Medical Malpractice Claims in Virginia

Medical malpractice is a very specific area of law, that is also broad enough that it governs many different specialties. Generally, medical malpractice cases deal with when a doctor is performing any sort of medical care and they provide care to their patient that falls below the standard of care in their specialty that causes injury to their patient. In order to be able to prove a case for medical malpractice, the injured victim or their Virginia medical malpractice attorney has to show that the doctor departed from the applicable standard of care and that the departure caused the victim’s damages.

The standard of care in Virginia is a little bit different than some other jurisdictions, as it’s a Virginia statewide standard of care for that doctor’s specialty or practice in most cases. It’s almost always going to require expert testimony to establish both what the applicable standard of care is and how the doctor in question departed from that standard of care.

Elements of Medical Malpractice in Virginia

In Virginia, a medical malpractice claim is basically a kind of negligence that is specific to the medical field, therefore the elements are:

  • Liability
  • Causation
  • Damages

Liability is broken into two parts, which are duty and a breach of that duty. Duty is the duty to provide care that is within the applicable standard of care. The breach would be the failure to provide care complies with the standard of care. Damages are the injuries that someone suffers as a result of the failure to provide that care, and causation bridges the gap between that breach of the duty and the person’s injuries.

So, you need to show that a doctor failed to meet the appropriate standard of care, and as a result, the person suffered injuries, and there’s a clear causal relation between the breach of the care and the injuries suffered.

At What Point Does Something Go From Being a Mistake to Medical Malpractice?

Mistakes are an unfortunate part of the normal course of treatment. What’s going to constitute the difference between a mistake and malpractice is whether it was a deviation from the standard of care which typically requires expert testimony. Just because a doctor makes a mistake doesn’t mean that it’s malpractice and it doesn’t mean that it’s negligence. There has to be a clear deviation from the applicable standard of care for that mistake to cross over into medical malpractice. Sometimes there are acceptable risks involved in surgeries and procedures, so the injuries need to be something that is not seen as an acceptable risk in the medical field.

Statute of Limitations For Medical Malpractice Cases in Virginia

The statute of limitations for medical malpractice cases in Virginia is two years from the time that the injury accrues. However with that said, it may depend on who the provider is, if it’s the state of Virginia, then there’s a shorter amount of time within which the victim needs to put the state of Virginia on notice of the claim, but the rule across the board is two years from the time that the injury occurs.

Are There Any Exceptions to This Rule?

There are some limited exceptions to this two year rule. One is the continuing treatment rule: if you are receiving treatment from the same provider for the same condition, that may toll the statute of limitations. There are also more generally applicable rules that go beyond medical malpractice. For instance, there is a specific Virginia Code section that will toll the statute of limitations for minors and other victims who lack legal capacity. Minors have a different statute of limitations within the malpractice realm which is more much specific.

Unique Aspects of Medical Malpractice in Virginia

Medical malpractice is a very specialized field. The attorneys that defend doctors, hospitals, and other healthcare providers in these cases typically only work on medical malpractice cases, so they’re very knowledgeable about the medicine and the type of proof that is needed, which is almost exclusively expert testimony.

Doctors have to provide testimony on the plaintiff’s side to show how the defendant doctor breached the standard of care. There are very few cases that can get submitted to a jury in Virginia without expert testimony. There are a few in which it’s so clear to the average layman what happened that you don’t need a doctor to testify, but almost always there is very specific testimony that needs to be provided by an expert in the specific specialty, to explain to the jury why a doctor’s actions or omissions were a breach of the standard of care, and how that breach actually caused damages to the injured party.