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What you need to know about medical errors

When a medical professional makes a mistake, the consequences can be extremely serious. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine estimate that medical error ranks third among causes of death in the United States.

Victims of a medical error and their families may have a cause of action for medical malpractice. However, not all mistakes or undesirable outcomes necessarily fall into the category of malpractice.

Failure to meet the expected standard

Generally, for the law to hold a health care provider responsible for medical malpractice, the provider must have failed to meet the expected standard of care. This can mean different things in different situations. The law evaluates whether the actions of a medical professional were reasonable based on that professional's specialty and education, as well as indicators of medical standards such as official publications and practice guidelines.

Medical malpractice cases can contain various complications. Establishing negligence can be complicated. There may also be questions about whether the negligent action actually caused the subsequent injury. These cases can be especially complex when patients suffer from pre-existing medical conditions.


One common error that can cause substantial suffering and even death is wrongful diagnosis or failure to diagnose. In such situations, a doctor may miss symptoms of an illness or ignore signs that further testing is necessary. This can happen due to lack of knowledge or because the doctor did not listen attentively to the patient's comments. Sometimes, a doctor may receive incomplete or incorrect information in the patient's medical record.

Surgical errors

Surgical errors also continue to occur, despite the protocols that professional organizations develop hospitals implement. Common mistakes include surgery on the wrong organ or limb, badly performed surgery and surgical supplies left inside the patient.

Statute of limitations

Because Illinois law imposes some strict deadlines for filing a medical malpractice case, it is important to take legal action promptly. Typically, an Illinois plaintiff may file a lawsuit  within two years of discovering the injury (or from the date the court deems the injury should have come to light), but no later than four years from the date of the medical malpractice. There are some exceptions however.

Because evidence can disappear over time, it is important to undertake a comprehensive investigation of the incident as soon as possible. In the event of suspected medical malpractice, speak with an attorney experienced in medical malpractice cases to learn about your legal options.

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