Litigating a medical malpractice case against one party presents several challenges. Your attorney has to prove negligence and the healthcare provider involved with your claim committed at least one act of proven negligence. Many healthcare providers have the financial resources to hire the best lawyers in the medical malpractice field. Then, we have judges and juries that tend to be partial to doctors, nurses, and surgeons.
The one factor that makes litigating a medical malpractice case easier in some instances is only one defendant is legally liable for committing medical negligence. However, many medical negligence lawsuits involve two or more parties, which brings us to a couple of legal terms that define legal liability.
The legal terms are called joint liability and several liability.
Overview of Joint Liability
Joint liability happens when two or more parties acted in unison to cause the same harm to a patient. A prime example of joint liability is when two surgeons working on the same patient contribute to the same surgical error.
Both surgeons agreed to operate in the same way, which turned out to be the wrong way. Both surgeons can be found legally liable for medical malpractice for the same act of negligence.
Compensation for damages does not change for the plaintiff, as both surgeons must pay a percentage of the damages awarded by a judge or jury. If a plaintiff wins an award of $100,000, each surgeon is on the financial hook for $50,000. A plaintiff cannot receive $100,000 from each of the surgeons.
Another example of a joint liability case for medical malpractice is when a doctor and a nurse working at the same medical facility work together to complete the same inaccurate diagnostic test. An inaccurate diagnostic test can lead to a number of bad outcomes, that include improper treatment and the over-prescription of a medication.
Overview of Several Liability
Several liability defines one defendant’s legal liability as distinct from a second defendant’s legal liability. It is the opposite of joint liability where two defendants share the blame for the same medical negligence. Let’s say a plaintiff wants to sue three parties for several liability damages. Suing the first party has no legal effect on the other two parties because each party committed a separate act of medical negligence.
For example, a surgeon makes an error applying stitches, which leads to severely dangerous bleeding. A second surgeon leaves a medical instrument in the patient’s body after stitching the patient up to make up for the first surgeon’s error. The plaintiff can sue each surgeon for a distinct act of negligence. The first surgeon made a critical stitching error, while the second surgeon committed negligence by leaving a medical instrument inside the patient’s body.
For several liability lawsuits, each defendant is legally liable for just the damage the defendant caused. The surgeon who stitched up a medical instrument inside the patient is not legally liable for the stitching error made by the first surgeon.
When Both Joint and Several Liability Apply
Joint and several liability cases combine the features of each type of legal liability. A judge or a jury can decide there was an overlap of negligence that makes all parties legally liable for at least some of the negligence. This is a tricky type of liability for plaintiffs because they have to decide how to apportion blame among all parties involved in committing medical malpractice.
If the defendants believe they have paid more than their properly apportioned share, they can sue one or more other defendants to recover the amount of overpayment.
Working with a Medical Malpractice Attorney
Victims benefit from joint and several liability laws, which is why insurance companies and healthcare providers have lobbied against passing such laws. Because of the favorability of joint and several liability laws for victims of medical negligence, many medical malpractice lawyers conduct extensive investigations to determine whether more than one party committed an act of medical negligence.
If you believe you are a victim of either joint, several, or joint-several negligence, contact a California medical malpractice lawyer to schedule a free case evaluation. Your attorney will want to know everything that transpired during the time when possibly more than one healthcare provider committed an act of medical negligence. Evidence such as medical documents and security camera footage can help you prove medical negligence that leads to the filing of a joint, several, or joint-several liability lawsuit.