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Medical error is not as uncommon as many people might think it is. Though studies vary regarding the rate of medical error in the United States, medical error is said to be among the leading causes of death. Not all medical errors are created equal, though. Some are more serious than others and have more of an impact on the patient than others.

When it comes to seeking compensation for medical error, therefore, it is important for patients to understand that not every medical error can become the basis for a viable medical malpractice claim. A medical malpractice claim must meet certain legal requirements, one of which is that the mistake must constitute a breach of an established standard of medical care. Establishing the relevant standard of care is not easy in every case, and sometimes involves battles between medical experts. 

Another aspect of a viable medical malpractice claim is that the breach of an established standard of care must have resulted in harm to the patient. But not just any harm will do. The harm must, in practice, be significant enough to justify the costs of pursuing a malpractice claim. Determining this requires a careful analysis of damages suffered by the patient.

The point here isn't that medical malpractice litigation is beyond the reach of most patients, but that patients need to be sure to work with an attorney who will be honest with them when evaluating the viability of their case. Compensation is not always best sought out through litigation and a good medical malpractice attorney will be straight with a prospective client in determining whether a case is fit for the courtroom. 

Source: NPR.org, "How Many Die From Medical Mistakes In U.S. Hospitals," Marshall Allen, September 20, 2013. 

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