Anyone working in the healthcare sector will be aware that the number of patients bringing a claim of medical malpractice is increasing.
In Ireland, for example, over €638m has been paid out on over 1,300 claims since 2003 – of this figure, €305m was paid out between 2019 and 2021. In the UK, there were over twelve thousand clinical negligence claims reported to NHS England in the 2020/21 time period, a figure that has been gradually increasing over the course of the last decade.
While everyone understands that patients sometimes have good reason to bring a case, you may also need to defend yourself against allegations to prevent claims from damaging your career or finances.
In these situations, medical malpractice insurance is vital. In this article, we explain the essentials of medical malpractice insurance, the factors underpinning any lawsuit, and how this type of professional indemnity cover can help.
What is Medical Malpractice?
When a healthcare professional provides inappropriate treatment, deviates from standard medical practice, or gives substandard treatment that causes harm to a patient, this can be classed as medical malpractice.
Where medical errors or negligence take place – either with diagnosis, medication, treatment, or aftercare – patients can sue for compensation.
According to medical malpractice law, there are three main factors that must be met for a patient to bring a claim:
- Determining liability – the claimant must demonstrate that you failed to provide a proper standard of care. The standard of medical treatment will be judged in relation to the area of medicine involved and the time of treatment. It must be proven that you did, or did not do, something during the course of treatment that your colleagues would judge as negligent.
- Proving causation – the claimant must show that your negligence caused them to experience injury or harm. Where there is no injury, or where their suffering is not beyond that which would be expected, there is no claim.
- Demonstrating damages – the claimant must establish that the harm caused by negligence resulted in considerable losses. The court will calculate the amount of compensation a patient should receive including general damages, loss of amenity, special damages, or quantifiable financial losses.
Common Medical Negligence Claims
Any kind of error or mistake could lead to a medical malpractice lawsuit.
From incorrect or misdiagnosis through premature discharge or poor follow-on care, negligence claims can arise from any phase of treatment.
Unfamiliarity with a procedure, lack of communication, or simply working in a busy, stressful environment can all increase the risk of errors. It can therefore be no surprise to learn that incorrect prescriptions and/or direct medication is one of the top contributors to medical malpractice claims figures in Ireland.
Other areas of medicine that produce a notable number of claims include orthopaedic surgery and obstetrics, a discipline where any mistakes have increased potential to cause serious or lifelong ailments.
How Can Medical Malpractice Insurance Help?
Medical malpractice insurance can protect you against claims relating to an allegation of neglect during treatment or therapy.
If you are faced with a medical malpractice claim, the policy will cover the cost of legal expenses, as well as protecting your personal finances if the case is found in favour of the patient.
In addition to those working in a hospital setting – such as doctors, nurses, or surgeons – it can also offer peace of mind for other care professionals, including:
- Care Assistants
- Plastic Surgeons
In fact, anyone providing care for patients could benefit from cover.
Regardless of whether you work in public or private healthcare, or indeed if you are self-employed, it is essential to assess your insurance needs regularly as you may not be adequately covered by the insurance taken out by your employer or practice.
Bear in mind also, that as new cases come to court, the rulings given could impact your liability.
In the 2021 Breakingbury v Croad judgement in the UK for example, the issue of ‘vicarious liability’ had notable impact. In this case, a practice manager was held vicariously liable for the negligence of dentists working in his practice in a ‘self-employed’ capacity.
Ask the Experts
OBF Insurance offers expert guidance for healthcare providers and practice owners. Our medical malpractice insurance can help you navigate this specialised area of the law.
With appropriate cover in place, you can continue to work with patients, safe in the knowledge that if a claim does arise, your policy will cover legal expenses and protect you from financial damage if the case is lost.
Contact us today for industry-specific advice on your policy.