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Does Signing a Consent Form Before a Treatment Make You Ineligible to File a Medical Malpractice Claim?

March 28, 2022

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Consent forms are used in many different industries. They’re designed to help protect people and parties from liability if something goes wrong in the course of business, including injuries.

The medical industry is no exception, and patients are asked to sign consent forms before they undergo procedures and surgeries that can potentially go wrong. Sometimes surgeries result in bad outcomes even when the surgeon does everything right, and waivers and consent forms protect the surgeon from being sued in these cases.

However, some procedures and surgeries end in serious complications and even death. Patients may suffer new injuries and develop new illnesses because their doctors, surgeons, or other specialists were negligent in treating them. Their medical bills may be greater than ever, and their ability to work for a living even more diminished.

Can these patients sue for medical malpractice even though they signed consent forms?

Medical malpractice claims often boil down to whether informed consent took place or the provider acted negligently. When patients know and understand the risks of the treatments, procedures, and surgeries they agree to undergo, and they are of sound mind when they agree to them, it can be difficult for them to file successful medical malpractice claims if an expected complication occurred.

For example, if a patient has an impacted wisdom tooth and is warned verbally and in writing that removal may result in facial numbness due to the tooth’s proximity to nerves, they will have a tough time getting compensation if they end up suffering from facial numbness.

However, they may be eligible to sue if they develop a complication that they either weren’t warned of or couldn’t possibly have known about.

When patients are presented with consent forms, they must be highly detailed and reasonably cover as many possible complications and side effects as possible. However, they don’t have to cover every complication that has ever occurred due to or during a specific treatment or procedure. In many cases, hospitals and other healthcare clinics err on the side of caution and list virtually all potential bad outcomes associated with treatments to protect themselves legally.

That said, it’s not always enough for consent forms to inform patients of both common and rare complications associated with treatments. They should also give patients a reasonable expectation of their likelihood of developing those complications.

If 10% of patients develop a particular complication after a surgery, the consent form must say the patient has a 10% chance of it happening to them. If the patient was instead told they had only a 1% chance of developing the complication and it occurred, they can sue, as the inaccurate risk assessment could have affected their decision to undergo the procedure.

Although getting informed consent from patients significantly reduces the chances that a doctor, surgeon, or healthcare provider can be sued for medical malpractice, it doesn’t prevent it completely. Consent forms typically account for known complications that can arise during even the most attentive and detail-oriented treatments. But they can’t account for complications that can arise due to negligence.

If a surgeon operates on the wrong body part or leaves surgical tools inside a patient’s body, the consent form won’t protect them from a lawsuit. These mistakes are always unacceptable and are solely caused by recklessness and negligence. So even though the patient may have been warned about many potential complications, these errors fall outside of that list and can result in a successful lawsuit.

Too often, healthcare providers and facilities use consent forms as shields when bad outcomes occur—including and especially those that occurred due to negligence. Because these forms are often long, wordy, and full of legal jargon, patients may have no choice but to take their healthcare providers’ word for it when they say their bad outcomes were expected or known.

But at Nurenberg, Paris, Heller & McCarthy, we know better. Of course, not all bad outcomes are due to medical malpractice, but many are. And no matter how exhaustive a consent form is, it doesn’t mean the doctor, surgeon, or specialist is free from liability when their patient was harmed because of something they did.

If you or someone you love was injured during treatment that was supposed to help you, you may be eligible for compensation through a medical malpractice lawsuit—even if you signed consent forms. Our Cleveland medical malpractice lawyers can investigate your claim and maximize your chances of getting recovery. Don’t let a signed consent form stop you from getting the money you’re owed—contact us today.

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