When you think you or a family member may have been the victim of medical malpractice, it can be an emotionally charged time. At Schochor, Federico and Staton, we’re here to answer your questions and give you guidance. Below are some answers to common questions we hear. If you find yourself involved in a potential medical malpractice situation, we strongly encourage you to seek our advice. We can answer all your questions on an individualized basis.
How can I research a doctor and check his/her record before becoming a patient?
Many people overlook the importance of thoroughly researching a physician before seeking routine, specialized or elective medical care. There are several things, however, that patients can do as an informed consumer of healthcare even before seeing a new doctor.
First, research the doctor or hospital by asking trusted friends, family members and other healthcare professionals. Visit the local medical board or search for a particular physician online at The Federation of State Medical Boards. The National Patient Safety Foundation also provides links to information about medications and procedures. Don’t hesitate to inquire about how many times the doctor and the hospital as a whole has performed the specific procedure you require.
In Maryland, the Board of Physicians maintains a profile on every licensed physician in the state. Found online at the Maryland Board of Physicians website, the searchable database provides information about disciplinary action taken in Maryland as well as other states where the inquired physician has been licensed, details about medical school, board certifications, hospital privileges, practice areas and any criminal information. This information can serve as valuable resource and tool for patients researching their own medical care.
Finally, there are several additional resources available to help you research doctors and other healthcare providers:
- America’s Top Doctors: The Best in American Medicine (Castle Connolly, 2nd Edition
- Official ABMS Directory of Board-Certified Medical Specialists (Marquis Who’s Who)
- The American Board of Medical Specialists (1-800-ASK-ABMS) offers a searchable database of board-certified specialists.
How should I prepare for my appointment or an appointment for a family member?
When visiting a doctor, come prepared!
Bring past medical records and/or test results, if they are available. Bring a written list of past and present doctors, medications, diagnoses, and surgeries/procedures. Remember to provide the doctor or nurse with a complete list of prescription and over-the-counter medications, as well as vitamins and dietary supplements. Also, inform the doctor of any allergies or allergic reactions experienced in the past.
When testing is required for a doctor to diagnose an injury or suspected illness, always expect to be informed of the results. Find out before you leave how the doctor or his/her office will contact you about the results. Remember to follow up and request test results within a reasonable period of time, if you have not been contacted.
When faced with surgery, seek a second opinion from another doctor. Verify who will perform the surgery, especially in a teaching hospital. If a resident is providing medical care, ask to speak with an attending physician to discuss the treatment plan. Before leaving the hospital or surgical center, be certain that you have received discharge instructions and know how to contact the doctor if complications arise at home.
When prescribed medication, you should always request information pertaining to side effects and interactions with other medicines. You should be able to read the written prescription from the doctor. And remember to verify that the correct medication has been dispensed by the pharmacy.
In this podcast segment, Managing Partner Jonathan Schochor discuss the firms protocol for handling medical malpractice cases with new clients. He explains how medical investigators gather the important information and how cases are developed. He also mentions how the office has over 150 years of combined experience in medical malpractice law. Click here to listen.
How can I avoid prescription errors?
Errors with prescription medications are common and pose a significant threat to your health.
Errors can occur when the physician prescribes the medication and/or when the pharmacist fills the prescription. It is important to always disclose your complete medical history to a physician and disclose any prescription and over-the-counter medications you are currently taking before being prescribed new medications.
Ask the physician why he/she has prescribed each medication and request an overview of dosing and potential side effects. Next, make sure the prescription is legible and that the pharmacist and/or technician can read the prescription from the doctor. Always verify before leaving the pharmacy with medication that it is indeed what your doctor prescribed. Finally, be certain to follow all dosing guidelines, including dosage frequency, whether to take the medicine with or without food/drink and monitoring for the possibility of side effects.
Kerry D. Staton provides five tips on how you can avoid dangerous mistakes with your medication. From not mixing alcohol with prescription medications, to cross-checking the drug label with your prescription, listen and avoid being a statistic because of a careless mistake with your medication. Click here to listen.
While I am in the hospital, is there any one person who is responsible for my safety and well-being?
