Doctors spend a considerable amount of time learning about medicine. First, they attend medical school for four years; after that, they work as a resident in their particular specialty for a number of years. Since doctors have such extensive training, knowledge, and experience, when we go to see a doctor we expect that doctor to provide us with the proper treatment for whatever ails us. If you go in because you are feeling unwell, you expect the doctor to properly diagnose you. If the doctor is unsure of something, you expect him or her to run the appropriate follow-up tests. Unfortunately, doctors can, and do, make errors such as missing a diagnosis, running the wrong test, or prescribing the wrong medication. When a doctor is negligent in his or her treatment of a patient, that doctor could be held liable for medical malpractice.
Statute Of Limitations
You only have a limited amount of time to file a medical malpractice lawsuit. This time limit, called a statute of limitations, is much shorter in Tennessee than other states. In Tennessee, you have just one year to file a malpractice claim after you have been injured. TN Code § 29-26-116 (2015). If the injury is not discovered right away, you have one year from the date of discovery of the injury to file a claim. However, a medical malpractice action cannot be filed "more than three (3) years after the date on which the negligent act or omission occurred."
There are exceptions to this rule. If, for example, there is "fraudulent concealment on the part of the defendant", then the statute of limitations is "one (1) year after discovery that the cause of action exists." In addition, "in cases where a foreign object has been negligently left in a patient's body . . . the action shall be commenced within one (1) year after the alleged injury or wrongful act is discovered or should have been discovered." TN Code § 29-26-116 (2015).
Because the statute of limitations is so short, if you or a loved one has been injured because of medical negligence in Tennessee, it is a good idea to contact an attorney to discuss your case right away.
In addition to the statute of limitations, Tennessee has a notice provision in medical malpractice cases. According to the Tennessee Code section 29-26-121, before filing a medical malpractice lawsuit a plaintiff "shall give written notice of the potential claim to each health care provider that will be a named defendant at least sixty (60) days before the filing of a complaint based upon health care liability in any court of this state." Giving notice can then extend the statute of limitations by 120 days.
Types of Medical Malpractice
Every year patients lose their lives because of medical errors. In 2013, the Journal of Patient Safety estimated that a staggering 400,000 people die from preventable medical errors every year. This makes it the third leading cause of death behind cancer and heart disease. Medical malpractice can occur in any number of ways. The following are just a few examples:
- Diagnostic Errors: This includes a failure to diagnose patients with the proper condition and misdiagnosing a patient with a condition the patient does not have.
- Surgical Errors: Surgical errors can include things like making a mistake during surgery, performing surgery on the wrong site, and leaving sponges inside of patients.
- Medication Errors: This can include doctors failing to inform their patients of the proper way to take a medication, prescribing the wrong medication, or prescribing the wrong dose of a medication.
- Hospital Errors: Hospitals errors can include things like employee negligence or unsanitary conditions.
The people who can be held liable for medical malpractice will depend on the facts and circumstances of the case. However, It is important to note that medical errors can be committed by health care professionals other than doctors. For example, a nurse can fail to check on a patient regularly or misread a chart and give the patient the wrong medication. That nurse can then be held liable for his or her medical negligence.
Proving Medical Negligence
In order to prove medical malpractice in Tennessee, the plaintiff must show that the defendant medical professional was negligent. Negligence can be defined as "[t]he failure to exercise the standard of care that a reasonably prudent person would have exercised in a similar situation." Black's Law Dictionary 1133 (9th ed. 2009). To prove in court that a medical professional committed medical malpractice in Tennessee, the plaintiff must show that:
- "The recognized standard of acceptable professional practice in the profession and the specialty thereof, if any, that the defendant practices in the community in which the defendant practices or in a similar community at the time the alleged injury or wrongful action occurred;
- That the defendant acted with less than or failed to act with ordinary and reasonable care in accordance with such standard; and
- As a proximate result of the defendant's negligent act or omission, the plaintiff suffered injuries which would not otherwise have occurred."
TN Code § 29-26-115 (2015). Plaintiffs can prove the failure to abide by the applicable standard of care by using expert testimony. The expert that the plaintiff uses "must have knowledge of the standard of professional care in the defendant's applicable community or knowledge of the standard of professional care in a community that is shown to be similar to the defendant's community." Robinson v. LeCorps, 83 S.W.3d 718, 724 (Tenn. 2002).
Contact A Tennessee Medical Malpractice Attorney
If you or a loved one has been injured because of the medical negligence of a health care professional, such as a doctor or a nurse, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Offices of Luvell L. Glanton today. Luvell has been practicing personal injury law in Tennessee for over two decades. Let his experience and knowledge work for you. You can call his office at (615) 244-4511, or click here to fill out the online form.