Can I Sue for Malpractice if My Doctor Was Under the Influence?

doctor malpractice

Doctors and other health care providers see patients at their most vulnerable. And those patients trust their doctors to make sound and responsible decisions for their health and well-being. But doctors are human after all, and they are not immune to the struggles others face. Those struggles include substance use problems.

Although alcohol and drug abuse among doctors is not a widespread problem, for a patient in the care of a doctor under the influence, it could mean life or death. When a patient is harmed by a doctor whose judgment was clouded by drugs or alcohol, they may have cause to sue for medical malpractice in Maryland.

What Is Medical Malpractice?

Doctors make mistakes. Yet not every bad choice is malpractice in a legal context. Under the law, medical malpractice refers to a legal cause of action that happens when a health care professional injures a patient by deviating from the standards of their profession, or through an act of omission or negligence.

Medical malpractice claims typically must show the following:

  • The provided medical treatment was inconsistent with the accepted standard of care.
  • The patient suffered some type of injury because of that deviation from the standard of care.
  • That injury resulted in damages. Damages include pain, suffering, disability, hardship, loss of income, or burdensome medical costs.

What does it look like when a doctor treats a patient in a way that deviates from the generally accepted standard of care? It can be many different things. A doctor can prescribe the wrong medication, misdiagnose the patient’s condition, or do something as extreme as operate on the wrong body part. Mistakes in treatment, diagnoses, aftercare, and health management may constitute medical malpractice.

It should be noted that doctors are not the only professionals who can be liable for medical malpractice. Most health care providers are subject to malpractice laws where they practice, including dentists, surgeons, nurses, midwives, chiropractors, pharmacists, and psychologists.

What Happens When Doctors Work While Impaired by Alcohol or Drugs?

Doctors have extensive education and training, but they are just as vulnerable to the effects of substance use as everyone else. Depending on the substance involved, alcohol or drugs can make the doctor impulsive or lethargic.

They can affect the provider’s ability to make rational decisions or interfere with coordination, motor skills, and reaction time. If that impaired individual is a health care professional performing surgery, the risk to the patient is significant.

Evidence Is Critical to Sue a Doctor Who Was Under the Influence

If you have reason to believe your health care provider caused you harm from being under the influence, there are steps you can take to pursue legal action to recover compensation for medical bills and lost wages.

Personal injury claims for impaired doctors are more complex than other types of medical malpractice cases, primarily because proving impairment is not easy. You need evidence to show the doctor was intoxicated while treating you. The best way for you to assist your lawyer is to save all evidence related to your medical treatment.

Make notes of when you saw the doctor, what took place during the appointment, and make copies of medical records and other documents related to your care. Even if you do not think it is helpful to your case, save it anyway.

Your medical malpractice lawyer works on their end to uncover hidden evidence and contact any potential witnesses who can testify to build your case against a negligent doctor. That could be an assistant who was in the treatment room, or another patient who observed the doctor’s demeanor.

Maryland Malpractice Laws and Statute of Limitations

A statute of limitations is the deadline to file a lawsuit. Like most states, Maryland has a statute of limitations for medical malpractice cases.

A plaintiff must file a claim within five years from the time of injury, or within three years after they discovered or should have discovered they were injured from medical negligence. The statute of limitations may be paused or tolled in some situations, most typically if the patient is a minor or is mentally incapacitated.

Expert Certification for Maryland Medical Malpractice Claims

There is another requirement for plaintiffs filing a medical malpractice claim in Maryland: expert certification. This consists of a certificate from a qualified medical expert confirming the health care provider in question, the defendant, failed to meet the appropriate standard of care during the course of one’s treatment, and that failure was the cause of their injury.

If you and/or your lawyer believe there is cause to waive this requirement, you must submit a written request to the judge, along with your reason for the request. If the judge denies your request and you fail to provide the certificate within 90 days from the time of your initial case filing, your claim will be dismissed.

Some Medical Malpractice Claims Have Special Requirements in Maryland

Claims in Maryland that involve more than $30,000 in damages usually start out of court. First, the claim and the accompanying certificate must be filed with the state’s Health Care Alternative Dispute Resolution Office.

From there, most claims go to arbitration.  Arbitration is a process for resolving disputes outside of the judiciary courts. Disputes are decided by one or more arbitrators, and an arbitration decision is rendered. Arbitration decisions are legally binding and enforceable in the courts.

With that said, the plaintiff or defendant can opt to waive arbitration. However, it must be done no later than 60 days after expert certifications have been filed. Then, the party who waives arbitration has another 60 days to file a complaint with the court.

If the case goes to arbitration, either party can reject the arbitration award if they anticipate a more favorable outcome in court. If you are considering filing a malpractice claim, there are a few different paths your case can take.  It is important to follow each step on time.

Something as simple as missing a filing deadline, for example, can cost you any chance of recovering damages. Your medical malpractice lawyer will explain all your legal options to help you make timely, informed decisions based on your situation.

Choosing Safe and Responsible Health Care Providers

When choosing a new doctor, it is always wise to check online reviews. You can also contact the medical review board in your state to find out if they have any disciplinary action against them or previous medical malpractice claims.

Of course, there is a first time for everything, so a clean record does not mean your doctor is safe. And unless each patient who is harmed by a negligent provider takes legal action, bad behavior will go undocumented.

If you meet with a doctor who appears to be drunk or high, you should immediately change physicians. To help protect future patients, you can notify the facility that employs the physician and report them to the Board of Medicine in your state.

Doctors are human, and they make mistakes. But in their profession, an error can be life-changing for their patient. Medical errors can leave patients with chronic pain, mobility issues, mental trauma, and complications that require additional treatment including surgery.

If you or a loved one was injured by a doctor under the influence, or otherwise negligent in some way, a consultation with an experienced medical malpractice lawyer should be your next step.

Baltimore Medical Malpractice Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Represent Clients Injured by a Doctor’s Mistake

As a patient, you trust that the doctor treating you is making the best decisions for your health and well-being. However, if a medical error left you injured or disabled, help is available. The Baltimore medical malpractice lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton hold negligent health care providers accountable when patients get hurt. Our team will handle your case with care and compassion so that you can focus on healing. To schedule a free, confidential consultation, call us today at 800-547-4LAW (4529) or contact us online.

Our offices are conveniently located in BaltimoreColumbiaGlen Burnie, and Prince George’s County, where we represent victims throughout Maryland, including those in Anne Arundel CountyCarroll CountyHarford CountyHoward CountyMontgomery CountyPrince George’s CountyQueen Anne’s CountyMaryland’s Western CountiesSouthern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, as well as the communities of CatonsvilleEssexHalethorpeMiddle RiverRosedale, Gwynn OakBrooklandvilleDundalkPikesvilleParkvilleNottinghamWindsor MillLuthervilleTimoniumSparrows PointRidgewood, and Elkridge.