No. Your safety and medical care is dependent on an entire healthcare system working together cohesively and effectively.
Everyone involved in your medical care is responsible in part for your safety. Unfortunately, an estimated 98,000 people die each year across the United States as the result of medical mistakes committed by doctors, nurses, administrators, lab technicians, radiologists, etc.
Hospitals are required to have systems in place for patient safety. If you have questions, do not hesitate to ask them. Your role in your healthcare should never be overlooked either. Being an active participant in your healthcare, you can help avoid mistakes, as well.
What should I do when being discharged from a hospital or doctor’s care?
First, request a follow-up appointment before leaving the hospital or outpatient facility. Always request information pertaining to prescription medications, including side effects and interactions with other medicines you may be taking. Immediately report any problems or concerns to your medical provider.
I care for my father. How can I be an advocate for him and monitor his medical treatment to ensure that he receives the best possible care?
For caregivers, routine and specialized medical care can be overwhelming. Communication with physicians, nurses, technicians, pharmacists, and office personnel is essential to ensuring that your father receives the best health care available. Keep a written log of all your father’s illnesses, symptoms and medications. This list should be taken to all appointments, shared with the doctor, and made part of the medical record. We also recommend that you utilize a primary care physician who can assist with coordinating medical care. Finally, obtain a power of attorney, if necessary, to provide you with the legal authority to make informed decisions regarding your father.
What are the first steps I should take if I think something has gone wrong? What are my patient rights?
When something goes wrong in the operating room, emergency department or other healthcare setting, many people are told that the injury or illness was a known and accepted complication. Often families believe that “these things just happen” and there is nothing that they can do about it.
Additionally, the injury or even death of a loved one is an extremely emotional time. Not surprisingly, research shows most cases involving medical negligence remain unreported for just that reason, even when–through no fault of their own–peoples’ lives are forever impacted.
But you do have rights in this situation to ensure your family can maintain the same quality of life they enjoyed before the accident. If you ever find yourself in this tragic situation, we offer the following recommendations:
- Request a meeting with the physician(s) and/or nurse(s) who were closely involved in the situation. It is your right to request such a meeting to determine what happened.
- Have more than one person present when discussing what transpired when meeting with the hospital staff. People tend to have differing recollections of the same conversation and related happenings.
- Ask any and all questions you have of the physician, nurses and other healthcare providers.Don’t hesitate to take notes to help you remember what is said.
- Do NOT sign any documents or agree to resolve any claim or disputes without first having these documents reviewed by an attorney.
- In the case of a possible wrongful death, immediately request an autopsy. Many times doctors and family members are not sure of the cause of death. An autopsy helps to prove and document the cause of death. Also, feel free to schedule a conference with the medical examiner.
- Contact a medical malpractice law firm that can conduct a professional in-depth investigation that would include the review of medical records, radiology studies, pathology slides and other material by board-certified medical experts who can provide objective medical opinion as to whether a medical malpractice case should be filed.
Because patients often don’t realize the power they hold when it comes to reporting medical errors, most health care negligence goes unreported. In this podcast segment, Managing Partner Jonathan Schochor discusses options for reporting medical malpractice, as well as a new idea by The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality for reporting complaints. Click here for more information.
Won’t people think I am greedy or vindictive if I pursue legal action after a medical mistake?
You should not feel pressured to avoid pursuing legal action when negligence occurs. People generally have a great deal of respect for doctors and hold them in high regard. When something goes wrong in the operating room, emergency department or other healthcare setting, many people are told that the injury or illness was an accepted complication.
Under our justice system, you have the right to hold the responsible party liable for your injuries. And despite recent publicity and stories about high insurance costs for doctors, less than one percent of medical malpractice insurance premiums are used to pay claims.
I have suffered an injury due to medical negligence, but cannot afford a lawyer. Who can help me?
If you have suffered an injury during the course of medical care, it is not necessary to have financial resources to obtain high quality legal representation. Schochor, Federico and Staton represents each client on a contingency basis and does not require retainers or fees in advance of a trial or settlement of the case. Our firm has the financial resources to investigate meritorious cases and prepare each one for trial. You are not responsible for fees and expenses unless a recovery or verdict is made on your behalf.
