Medical malpractice occurs when a health care professional, through negligence or omission, causes harm, injury, or death to their patient.
Medical professionals are expected to provide a reasonable level of care and skill. If a doctor or any other health care professional violates this standard of care, you may be able to file a claim against them.
For a case to be considered medical malpractice, there are a few factors that you need to prove.
Essential Factors in Proving Medical Malpractice
1. Professional Duty is Owed to the Patient
The first factor in a medical malpractice claim is proving a doctor-patient relationship existed between the plaintiff and defendant.
Let's say a doctor was eating lunch in a restaurant, and another customer there suddenly choked on their food. In this case, the doctor does not have an obligation to care for the choking customer. So even if the customer gets harmed, they cannot file for a medical malpractice claim against the doctor because there was no special relationship between them.
Now suppose the customer asked the doctor for help, and the doctor decided to assist the customer. This then forms a doctor-patient relationship, and the doctor owes a professional duty to the customer. The doctor is then obliged to provide the customer a standard of care equal to or exceeding the care, diligence, and skills expected from any reasonably prudent doctor under similar circumstances.
2. Breach of Care
After proving that professional duty was owed, the plaintiff must then establish that the medical professional violated or failed to provide the standard of care through negligent acts or omission.
Here are some examples of violations of the standard of care:
- Unnecessary surgery
- Surgery mistakes (e.g., damaging other organs during surgery, leaving surgical tools in the body)
- Incorrect medication
- Disregarding patient history
- Using faulty equipment
- Poor or negligent follow-up care
- Childbirth or pre-natal care negligence
- Failure to notify the patient of known risks
Doctors or medical professionals are not required to be perfect. But, as mentioned above, they are expected to be reasonably careful and skillful. Usually, the plaintiff is required to present a medical expert that can explain the proper standard of care and how the defendant failed to deliver that standard.
3. The Breach Caused the Injury
The third factor is proving that the breach of care or the doctor's negligence was the direct cause of the injury or harm.
This part of medical malpractice can be tricky for the plaintiff. Because even if the doctor admitted to the negligence, unless you can prove that the negligent behavior caused harm to the patient, then there may not be a claim.
Suppose a doctor misdiagnoses a severe condition, and then the patient dies the next day. Then the doctor may argue that the patient's condition was so bad that he would have died even without his misdiagnosis. In other words, the doctor's negligence did not cause additional harm to the patient.
For this factor, the plaintiff must make it clear that the injuries sustained by the patient are not because of their condition but because of the sub-standard care they received. Having a medical expert testimony might help prove this factor.
4. The Injury Resulted in Damages
The last factor the plaintiff needs to prove in medical malpractice is that the injuries or harm sustained by the patient caused significant damages or losses.
There are two types of recoverable damages: economic and non-economic. Economic damages include monetary costs such as past and future medical bills, past and future lost wages, and other expenses resulting from the injury. On the other hand, non-economic damages refer to non-monetary losses such as pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of enjoyment of life. These damages can be proven through medical records, prescriptions, and testimonies from experts.