Understanding Medical Malpractice in Utah
Navigating a Utah Medical Malpractice Claim
A misdiagnosis, medical mistake, or a doctor’s negligence are costly examples of medical malpractice. In the United States, our society reveres and trusts doctors and medical staff to provide cutting-edge care and treatment to heal injuries, cure us when we are sick, deliver our children, and comfort loved ones in palliative care.
Sadly, doctors, nurses, and staff do make mistakes, and these mistakes are sometimes costly, even resulting in the death or dismemberment of the patient. Medical malpractice can take on many forms and could cause a lifetime of pain, anguish, and suffering. Malpractice also shakes a patient’s faith in medical institutions for life. If you suffered at the hands of a medical professional, you may be entitled to damages for your loss. Click here to get a free consultation with one of our personal injury attorneys.
What is Medical Malpractice?
In Utah, medical malpractice is defined as professional negligence by a healthcare provider causing injury or death to a patient or patients. Medical malpractice includes mistakes or errors in medical judgment or omissions, such as misdiagnosing a plaintiff’s disease or injury, or negligent acts, like leaving a foreign object in a body cavity during surgery.
Medical malpractice also encompasses wrongful death and childbirth injuries, if the plaintiffs sought medical treatment and suffered injuries at the hands of a physician, nurse, or surgeon. Medical malpractice is governed under tort law, but in Utah, there are additional statutory requirements a plaintiff must meet before filing a suit against a doctor or hospital.
Statute of Limitations for Filing a Claim
Plaintiffs must file within the statute of limitation period to bring a Utah medical malpractice claim against a doctor or hospital system. In Utah, the plaintiff has exactly two years from the date of the accident, or the date they discovered the injury, to bring suit against the medical provider and/or the hospital system. Next, the plaintiff must file a notice of intent to sue with the defendant medical provider and hospital, according to Utah Code 78B-3-412 (2010). The notice of intent must include the date of the injury, identify the plaintiff, the full extent of the plaintiff’s injuries, which defendants are responsible (doctors, nurses, anesthesiologist, etc.), and what damages are sought. The notice of intent must be served at least ninety days prior to the filing of a complaint.
Requirements Before Filing Suit
In addition, the plaintiff must commission a pre-litigation review panel to determine if a claim should proceed to the next phase of litigation. The plaintiff only has 60 days after filing a complaint to request the panel hearing from the Utah Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing, according to Utah Code 78B-3-417. This is detailed in the Utah Health Care Malpractice Act. The panel will hear the potential case, review witness statements, and the claimant’s medical records. The panel then renders a decision as to whether or not the claim can move forward into the next phase of litigation. The review panel may also provide a case value (what a settlement might be worth), but their valuation is not binding on the litigants.
If the claim succeeds the panel, the plaintiff may have to undergo independent medical evaluations at the request of the defendant. The plaintiff might be deposed by the defendant’s attorney and questioned about the nature and extent of their injuries. If a claim does not settle out of court, both parties may rely on testimony from subject matter experts such as pathologists or surgeons who render testimony at trial. Medical malpractice claims are notoriously expensive and time-consuming. Multiple parties may have a stake in litigation and more than one issue might be litigated.
Limitations on Economic and Non-Economic Damages
In Utah, a plaintiff’s recovery is capped at $250,000 for non-economic damages, according to Utah Code 78B-3-410 (2010). Non-economic damages cannot be traced to a bill or pay stub, and do not include medical bills or lost wages. Instead, non-economic damages are awarded for loss of consortium (loss of intimate contact with a spouse due to injuries), emotional distress, post-traumatic stress disorder, and pain and suffering.
Economic damages for medical bills, the cost of future medical treatment, physical therapy, and rehabilitation in addition to lost wages, expenses, and future lost wages because of the incident are not capped. For birth injuries, claimants may have substantial non-economic damages because their child may be faced with a permanent disability, robbing them of future professional and educational opportunities. A mother may have also suffered permanent injuries rendering her unable to have children in the future. Victims suffering at the hands of a negligent physician are entitled to just compensation.
Can a Hospital be Sued for a Doctor’s Negligence?
Many potential plaintiffs are confused about who is responsible after a medical injury occurs. If a surgeon made a clinical error, can the nurses and hospital administrators be held responsible as well? Many physicians are actually independent contractors who work independently of the hospital but have privileges to operate or treat patients in hospital facilities, using medical equipment leased or owned by the hospital.
Courts have held that hospitals owe a duty of care to patients seeking treatment on their premises. This is because hospitals would cease to operate without the services rendered by physicians and nurses, whether they are direct employees or not. Patient plaintiffs do not have the authority (in most cases) to pick and choose which doctor will treat them in a practice, especially in an emergency situation.
They may have chosen a hospital simply because of geographic location or because of health insurance constraints. The apparent agency theory states that because plaintiffs make a reasonable reliance on a hospital system to provide adequate care(even if contracted through a physician), the plaintiffs should be able to recover against the hospital and the negligent doctor.
Contact Utah Medical Malpractice Attorneys at Harris, Preston & Chambers
If you or a loved one were injured due to a doctor’s negligence in Utah, you may have questions about your potential options. You are not alone and you do not need to suffer in silence. You are entitled to damages and justice for your significant loss. Our attorneys at Harris, Preston, and Chambers understand the sensitivity and emotion behind a medical malpractice claim. You placed your faith and trust in a medical provider, and now you and your family will never be the same.
No matter how complex a medical malpractice case may be, our attorneys will be your advocate and are dedicated to seeking justice on your behalf. Our offices are conveniently located in Logan, and we practice throughout the State of Utah. Call today to schedule a free consultation.