Can a general practice lawyer represent me in a medical malpractice case?
Yes, a general practice lawyer can represent clients in a medical malpractice case. However, these cases are highly complex and lawyers with significant experience in this area have developed a base of knowledge and experience required to ensure the best representation and results possible.
Schochor, Federico and Staton has been representing clients in medical malpractice cases for more than 25 years. We obtain the assistance of top medical experts across the country and constantly stay abreast of issues pertaining to medical care and medical legal law in the course of our daily work lives.
That is why general practice lawyers frequently refer medical malpractice cases to Schochor, Federico and Staton with a high degree of confidence that their clients will receive quality representation.
Should I be afraid to pursue a medical malpractice claim?
No, we will be with you every step of the way. Actually, the only thing you will need to do of significance is give a deposition. Only if the case goes to trial (a 10% chance) will you need to testify in court.
I do not want to be one of those people who “sue.” I have never sued anyone before, what should I do?
We do not sue people lightly. As a matter of fact, we make every effort to pursue only those cases which are meritorious. We will not file a case unless we believe strongly that our client is truly a victim of medical malpractice.
What is a consent form and does signing one release the physician from liability for negligence?
A consent form is a document that patients are asked to sign prior to a procedure which acknowledges that the risks and alternatives were explained and that gives the physician consent or approval to perform the procedure. A physician is required to explain a procedure in detail, as well as its risks and any available alternatives. A consent form does not release a doctor who did not follow the standards of care and caused injury or harm from liability.
Six months ago a doctor made a mistake during my medical care. The doctor acknowledged the error. Recently, the hospital’s insurance company contacted me to resolve the issue. Should I contact a lawyer?
Do not discuss your situation with the insurance company. You should consult with a lawyer if you have been injured or have been victim of medical malpractice.
You should always seek professional legal advice first. Your statements can be taken out of context and be harmful to your claim. Do not sign any papers or agree to a settlement.
When considering which law firm to contact, please know that your initial consultation with Schochor, Federico, and Staton is free.
My child was recently diagnosed with cerebral palsy and mental retardation. Is there any exception to the statute of limitations for this condition?
Yes. Under Maryland law, if a victim of medical malpractice (adult or child) is rendered mentally incompetent, then no statute of limitations will apply until “the mental disability is lifted.” Therefore, a victim of cerebral palsy who is mentally incompetent—regardless of age—will not be barred by the statute of limitations from pursuing a claim.
Who is responsible when a piece of medical equipment fails during surgery and causes harm to a patient?
If a medical device, IV pump, monitor or other piece of equipment fails during patient care, the failure may be the responsibility of the manufacturer for issuing a defective device or the health care provider for not properly monitoring the equipment. You should immediately contact a lawyer who can investigate the manufacturer and health care providers to determine if operating and maintenance guidelines were followed during the patient’s care.
I am having routine surgery at an outpatient facility. Am I more likely to be harmed by a doctor’s error there or in a hospital?
Medical mistakes can happen anywhere, including doctors’ offices, labs, outpatient surgery centers, radiology centers, pharmacies, clinics, rehabilitation facilities, nursing homes and even in your own home through home healthcare.
Wherever healthcare is delivered, patients are at risk for deadly or debilitating injuries. Patients throughout the entire healthcare system must exercise a high degree of vigilance.
My child has been diagnosed with severe brain damage. Who is qualified to develop a life care plan for him?
A child with brain damage will require a lifetime of love and support. The prospect of planning for a lifetime of care can be overwhelming. Fortunately, there are life care planners who specialize in developing comprehensive plans to meet the physical, social, educational and financial needs of those with disabilities.
A certified life care planner can help you plan for the future by identifying the support services your child will need. This may include physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, medical care and equipment, tutoring and educational services, and living accommodations.
At Schochor, Federico and Staton, we work with some of the best life care planners in the country to assist our clients.
My child was involved in a medical malpractice case. Her lawyers brought experts to trial that she had never met and had not been involved in her medical care. Who are these experts and why are they involved?
