of a medical malpractice lawsuit is to allow you to recover these losses from the responsible party.

What qualifies as malpractice?

Not every error or negative outcome is considered malpractice. In order for there to be malpractice, the medical provider's error must have risen to the level of negligence, or the failure to take reasonable and appropriate care and precautions to avoid causing harm to the patient. In general, a physician is negligent if the care he or she provides is below the standard of care-the "minimum" level of care that each provider owes a duty to provide to the patient. In order to prove malpractice, you must prove:

• The medical provider owed you a duty of care (generally, this is established by the existence of a patient-physician relationship);

• That the provider breached this duty (i.e. provided treatment that fell below the standard of care). This is established by testimony of physicians and experts in the same field as the provider;

• That because of the breach, you suffered harm; and

• That you suffered damages (e.g. economic or noneconomic losses) because of the harm

Medical malpractice can occur at all stages of treatment-from errors in making the diagnosis to treatment, surgical, or medication errors.

What can I recover?

If you are successful in your claim, you can recover economic damages such as medical bills, lost income, rehabilitation expenses and other quantifiable losses. Additionally, noneconomic damages such as pain and suffering may be recovered. However, under Florida law and in certain situations, your damages may be capped, depending on the claim you make, the identity of the healthcare provider or if the healthcare provider agrees to arbitrate the case.

How long do I have to file?

Florida law requires medical malpractice claims to be filed within two years following the date that you discovered (or should have reasonably discovered) that you were injured. However, this deadline may be extended if fraud, concealment or intentional misrepresentation of fact prevented you from discovering the injury.

Filing a successful medical malpractice claim can be a complicated process, requiring significant investigation and documentation of your injuries. As a result, if you suspect that you have been harmed due to a medical error, speak with an attorney as early as possible. An attorney can ensure that the evidence of negligence is discovered and preserved, giving you the best possible shot at a successful recovery.