What Do Plaintiffs Need to Prove in a Medical Malpractice Case?
Patients place a tremendous amount of trust in their health care providers, and have every reason to expect they will be treated in accordance with accepted medical standards.
Unfortunately, medical professionals are not immune from making serious mistakes. When a doctor, nurse, or other health care provider fails to meet an accepted standard of care and causes harm to patients as a result, victims and families have the right to hold them accountable.
If you believe you or someone you love may have suffered harm due to a medical professional’s negligence, the most important thing you can do is seek help from an experienced attorney as soon as possible. Medical malpractice lawyers have an intimate understanding of what constitutes medical negligence and how to best position patients to prevail in their civil claims for compensation prior to the expiration of the statute of limitations.
4 Elements of a Medical Malpractice Claim
While a personalized evaluation is the most appropriate way to assess the specific facts of your situation and determine whether you may have a viable claim, there are some general elements all plaintiffs must establish in order to prove medical malpractice.
To succeed in a medical malpractice lawsuit, plaintiffs must prove the following elements:
- Duty of Care
- Breach of Duty
1. A duty of care existed.
A duty of care must have been owed to a patient by a health care provider in order for there to be grounds for a medical malpractice claim. In a doctor-patient relationship, for example, a physician tasked with treating a patient is legally obligated to provide the patient with care that meets accepted standards within their profession.
Conversely, no legal duty would exist in a situation where a patient alleges they were harmed as a result of following medical advice they overheard a provider giving to another patient.
2. The standard of care was breached.
Proving a medical professional failed to meet the applicable standard of care when treating a patient – known as a “breach of duty” – is a critical component of any medical malpractice claim.
What constitutes a deviation from the standard of care in any malpractice claim will depend on specific facts and circumstances, but will generally arise from the provider’s failure to exercise the same degree of knowledge, skill, and ability a reasonably careful medical professional in the same or similar field would provide under similar circumstances.
In short, a provider whose actions stray from those of a reasonably well-qualified medical professional in a similar situation may be negligent under the law.
Medical negligence can take many forms, and may involve an isolated act or the omission of an act of necessary care. Examples of medical negligence include:
- Failing to order appropriate tests or follow up on results
- Misdiagnosing or failing to diagnose a condition
- Surgical errors, including foreign objects left behind
- Prescribing the incorrect type or dosage of medication
- Medical mistakes during pregnancy, labor, or delivery that cause birth injuries
Proving breach of duty in a medical malpractice case requires extensive investigation and evaluation from a qualified health care professional. Medical malpractice attorneys typically consult with an array of providers and specialists who help review claims and attest to their legitimacy.
3. The patient suffered injury due to the breach of duty.
For any medical malpractice claim to have merit, a provider’s substandard care must cause the injury complained of.
If a patient suffers injury without negligence or alleges negligence without suffering a related harm, there is no viable case. Plaintiffs must prove causation by a preponderance of the evidence, which means that a provider's breach of duty more likely than not caused injury.
4. The patient suffered actual damages.
Medical malpractice claims require plaintiffs to prove they suffered actual damages as a result of a medical professional’s negligence. Though monetary damages vary from case to case, they typically take both economic and non-economic losses into account.
Medical malpractice plaintiffs may be entitled to compensation for:
- Past and future medical expenses
- Lost income and lost future earnings
- Physical pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Loss of a normal life
- In a wrongful death case, family members of the Decedent may be entitled to compensation for their grief and sorrow, loss of companionship, loss of support and services of the Decedent
The Importance of Legal Representation in Medical Malpractice Cases
Medical malpractice lawsuits are among the most complex and contested civil injury claims, and they demand the insight and resources only experienced attorneys can provide.
Because medical malpractice suits are highly fact-specific, they also require plaintiffs and their attorneys to work with appropriate medical experts who can testify in support of claims regarding a provider’s breach of duty, causation, and the extent and severity of a patient’s damages.
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