Punitive damages can be difficult to achieve in any case, but especially so in medical malpractice cases. This is because ordinary negligence, or even gross negligence, does not entitle a plaintiff to a punitive damages award. In order to be awarded punitive damages a plaintiff must establish that the defendant has acted in an outrageous fashion due to either the defendant’s evil motive or his reckless indifference to the rights of others. A defendant acts recklessly when his conduct creates an unreasonable risk of physical harm to another and such risk is substantially greater than that which is necessary to make his conduct negligent. The plaintiff must show evidence which goes beyond a showing of negligence, evidence sufficient to establish that the defendant’s acts amounted to intentional, willful, wanton or reckless conduct.
Therefore showing that a medical care provider is incompetent and made very bad mistakes in your care will not necessarily give you a claim for punitive damages. You must show that the medical care provider intended for harm to come to you or showed a reckless indifference to physical harm coming to you. I.E. the medical care provider may not intend for physical harm to come to you, but the actions they are taking have a high/unreasonable risk of causing you harm and yet they take those actions anyway. An example of this could be disregarding or ignoring critical lab results that need to be acted on immediately, or a surgeon consciously overbooking his surgical schedule for financial reasons and performing surgery hastily and without first reviewing pre-operative diagnostic testing results.
Just because a medical care provider is liable for punitive damages does not automatically mean the hospital or medical practice they work for is also on the hook for punitive damages either. Typically to hold a medical practice liable for punitive damages based on the actions of its employees (what is known as a vicarious liability claim) you must show that the medical practice was aware of the reckless conduct by its employees but still allowed it to occur. Or you can bring a claim for punitive damages against a medical practice or hospital through a direct claim of negligence and also show that the medical practice acted with an intentional/evil motive or with reckless indifference to the rights of others.
In nursing home cases claims for punitive damages can be supported by showing the home is chronically understaffed, complaints from staff at the nursing home being ignored, alteration of records in an attempt to hide poor care being given or in an attempt to show care was given that was actually not given, or falsifying medical administration records, etc.
The Thistle Law Firm is experienced in bringing medical malpractice claims, nursing home claims, and claims for punitive damages. If you or a loved one was harmed due to egregious, intentional, or reckless conduct the attorneys at the Thistle Law Firm are here to take your call at 215-568-6800 and discuss your legal options, including whether you are entitled to punitive damages.