Medical Malpractice and Informed Consent in Pittsburgh: What Patients Should Know

October 05, 2023
Medical Malpractice and Informed Consent in Pittsburgh: What Patients Should Know

Entrusting one’s health and well-being to medical professionals is a significant act of faith. Every individual expects to receive the best possible care, grounded in expertise and compassion. Yet, occasionally, this trust is broken, leading to complications, injuries, or even fatalities due to medical negligence. One critical aspect of medical malpractice revolves around the principle of informed consent.

At Matzus Law, LLC, we’ve represented numerous Pittsburgh residents who have faced the consequences of medical decisions made without their full understanding or consent. Drawing from our extensive experience, this article seeks to enlighten patients about medical malpractice related to informed consent in Pittsburgh.

Understanding Informed Consent

In the realm of medical care, informed consent is a foundational principle. It ensures that a patient is made fully aware of the risks, benefits, and alternatives of a medical procedure or treatment before it is administered.

For consent to be considered “informed,” the following elements must be present:

  • Explanation of the Procedure: A comprehensive description of what the treatment or procedure entails.
  • Risks and Benefits: A detailed account of potential risks and expected benefits.
  • Alternatives: Information on other available treatments or the option of no treatment, including their risks and benefits.
  • Questions and Concerns: The patient should have the opportunity to ask questions and receive satisfactory answers.

When Does a Lack of Informed Consent Become Malpractice?

In the realm of medical care, informed consent is more than just a patient saying “yes” to a treatment or procedure. It’s a process wherein the healthcare provider educates the patient about the risks, benefits, and alternatives of a medical intervention, ensuring the patient’s understanding and voluntary agreement to proceed. But when does a failure in this crucial process escalate to medical malpractice? Here’s a closer look.

Essence of Informed Consent

Informed consent stands on three primary pillars:

  • Detailed Explanation: The healthcare provider must give a comprehensive description of the proposed intervention, outlining what the patient can expect during and after the procedure.
  • Risks and Benefits: The patient should be informed of potential risks and expected benefits of the proposed treatment or procedure.
  • Available Alternatives: Information should also be provided on alternative treatments, including the option of no treatment, and their respective risks and benefits.

Transition from Lack of Consent to Malpractice

For a scenario to transition from a mere lack of informed consent to actionable medical malpractice, two primary conditions must be satisfied:

  • Inadequate Information Provided: The medical professional failed to inform the patient adequately about significant risks, benefits, or alternatives to the treatment or procedure.
  • Direct Harm as a Result: The patient would have opted against the treatment or chosen a different course had they been adequately informed. As a direct result of the procedure they were not fully informed about, the patient suffered harm.

For instance, if a surgical procedure has a known risk of causing nerve damage and the surgeon fails to inform the patient of this risk, and the patient subsequently suffers from nerve damage post-surgery, this could be grounds for a malpractice claim based on a lack of informed consent.

Exceptions to Informed Consent

Like all rules, there are exceptions to the principle of informed consent:

  • Emergencies: If a patient requires urgent medical intervention and is unable to give consent, and waiting could result in harm or death, a doctor may proceed without it.
  • Mental Incapacity: If a patient cannot understand the information due to a mental condition, doctors might act in what they believe to be the patient’s best interest.
  • Therapeutic Privilege: In rare cases, if a doctor believes that disclosing certain information might harm the patient or compromise their recovery, they may withhold specific details. However, this is a grey area and can be contentious.

Protecting Your Rights

If you believe you’ve been a victim of medical malpractice due to a lack of informed consent, consider the following steps:

  • Secure Medical Records: Obtain all medical records related to your treatment. They serve as crucial evidence.
  • Consult an Expert: Speak with another healthcare provider about your condition and the treatment you received. Their perspective can help determine if malpractice occurred.
  • Contact an Experienced Attorney: Engaging a law firm with expertise in medical malpractice, like Matzus Law, LLC, can be instrumental. They can evaluate the merits of your case, guide you through the legal process, and advocate on your behalf.

Navigating the Legal Landscape in Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh, like the rest of Pennsylvania, has a unique and intricate set of laws governing medical malpractice claims. If you believe you’ve been a victim of medical negligence in Pittsburgh, understanding the legal landscape is critical. This section aims to shed light on the key aspects of Pittsburgh’s medical malpractice laws and offer insights into navigating the challenges.

Statute of Limitations

The most fundamental aspect to note is the timeframe within which a medical malpractice lawsuit must be filed. In Pittsburgh, the statute of limitations for medical malpractice is two years from the date the injury was discovered or reasonably should have been discovered. However, there are exceptions, especially when the victim is a minor or in cases involving foreign objects left in the body.

Certificate of Merit

Before filing a lawsuit, the plaintiff (the injured party) is required to obtain a Certificate of Merit. This is a statement from an expert (usually another physician) indicating that the treatment provided was below the accepted standard of care in the medical community. This step is crucial to ensure that the claim has merit and isn’t frivolous.

Comparative Negligence

Pittsburgh follows a modified comparative negligence rule. This means that if the patient is found to be partially at fault for their injuries, any award they receive would be reduced in proportion to their fault. If the patient is more than 50% responsible, they cannot recover any damages.

Damage Caps

In Pittsburgh, there is no cap on damages for medical malpractice. Victims can claim both economic (like medical bills and lost wages) and non-economic damages (such as pain and suffering). However, there is a limit on punitive damages – they cannot exceed two times the amount of compensatory damages.

Informed Consent

Medical practitioners in Pittsburgh must obtain informed consent from patients before certain procedures. If a patient is not adequately informed about the risks and potential outcomes, and they suffer harm as a result, it can be a basis for a medical malpractice claim.

Liability of Multiple Parties

In situations where multiple parties (doctors, nurses, or medical facilities) are involved, Pittsburgh law allows for the apportionment of liability. Each party can be held responsible based on their percentage of fault in the patient’s injury.

Mediation and Arbitration

To reduce the number of cases going to trial, Pittsburgh encourages alternative dispute resolution methods like mediation and arbitration. These can be more expedient and less confrontational means to resolve disputes, though the outcomes can vary based on the specific process chosen.

Engaging an Expert Attorney

Given the complexities of Pittsburgh’s medical malpractice landscape, having an experienced attorney by your side is indispensable. A lawyer will help gather evidence, consult medical experts, navigate the intricacies of state law, and advocate fiercely on your behalf.

Contact an Experienced Medical Malpractice Lawyer at Matzus Law, LLC, for a Free Consultation About Your Case Today

Every patient has the right to be thoroughly informed about their medical treatment. When this right is infringed upon, and harm results, legal recourse is available. At Matzus Law, LLC, our commitment is to champion the rights of patients, ensuring they receive the justice they deserve. If you believe you’ve suffered due to a lack of informed consent, reach out to our dedicated team. We stand ready to guide, support, and fight for your rights.


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