How Can Patient Abandonment Be a Form of Medical Malpractice?

Patient abandonment happens when a doctor, nurse, or other type of healthcare provider unreasonably ends a doctor-patient relationship. In general, there are specific requirements in place for the ending of this relationship to be considered medical malpractice. When those requirements are met, it may be possible to pursue a Portland medical malpractice lawsuit.

Patient Abandonment & Medical Malpractice

What is Patient Abandonment?

In order for patient abandonment to be considered medical malpractice in Oregon or anywhere else for that matter, the ending of the doctor-patient relationship must have occurred without reasonable notice or reasonable excuse and without giving the patient an opportunity to find qualified replacement medical care.

There are many ways a medical professional can abandon patient care, including:

  • A doctor or on-call staff person failing to respond to a reasonable time frame when a patient is complaining about worrying symptoms.
  • A doctor scheduling a follow-up appointment too far out from when a patient has expressed alarming symptoms.
  • A medical professional refusing to treat a pregnant patient because of an outstanding medical bill.
  • A doctor failing to arrange for home health care services for an elderly individual being treated for dizziness or chest pain, leaving them without treatment when they are discharged.
  • A surgeon or doctor prematurely discharging a patient without providing adequate follow-up care instructions.
  • A medical professional abruptly closing their practice without making arrangements to ensure patients have adequate follow-up care.

We want to be clear that it is okay for a medical professional to end a relationship with a patient, but they must do it in the right way. There are various reasons why a medical professional may need to discontinue treatment of a patient, including if the:

  • Medical professional does not have the necessary skills to treat the patient’s symptoms.
  • Medical professional does not have adequate resources for their treatment.
  • The patient has continually missed appointments or otherwise violated doctor’s office policies.
  • Patient will not comply with a medical professional’s recommendations.

If a medical professional wishes to terminate their relationship with the patient, they need to provide written notice to the patient and give them a reasonable amount of time to find alternative treatment options. Medical providers should continue to see a patient until a new provider has been found and until all medical records get to a new provider in a timely fashion.

The Elements of Patient Abandonment

Recovering compensation through a medical malpractice claim resulting from patient abandonment involves proving four elements:

  1. First, a patient must prove that they had a provider-patient relationship (often referred to as a doctor-patient relationship, but this also includes other types of medical professionals). Establishing this relationship involves examining medical records to determine whether or not a person was considered a patient of the professional in question.
  2. The next step is showing that the medical provider in question abandoned care when the patient still needed medical attention.
  3. It must be proven that the abandonment was so sudden that the patient did not have a chance to find replacement care in time to prevent further harm.
  4. The last element is showing that the patient suffered serious and monetarily definable harm as a result of the medical provider’s abandonment of care.

Determining these four elements is incredibly challenging. Any medical malpractice claim will inevitably face significant pushback from the medical provider in question, their employer, and the insurance carriers involved. We strongly encourage you to have a skilled medical malpractice lawyer by your side who can examine the elements of patient abandonment and help you move forward with your claim.

Can a Patient File a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit?

Yes, a patient can absolutely file a medical malpractice lawsuit in the event it is discovered they sustained harm as a result of the negligent actions of a medical provider.

However, we strongly encourage any person harmed due to patient abandonment to work with an attorney who can file the claim on their behalf. Medical malpractice claims are more complicated than traditional personal injury claims in Oregon, as there are additional steps involved with even getting the claim started in the first place.

There are specific statutes of limitation in place that define the amount of time individuals have to file a medical malpractice lawsuit. In general, these claims must be filed within two years from the date the medical malpractice occurred or two years from when the medical malpractice reasonably should have been discovered. However, Oregon law typically states that no medical malpractice action can be taken after five years from when the incident occurs. There are a few exceptions to this rule.

Possible Damages Available for a Patient Abandonment Claim

Patients may be able to recover various types of compensation if their medical malpractice claim is successful. Generally, patients can recover both economic and non-economic damages for their losses, which can include:

  • Coverage of medical expenses arising due to the patient’s abandonment
  • Compensation for lost wages if an individual loses income due to the abandonment
  • Physical pain and suffering damages
  • Emotional and psychological pain and suffering damages
  • Loss of quality of life and loss of enjoyment of life damages

There is no set amount of compensation paid to victims of patient abandonment. However, several factors can influence how much compensation a person receives. Some of these factors include the severity of the injury or illness caused by or exasperated by the patient abandonment, as well as how long it takes a person to recover.

We encourage you to speak to your medical malpractice lawyer about how much compensation you expect to recover, but there is no guarantee on damage amounts awarded by an insurance carrier through a settlement or as a result of a personal injury jury trial.

Contact an Attorney for Help

If you or somebody you love has been harmed as a result of patient abandonment by a healthcare professional, we encourage you to contact to an attorney immediately. These claims are complicated, but you may be able to recover compensation for your losses.