The Ohio Supreme Court recently heard arguments in an Ohio medical malpractice case involving the University of Toledo College of Medicine and the issue of state employee immunity from litigation. The court’s decision in this case could have significant implications for medical negligence plaintiffs in some circumstances.
In Engel v. Univ. of Toledo College of Medicine, the court must decide if a surgeon who was treating his own patient is immune from a med mal lawsuit because a student was observing the procedure. The plaintiff in the case alleges that the surgeon made mistakes during two vasectomy procedures in January of 2005 that caused pain, additional medical bills, lost wages and emotional distress. The surgeon claimed immunity under Section 9.86 of the Ohio Revised Code, arguing that the plaintiff could only seek damages from the University of Toledo’s medical school, with which he had an association to allow medical students to observe his procedures.
After the Court of Common Pleas determined that the surgeon was professionally immune from the plaintiff’s claims, the University failed on appeal to convince the Ohio Court of Appeals that the surgeon was not entitled to immunity, despite its argument that only state officers or employees are entitled to immunity. At the time of the alleged malpractice, the surgeon served as a volunteer within a program that allowed private practice doctors to serve as preceptors for student physicians. But the appellate panel disagreed, noting that the volunteer program provided a stipend to participants and required compliance with University of Toledo faculty rules, regulations, policies and procedures.
At stake in the highest state court’s decision is whether liability of certain actions by 8,000 Ohio doctors who serve similar mentoring functions will be shifted from private insurers to the state. As to whether that is good for medical malpractice victims, the plaintiff in this case has argued against immunity from the start, preferring to proceed directly against the surgeon. Five years from the events that caused him harm, the plaintiff is still awaiting his day in court on the underlying malpractice issue.
Complex Medical Malpractice Litigation Requires Dedicated Attorneys
The life cycle of a medical negligence lawsuits can become quite long if legal complexities arise. For that reason, people who were injured or surviving family members should always keep in mind that they must enlist a law firm that has the resources and experience to handle their claim over the long haul.
The most important step is to start assembling a record of the harm suffered and symptoms as soon as awareness dawns that something went wrong. From surgical mistakes, birth injuries and other medical mistakes to failures to diagnose cancer, heart disease or the aftermath of a stroke, identifying the harm is vital to being able to assess what went wrong.
But when complex legal issues like immunity arise, the experience of a seasoned litigator with ample trial practice may make a difference in settlement negotiations and court proceedings leading up to trial.
Proving A Negligent Medical Professional’s Departure From The Standard Of Care
Sometimes the harm suffered by a patient is obvious, such as wrong-site surgery or sponges or other foreign objects left behind. Such is true in the Engle case, wherein the plaintiff lost a testicle after a second procedure was performed to remedy an error from the first procedure.
But in most cases, the jury may have a great deal of discretion to determine whether or not something went wrong. Birth injury cases are a good example, such as when a seemingly minor denial of oxygen supply to a baby during delivery (hypoxia) leads to a cerebral palsy diagnosis years later.
Expert assessment of medical records is therefore an important part of medical malpractice litigation, and the most successful Ohio medical malpractice law firms work closely with trusted experts to build strong legal strategies. As in many types of litigation, cases often settle before trial, but the plaintiff must be willing to provide clear proof of the alleged harm and extent of injury before the defense will make reasonable settlement offers.
In the present case, the defense strategy took a different course: try to deflect legal liability to another party. When legal maneuvering causes protracted delays, it is important to know that your medical malpractice lawyer will keep you updated about the status of your claim.
From Negotiation To Final Appeal: Providing Consistent Personal Injury Representation
One of the most important things for a potential medical malpractice client to understand is the concept of contingency fees. Most medical liability lawyers will handle your case on a contingent fee basis, meaning you pay no attorney fees unless you receive compensation on your claim. In most cases, the amount you pay will be a percentage of what you receive.
This is particularly important in a case that takes years to reach completion. Obviously, the resulting harm from a surgeon’s fatal error can bring enduring hardship to a family. Long-term medical expenses, emotional suffering caused by death and lost income are among the types of damages that justice can remedy, however long that process may take.