On our blog, we have discussed the rights of patients when it comes to accessing medical records, as well as the many regulations which govern the documentation and release of personal health information. While knowing your rights as a patient and accessing your medical records can help you ensure their accuracy, better manage your treatment plans, and empower you to make more informed decisions about your health, there is another reason why patients may choose to obtain copies of their medical records: they intend to pursue a medical malpractice lawsuit.
While medical malpractice can take many different forms, from medication mistakes and misdiagnoses to anesthesia accidents and surgical errors, it generally means a health care provider failed to meet their “duty of care” when treating a patient, who suffers preventable harm as a result. If a doctor failed to meet the accepted standards of their profession when performing a surgery by leaving a medical instrument inside a patient’s body or by failing to diagnose a condition they should have diagnosed, for example, such a breach of duty would be considered malpractice.
Proving Medical Malpractice: The Importance of Medical Records
While malpractice may seem like a straightforward concept (i.e. negligence, substandard care, and medical mistakes mean victims should be compensated), medical malpractice cases are notorious for being extremely complex, cumbersome, and high stakes cases. In fact, many attorneys who practice personal injury law do not handle medical malpractice lawsuits, often because they require extensive and specific experience, and a great deal of work. They can also be costly and demanding of resources, especially when it comes to interpreting complex medical information and fighting back against medical groups and insurance companies that aim to pay as little as possible.
In such difficult cases, every piece of evidence is critical – especially medical records. Below are a few reasons how medical records can play an important role in medical malpractice lawsuits.
- Direction in the case – Although a patient may be able to discuss how they suffered harm, or show the scars or lasting effects they experienced as proof, medical records are more tangible sources of information for determining what happened, whether medical professionals failed to meet their legal duty, and how. A careful review of medical records surrounding the incident in question can provide direction in the case, and help attorneys identify the grounds upon which claims will be built. Was the injury a direct result of hands-on treatment (i.e. a surgical error) or could it possibly have been caused by unchecked negligence that continued over a period of time (i.e. testing errors and failing to diagnose a condition)? Answering these questions with the help of medical records can provide insight into how a doctor did something wrong, such as operating on the wrong body part, as well as whether providers failed to do what was expected or necessary when caring for patients, such as failing to diagnose, treat, or respond to a request for treatment. Identifying these types of underlying issues allows our attorneys to know what they need to focus on, and what types of supporting resources and information will be required to prove malpractice.
- Experts and resources – Medical malpractice cases involve highly complex medical concepts, which is why they often require the insight of experts who can weigh in on the medical aspects of a case. By reviewing medical records, attorneys can appropriately identify which types of medical specialists and resources may be needed (i.e. an orthopedic specialist or an anesthesiologist) for insight on the facts of a case, and to provide testimony at trial when needed. Working with the right specialist who has specific knowledge of the issues involved is critical to proving how a doctor or other health care provider failed to act as a reasonably skillful medical professional would act under the same or similar circumstances – the general standard for proving malpractice. Our medical malpractice team at Levinson Axelrod, P.A has an MD / JD on staff (licensed medical doctor and attorney) precisely for this reason.
- Discovery – Obtaining medical records can provide further insight that aids attorneys in identifying and gathering any additional needed information. In a process known as discovery, attorneys can rely on the information they find in a patient’s medical records to request other information from defendants (such as billing records, a physician’s employment or disciplinary history, hospital policies, etc.), or determine who might need to be questioned under oath during a deposition.
- Damages – Complete medical records can provide evidence not only of a medical professional’s failure to exercise reasonable care, but also the resulting damages. Reviewing records can help attorneys calculate economic damages associated with an underlying injury, including the need for additional medical procedures and treatment. The scope of medical treatment required, as well as diagnoses and prognoses, can also help provide evidence which supports arguments for non-economic damages like pain and suffering.
- Future Damages – In cases where malpractice results in severe, long-term, and / or lifelong medical issues, including physical or mental disabilities, victims will often have various needs beyond the conclusion of their case, if not for the rest of their lives. This can include anything from the need for future surgeries or treatment, medical devices, regular medical monitoring, assistive care or therapy, accommodations for disabilities or special needs, and more. Severe disabilities may also prevent victims from working and earning wages, or performing the same type of work they did prior to their injuries. Having records of medical evaluations and prognoses can help prove a victim’s need for future damages, and provide evidence for things like projected future medical expenses and lost earning potential.
Proven Medical Malpractice Lawyers Serving New Jersey
Obtaining and evaluating medical records is an essential part of any medical malpractice case, but there are other factors which must be addressed, including those which threaten a victim’s ability to prove liability and secure the compensation they need. This is true when it comes the aggressiveness with which health care providers and insurance companies defend against claims. Because doctors, hospitals, and medical insurers are corporations keen on paying victims as little as possible, working with attorneys who have the necessary experience, ability to consult with relevant medical experts, and resources to level the playing field is critical.
Levinson Axelrod, P.A. is a nationally recognized law firm that has recovered over $1 billion in compensation for victims and families in cases involving personal injury and medical malpractice. Our medical malpractice team includes an MD / JD (Attorney Rosemary E. McGeady is a licensed physician and lawyer) whose experience as a medical doctor enables our legal team to address even the most complex and technical aspects of these challenging cases.
If you have questions about pursuing legal action against a medical professional or entity, contact us to speak with a lawyer. Consultations are free and confidential, and offered to clients throughout New Jersey.