Can you sue your workers’ compensation doctor for medical malpractice?
Some jobs are unquestionably more dangerous than others, but no worker is ever 100 percent safe in the workplace. Each and every day, work-related accidents ranging in severity from mild to life-threatening occur in Georgia and throughout the country.
Getting injured at work or being diagnosed with an occupational illness is bad enough.
But what if you are further injured because of medical negligence during treatment or care from an employer-approved physician after a workplace accident?
In such cases, workers’ compensation and medical malpractice laws intersect. It is important to know what your rights are regarding your ability to file a claim to collect benefits. It’s also important to understand what medical negligence is and whether or not you can sue a workers’ comp doctor for malpractice.
Medical malpractice is a leading cause of death in the U.S.
How common is medical malpractice?
You might be surprised to learn that medical malpractice trails close behind heart disease and cancer as a leading cause of death in the United States. Your employer’s workers’ compensation insurance enables you to collect benefits if you suffer an on-the-job injury.
Seeking immediate medical attention should always be your top priority following a workplace accident. However, misdiagnosis from a workers’ comp doctor, a surgical error or some other type of medical mistake might make your condition worse instead of better.
Georgia law protects workers who suffer due to malpractice
Under Georgia law, an employer’s workers’ comp insurance company is responsible for expenses if an approved workers’ comp doctor’s negligence causes further injury to a worker during treatment or testing.
Additionally, if you suffer injury due to medical malpractice while being treated for an occupational injury or illness, you may have grounds for filing a personal injury lawsuit in a civil court against the individual physician deemed responsible for damages.
Georgia law protects workers from attempts by insurance companies to deny financial responsibility. These insurance companies commonly state that damages caused by medical malpractice are not directly connected to your workplace accident and therefore not compensable. Fortunately, Georgia law prohibits this argument.
Because it was the workplace accident that initially caused you to require medical attention, the law considers any testing or treatment you receive in connection with your injuries to be directly associated with your workplace accident.
Why file a medical malpractice claim if you’re already collecting workers’ comp?
The benefits you can collect through workers’ compensation in Georgia are limited. For instance, you can only receive partial wage loss recovery. And while you can collect benefits to cover most, if not all, medical expenses, you generally cannot seek financial recovery for emotional trauma or pain and suffering.
Filing a medical malpractice claim against a workers’ comp doctor means that you may be able to include pain and suffering in the list of damages caused by substandard medical care. However, unlike workers’ compensation which is a no-fault system, in a medical malpractice claim you must be able to prove liability in order to secure damages.
First, you must convince the court that the doctor you name in your claim (the defendant) acted with negligence. You must also prove that this negligence was a direct cause of the physical, emotional and economic damages you suffered.
You must also demonstrate that the defendant owed a duty, meaning that he or she was obligated to provide care and treatment to you. When you receive medical care, you have a right to reasonably expect that the attending physician will act in accordance with accepted safety standards of the medical industry. Evidence of negligence demonstrates that the physician failed in his or her duty to provide quality care.
What if negligence was not a physical error?
If a surgeon accidentally leaves a foreign object inside the body of a patient during an operation, it is an obvious medical error. However, verbal negligence can also cause injury. For example, what if your workers’ comp doctor lied or misdiagnosed your condition?
If the incident resulted in injury or illness, you may have grounds for filing a medical malpractice claim in addition to the workers’ compensation you receive from your employer or their insurance company.
What to do in the aftermath of a workplace accident and medical negligence
1. Seek medical attention
If you get hurt at work, your top priority should be to seek medical attention as soon as possible. Doing so creates a paper trail that documents the incident and your medical expenses.
2. Report to your employer
You’ll also need to report the accident to your employer as soon as possible. If you suffer an injury and don’t tell your employer until weeks later, this can be grounds to have your request for workers’ comp benefits denied.
3. Document your claim
The more detailed and thorough you can document your initial injuries, the less stressful it might be to navigate the system. Depending on the severity of your injuries, you might be staying home from work for weeks or even months during recovery, which can spark financial distress. In some cases, injuries are so severe that the worker is never able to return to work.
4. Consult a work injury attorney
Regardless of the details of your specific circumstances, it’s typically helpful to schedule a free consultation with an experienced workers’ compensation attorney. Such an attorney is well-versed in issues regarding workplace injuries, including medical negligence that occurs during testing or treatment in connection with an on-the-job accident.
Not only might litigation be a lot less stressful with a competent attorney standing by your side as your legal advocate, but your attorney can also make sure you receive the maximum amount of benefits or court-awarded compensation to which you may be entitled.