Medical malpractice is an act of negligence that occurs when a healthcare provider harms a patient by failing to provide an acceptable standard of care.
If you believe that your injury was caused by an act of medical negligence, you should be aware of the laws governing these types of claims in Oklahoma.
Below, our seasoned Tulsa medical malpractice attorneys have prepared this guide to help explain these laws and how they might affect your case. If you have any questions or need qualified legal assistance with filing a medical malpractice claim in Oklahoma, contact the Edwards Law Firm for a free, no obligation consultation.
Who can be Held Liable for Medical Malpractice?
Medical malpractice can occur in any situation in which a doctor-patient relationship has been established. A doctor-patient relationship is established when a healthcare provider agrees to examine, diagnose or treat a patient.
A healthcare provider can include any individual licensed to practice medicine or provide treatment, such as:
- Physical therapists
- Physician assistants
However, to file a lawsuit for medical malpractice, the healthcare provider must have negligently caused injury to the patient by acting or failing to act in a way that a reasonably competent doctor would have in a similar situation. Medical malpractice claims often include acts of negligence such as:
- Failing to properly diagnose a medical condition or disease
- Causing an unnecessary delay in the patient’s treatment
- Failing to acquire informed consent
- Making a mistake during surgery
- Prescribing the wrong medication or dosage
Joint and Several Liability
When more than one party is at fault in a claim, the principle of joint and several liability is used to hold In some cases, more than one party is at-fault for the victim’s injuries. Some states apply the principle of joint and several liability so that each defendant is responsible for the full amount of damages awarded in a verdict. This rule helps ensure that a victim will be fully compensated if one of the defendants is unable to pay his or her share of the damages.
However, Oklahoma applies the principle of several liability, which means that each defendant is only liable for the damages proportionate to his or her share of the fault for causing the victim’s injury.
Collateral Source Rule
The collateral source rule states that any compensation an injury victim receives from a source other than the at-fault party will not reduce the amount of damages recoverable from the defendant.
However, Oklahoma has abolished the collateral source rule for medical malpractice cases. This means a court can consider payments made by a third party, such as the at-fault party’s insurance company, to be submitted as evidence to determine the value of medical services that the victim received.
Oklahoma’s Statute of Limitations for Medical Malpractice Cases
In Oklahoma, victims of medical malpractice have a two-year statute of limitations to file a lawsuit against the at-fault party, according to Okla. Stat. Ann. tit. 12 § 95(A)(3).
The deadline to file a medical malpractice lawsuit begins on the date when the victim first sustained his or her injury. If this deadline passes, the victim’s claim is no longer valid and he or she can no longer pursue damages from the at-fault party.
However, there are several factors that could alter the time limit to file a medical malpractice case, such as when the patient first discovered the injury, the victim’s age when the act of negligence occurred, or the at-fault party’s identity.
The discovery rule tolls or suspends the statute of limitations in cases where the victim was unaware that he or she had been injured. The two-year statute of limitations will resume on the date that the patient either discovers, or should have reasonably known, that his or her injury may have been caused by medical malpractice.
However, if the patient uses the discovery rule to toll the statute of limitations, he or she will likely be required to prove that he or she could not have been immediately aware of the act of medical negligence.
Oklahoma also uses a different statute of limitations for medical malpractice cases involving minors. If the patient is a child under the age of 12, he or she has seven years from the date that the act of negligence occurred to file a claim. If the patient is over the age of 12, the patient or his or her family has until he or she reaches the age of 19 to file a claim.
The statute of limitations for a medical malpractice claim involving an Oklahoma state-level government, city or county agency or employee is only one year from the date that the act of negligence occurred.
Oklahoma’s Rules Regarding Expert Witnesses
Medical malpractice cases often rely heavily on the testimony of a medical expert. However, a court must first determine that a medical expert is qualified before he or she can testify.
The court will consider whether the proposed expert witness is licensed to practice medicine or has adequate training or experience in the area of healthcare relevant to the case. A court will also consider whether the proposed expert witness is currently practicing medicine in any area relevant to the case or is retired.
If a court determines the proposed expert witness is qualified, he or she can testify about how the defendant was negligent by providing insight into how:
- The defendant owed the patient a duty to provide an acceptable standard of care
- The defendant breached his or her duty by failing to act in a way that a reasonably prudent healthcare provider would under identical circumstances
- The patient’s injuries were directly caused by the defendant’s breach of duty
Before the litigation phase can begin in an Oklahoma medical malpractice case, there are several steps the victim must take.
First, the victim must submit an affidavit alongside his or her claim that states that he or she has met and discussed the circumstance of the claim with a medical expert and has received a written opinion and signature from the potential expert witness.
This opinion should contain materials such as applicable medical records, facts, or any other relevant information regarding the act of negligence committed by the at-fault healthcare provider. If the victim fails to submit the affidavit, a court will either deny the case or grant a 90-day extension to obtain one.
Damages for Medical Malpractice Cases
Oklahoma has specific laws that place a cap, or limit, on the types of damages that can be awarded through a medical malpractice claim, as per O.S. 23 §23-61.2.
Compensatory damages are intended to compensate a victim for the economic losses he or she suffered as result of the healthcare provider’s negligence. These damages include:
- Medical expenses
- Lost wages
- Property damage
- Loss of earning capacity
Oklahoma does not have a cap that limits the amount of compensatory damages that a victim can be awarded.
In Oklahoma, non-economic damages cannot exceed $350,000 unless the case involves a wrongful death or a court determines there is clear evidence that the at-fault party acted with:
- Gross negligence
- Reckless disregard for the rights and well-being of others
- Fraudulent intent
- Malice or the intent to cause harm
Non-economic damages are intended as compensation for intangible losses, such as:
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Loss of consortium
- Loss of companionship
- Loss of enjoyment of life
Contact an Experienced Medical Malpractice Lawyer
If you or a loved one has been injured because of a healthcare provider’s negligence, it is in your best interest to contact an experienced attorney before filing an Oklahoma medical malpractice claim.
At the Edwards Law Firm, our medical malpractice attorneys are well-versed in Oklahoma’s personal injury laws. We will provide you with a free, no obligation consultation to discuss the circumstances of your claim to determine if you have a valid case that entitles you to legal action and compensation.
All of our services are provided on a contingency fee basis and our clients are never charged upfront legal fees or other expenses. We only require payment if we recover compensation for your claim.