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Do You Have a Cause of Action?

Before you file a medical malpractice or dental malpractice lawsuit, you have to find out whether you have a cause of action. Here is your first check-list:

Did You Have a Doctor Patient Relationship?

You cannot sue a doctor for medical malpractice who has never treated you or seen you as a patient. You must have a doctor patient relationship. If a doctor treats you in his office or the hospital, you are his patient and can hold him responsible for whatever happens. But, there are other ways in which a doctor patient relationship can be formed.

Reliance on a Doctor’s Assurance

Two couples were camping in Minnesota. One of the men was a pediatrician. During the night, the other man became sick, and his wife wanted to take him to the hospital. But, the pediatrician checked him over and said he would be better in the morning. Actually, his friend was suffering from a heart attack and was dead in the morning. The widow sued the pediatrician, claiming that her husband could have survived if he had been taken to a hospital. The pediatrician defended himself by saying: “I didn’t treat him. I’m not a heart specialist and didn’t even have a stethoscope with me. I just gave him the best, friendly advice I could under the circumstances.” Was it malpractice? Yes. By holding himself out as a physician, qualified to diagnose and treat the complaints, he had caused his friends to act, or not to act, in reliance on his assurance there was no danger. The pediatrician exercised a controlling influence on their decision.

Reliance on a Doctor’s Advice

You meet a doctor at a party and say: “Doctor, I have this heart (stomach, rheumatic, etc.) condition.” Maybe you are innocently trying to talk to him or maybe you are trying to get free medical advice. No matter. If the doctor says: “I’m sorry, that’s not my specialty” or “Why don’t you come and see me at my office”, there is no doctor patient relationship or cause of action. But, if he gives you advice concerning your problem, and you act on it, and anything goes wrong, he is liable. This is because he held himself out as a physician and caused you to act in reliance on that representation.

Reliance on an Unknown Doctor’s Opinion

In a New Jersey case, a boy twisted his neck in a football game. He went to the hospital, and they took x-rays. The doctor in the ER told him it was a sprain and sent him home. During the night, the boy became permanently paralyzed from the neck down, because the radiologist, who read the x-rays, missed a fracture of the vertebra, which should have been operated on immediately. The radiologist claimed that his only responsibility was to the hospital and the ER doctor, and he had never seen the boy or given him any advice or treatment. Was there a doctor patient relationship in this case? Yes. The radiologist had caused the treating doctor to act in reliance on the radiologist’s reading of the x-rays, and that was the cause of the paralysis. The jury found that the radiologist was the only one responsible and assessed a large award against him. Even if you never consulted a doctor, or never heard of him, he can be held liable if he causes you harm while acting in his capacity as a physician.

Reliance on a Doctor’s Signature

In a New York case, a doctor would leave signed prescription pads with his nurse. If patients came to his office when he was not there, the nurse would call him, and he would tell her how to fill out the prescription form. A signed prescription pad was stolen by a drug dealer, who filled it out and gave it to a teenager. The teenager had the prescription filled, took the medication, and died of an overdose. Was the doctor or the pharmacist liable for the teenager’s death? The doctor was fully responsible, because the pharmacist had acted in reliance on the doctor’s signature, which he knew to be genuine. The doctor was negligent in leaving signed prescription forms where they could be stolen.

Thousands of patients suffer, due to malpractice, and do not get the compensation they deserve. If you are a victim of malpractice, or your client is a victim of malpractice, contact JD.MD, Inc., today at 800-225-5363. We can provide you with an initial case evaluation or an expert’s opinion.

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