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Malpractice Against Chronically Ill Patients

PatientsChronically ill adults are often overlooked or outright mistreated by the medical care system in the United States. However, because the needs of the chronically ill are often somewhat extraordinary, many physicians are held to have acted within the standard of care even if a negative outcome results in the patient. In other cases, it is held that chronically ill patients may require more effort to meet the ordinary standard of care. Either way, this does not change the fact that a physician can still be held liable for malpractice with regards to a chronically ill patient, despite their unique challenges.

Prone to Experience Medical Errors

Studies have shown that, for a variety of reasons, chronically ill patients in the United States do not receive optimal care, at least not by standards in other nations. A 2008 study by HealthAffairs shows that U.S. patients, by far, are the most likely to forego care due to excessive costs, and also to experience medical errors and badly managed or coordinated care (for example, duplicating tests or being made to wait long periods of time for appointments).

Approximately 34 percent of chronically ill U.S. patients reported medical errors or negligence in their care, compared to as low as 17 percent in Dutch patients and 19 percent in German patients in the study. While the mere existence of medical mistake in someone’s case does not equal malpractice, it is nonetheless indicative. Simple math can reasonably indicate that the more medical mistakes occur, the more instances of malpractice may be discovered.

Access to care is also a problem for the chronically ill in the United States, and it can be argued that a lack of access to care may constitute a breach of duty in certain situations. In the HealthAffairs study, approximately 60 percent of patients reported visiting an emergency room for care they said would have been treatable by a regular physician if an appointment had been available. Only Canada reported a higher value, at 64 percent.

Unusual Threshold for Injury

Another common way in which malpractice is committed against the chronically ill is when their potential susceptibility to injury or negative outcomes is misjudged. A pre-existing condition may be aggravated, or a new one may be created due to a misunderstanding of a person’s physical health. California jury instructions refer to an “unusually susceptible plaintiff,” who may suffer an injury when an ordinary person would not, or may suffer a worse injury than an ordinary person might. At common law this was called the ‘eggshell plaintiff’ rule - a defendant had to take their plaintiff as they found them.

In other words, if a chronically ill plaintiff experiences a negative reaction to a medication that a person of average constitution would not, it still means that the doctor may be liable for malpractice if it can be determined that they breached the standard of care. A doctor may not sit back on probabilities when a patient’s health is at stake; if harm is suffered, and it can be proven that it was directly related to the medical professional’s conduct, it is more likely than not that the doctor will be held liable.

Ask an Experienced Malpractice Lawyer

If you or a loved one are chronically ill, you are still entitled to your day in court if you have been the victim of malpractice, regardless of any preexisting conditions or misconceptions about susceptibility to injury. The compassionate San Jose medical malpractice attorneys at Corsiglia, McMahon & Allard, L.L.P. can offer suggestions and guidance on how best to proceed if you think you have a case. Contact us today via phone or website to schedule a consultation. We serve San Jose, the Bay Area, and the counties of Alameda, Monterey, San Benito, Santa Clara, and San Mateo.

Client Reviews
My experience with Attorney Brad Corsiglia during my recent medical malpractice case was nothing short of amazing given the very stressful circumstances. I was fortunate to find Brad highly recommended from a mutual contact and from the very beginning of the process, Brad was truly engaged and knowledgeable in understanding my case and providing input on what avenues were available to me. Michelle M.