Medical experts play a very important and critical role in the process of preparing a medical malpractice case. In order to prove a medical malpractice claim, victims are required, by law, to produce testimony from medical experts that the health care providers in question were negligent and that their negligence was a cause of the patient’s injury. Schochor, Federico and Staton utilizes experts from around the country when preparing cases. We seek the most qualified and credentialed professionals to review evidence and testify on behalf of our clients.
What are different types of damages in a medical malpractice case?
Victims of medical malpractice can sue for past, present and future economic damages, including costs for reasonable and necessary medical care, rehabilitative services, domestic services and loss of earnings. The law also allows for compensation for future medical care and expenses and the loss of earning capacity.
Victims of medical malpractice are also entitled to non-economic damages for physical pain and suffering, mental and emotional suffering, physical impairment, inconvenience, disfigurement, loss of enjoyment of life and disruption in a relationship with a spouse.
My sister was recently diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer. However, she had a mammogram every year for the past five years and saw her physician regularly since we have a family history of breast cancer. How could her cancer go undetected?
A late cancer diagnosis can literally steal precious time from someone who may have otherwise stood a reasonable chance of recovery. Unfortunately, late cancer diagnoses or misdiagnoses happen frequently in today’s healthcare system.
It is unlikely that your sister’s cancer suddenly appeared and highly likely that test results were not properly interpreted. With a family history of breast cancer, your sister’s physician should have been suspicious of every test result.
I have heard about a patient who had the wrong limb operated on. How is that possible?
It may sound bizarre or unlikely, but wrong-site surgeries are very real. Each year, many patients undergo surgery only to awaken from anesthesia to discover the wrong limb or organ was operated on. This summer, all accredited hospitals in the United States will begin using a new procedure called “Sign the Site.” The safeguard procedure requires that the doctor and patient both mark the correct arm, leg, or breast in indelible ink. This safeguard aims to reduce the occurrence of wrong site operations.
My child was diagnosed with a brachial plexus injury (Erb’s Palsy) after delivery. What is a brachial plexus injury and what does it mean for my son?
Brachial Plexus Injury, also referred to as Erb’s Palsy, is a condition caused by injury to nerves in the neck and shoulder. The National Brachial Plexus Association estimates that more than 5,000 cases of Erb’s Palsy are diagnosed each year. An Erb’s Palsy can occur when an obstetrician or midwife applies improper traction (or pulls) on the baby’s head during delivery while the baby’s shoulder is lodged under the pubic bone. Erb’s Palsy can also occur when forceps are used inappropriately during delivery.
The resulting injury can cause permanent weakness and/or paralysis to the affected arm and/or a permanent disability. There are various degrees of Erb’s Palsy depending on the extent and location of nerve damage. The most significant type of injury is an avulsion, which occurs when the nerve is completely torn away from the spinal cord. Some brachial plexus injuries occur when the nerve is torn but not at the point where it attached to the spine (rupture). Some injuries occur when the nerve is stretched and/or damaged, but does not tear.
These injuries prevent the nerve from being able to conduct signals between the spine and arm. If your child has a brachial plexus injury from birth, contact Schochor, Federico and Staton to determine whether this injury was avoidable.
What is the statute of limitations for malpractice cases in Maryland?
In general, the statute of limitations in Maryland for medical malpractice cases is five years from the date the malpractice occurred or three years from the date that the possibility of malpractice was discovered, whichever comes first.
My child was injured by medical malpractice and suffered pain, needed additional medical care and will have a permanent physical disability. Is this statute of limitations the same?
No. The statute of limitations for malpractice cases for children is different than for adults. For minors, the statute of limitations expires on their 21st birthday for all past, present and future physical pain and suffering, emotional anguish, disfigurement and disability which they will experience. However, a claim for economic loss (medical, hospital, physiotherapy, etc. bills) incurred before the child reaches 18, must be brought by a parent and, as such, is governed by the same statute of limitations listed above for adults. Therefore, you may still pursue a claim for your child even if more than five years has passed since the injury. Although you may be barred from seeking medical expenses for the child up to age 18, you can still seek compensation for pain and suffering as well as economic loss that your child will suffer beyond his or her 18th birthday.