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Who is Liable when there is Medical Malpractice after a Car Accident?

What happens when a treating doctor injures you due to his or her negligence while treating you for the injuries you sustained in a car accident? Well, it's safe to say you'd be having a bad day if this occurred, but this really is a very good question. The answer, although logical, may not be the first you'd consider.

To understand the answer to this one, you have to understand how negligence (personal injury) damages work in Massachusetts. When you are injured due to the negligence of another, that party is responsible for ALL the damages reasonably foreseeable as a result of the defendant's action. One such foreseeable event would be the negligence of the treating physician who tends to the injured party's condition after the accident.

Let's take an example to illustrate our point. Let's say that Patty (Plaintiff) is driving through an intersection on a green light when Dillon (Defendant) drives through the red light and hit Patty's car on the driver side at 30 miles per hour. Patty sustains a broken left leg, a concussion, and whiplash. Patty is taken by ambulance from the scene to Maury's Medical Clinic. Dr. Maury sees and treats Patty, but (due to what he later describes as working in a sleep-deprived, blurred-vision, caffeine-induced state) he directs Patty to stand up and attempt to walk while wearing only an uninflated, temporary air cast. She falls directly to the ground, her femur breaks the skin, and massive bleeding ensues. Her artery is lacerated in the process, and she never really walks the same again.

An injured party could clearly conclude that the doctor made this mistake, which should cut off the liability against Dillon. After all, Mary would not have been nearly as injured had it not been for the doctor's negligence. That may be so, but what's equally clear is that none of the injuries would have occurred had it not been for Dillon's negligence. So, the way the law works is that all of the liability is incurred by Dillon, and only the liability directly caused by Dr. Maury is on the doctor.

When you have a scenario like this one, it's important that you have an attorney who will handle both the personal injury car accident case and the medical malpractice case. The medical malpractice case is procedurally more complex and will likely take longer. The proper way to manage the case is to determine whether the injured party's damages will exceed the recovery from the driver (Dillon). The auto accident case is usually the easier recovery because the medical malpractice case involves extensive expenses to the plaintiff--those expenses are simply unnecessary if the same recovery could be made against another party. However, an issue arises when the party driving the vehicle has inadequate insurance coverage to fully compensate the injured party for his or her injuries and other damages.

For example, imagine in the hypothetical above if Dillon only had $20,000 of coverage. My first impression of Mary's injuries is that they are significant and likely exceed $20,000. Once Dillon's policy is exhausted, the injured party can decide to seek personal damages against Dillon, which is generally a fruitless act, or to seek another policy. Here, we'd look to the medical malpractice policy. In doing so, the injured party would need to bring a medical malpractice claim forward, but will have the burden of proving how much of the recovery received from the other driver was attributable to the doctor's negligence. If, say, $5,000 was attributable, then the doctor's liability is reduced by that amount. If your attorney does not determine this through the case settlement, there will be a difficult burden to deal with later, potentially devaluing your case.

Choosing a personal injury lawyer is difficult and becomes exceedingly consequential when you're dealing with a medical malpractice component. I recommend you seek an attorney or firm who will be able to handle both components in tandem so that any confusion between the two cases and their respective injury damages can be avoided.

The information on this website is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this site should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.

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