Suffering new or worsening injuries after visiting the doctor is one of the last things you’d expect. However, a 2016 study found that medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the United States. Medical providers have a duty to provide a certain level of care to their patients.
Under Washington’s medical malpractice statute, a medical professional may be held liable if their failure to meet this standard results in a patient’s injury.
The patient must prove that the physician acted negligently in rendering care and that negligence resulted in injury by establishing four legal elements:
- The medical professional owed a duty to the patient,
- They breached that duty,
- The injury stemmed from the breach, and
- The patient suffered damages because of the breach.
However, a critical first inquiry to these cases is whether the case falls within the statute of limitations and statute of repose.
Washington State Medical Malpractice Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations refers to the time a person has to file a lawsuit. Those that miss the deadline may not be able to recover any damages for their injuries. Revised Code of Washington (RCW) section 4.16.350 sets the time limit to file a medical malpractice lawsuit. Under the statute, victims must file their case by the later of one of two dates:
- Three years after the medical negligence that caused the victim’s injury or
- One year after the victim discovered or should have discovered the error that caused their injury.
Exceptions apply if the injury victim was a minor at the time of the incident. In that case, the discovery date is determined by when the parent or guardian discovered the malpractice in these cases.
The Washington State Medical Malpractice Statute of Repose
Washington state also maintains a statute of repose. Like the statute of limitations, the statute of repose bars certain legal claims if the claimant does not assert the complaint within a specific deadline. While the statute of limitations focuses on the timeliness of action, the statute of repose focuses on immunizing the at-fault party from long-term liability.
Washington state’s statute of repose is eight years after the date of the medical malpractice. This applies regardless of when the victim discovered or should have discovered the injury.
Tolling the Medical Malpractice Statute of Limitations
Under certain circumstances, the time will stop running on the “clock” of the statute of limitations. In other words, the running of the limitation period is paused by specific events or circumstances. The exceptions apply in cases of fraud or intentional concealment or if the plaintiff is incompetent or cannot understand the nature of the proceedings. Further, good faith requests for mediation may toll the statute of limitations for one year.
When to Sue for Medical Malpractice
Injury victims should consider suing if they suffered injuries because their healthcare provider breached their standard of care or failed to perform. Many types of negligence may cause harm to a patient. Moreover, the term “healthcare provider” extends to various types of clinicians.
Under RCW 7.70.020, occupations that qualify as a healthcare provider include:
- Osteopathic physicians,
- Physical therapists, or
Further, hospital systems or facilities that employ the negligent healthcare provider may be liable for negligence.
What Qualifies as Medical Malpractice
Medical malpractice generally falls under one of several different categories. These categories include the following.
Misdiagnosis refers to situations where a physician fails to recognize clinical signs and symptoms, order medical testing, or refer the patient to a specialist.
Failure to Treat
Failure to treat violates the standard of care that healthcare professionals accept when treating a patient. This type of negligence may include releasing a patient too soon, failing to provide follow-up care, or ignoring a patient’s medical history.
Lack of Sanitation
Poor hygiene and sanitation practices can lead to serious and potentially deadly infections. Lack of sanitation can occur if medical staff fails to wash their hands, incorrectly disposes of hazardous materials, or fails to sanitize equipment.
Additionally, surgical errors, medication errors, failure to diagnose, delayed diagnosis, and birth injuries are common forms of medical malpractice.
These errors can lead to injuries that range in severity and longevity. While some patients may recover after medical malpractice, others may suffer the consequences for the rest of their life.
Medical Malpractice Based on a Lack of Informed Consent
In addition to the common forms of medical malpractice, informed consent is a necessary prerequisite to most medical care. Except in extreme cases, Washington State requires healthcare providers to inform and obtain patients’ consent before providing medical care.
Generally, informed consent consists of providing patients with certain information such as:
- Qualifications of the treating healthcare provider,
- Purpose of the treatment, procedure, or medication,
- Potential risks and complications of the treatment,
- Alternatives to the treatment,
- Chance of the treatment’s failure or success,
- Length of recovery, and
- Estimated cost and insurance coverage of the procedure.
Informed consent is critical to ensuring that patients understand their options and risks. With this information, they can make the best decision for their unique circumstances. The failure to provide informed consent can lead to unwise and unsafe choices.
Were You the Victim of Medical Malpractice in Washington State?
If you or a loved one recently experienced new or worsening injuries after seeking medical treatment, you may have a medical malpractice lawsuit. However, it is imperative that you do not delay in reaching out to an attorney to discuss your claim. At Brett McCandlis Brown & Conner PLLC, we have been helping patients and their families recover financial compensation from negligent medical providers since 1972. Over this time, we’ve recovered more than $100 million on behalf of more than 3,000 clients. To learn more and to schedule a free consultation with a Washington State medical malpractice legal practitioner, fill out our online contact form, and one of our lawyers will be in touch with you shortly. We handle all medical malpractice claims on a contingency basis, meaning we won’t bill you for our services unless we can recover compensation on your behalf.