Medical malpractice is one of the most hotly argued legal issues today. While some argue that it is the legitimate role of a jury to decide whether a patient is owed a particular settlement, others contend that malpractice claims are often used inappropriately and have led to higher insurance premiums for doctors. While statutes differ across various states, there are four agreed upon criteria that a plaintiff must prove in order to win a malpractice suit.
First, a physician must owe a “duty of care” to the patient. Some professional relationship must exist between the doctor and the patient such that the patient had a right understanding that he or she would be cared for adequately and professionally. For example, if you suffer a heart attack in a restaurant, you can’t claim that a doctor who happened to be seated near you provided insufficient care; since there was no existing relationship, that doctor does not owe a duty of care.
Second, the physician must have breached that duty in some way. The plaintiff must demonstrate that the physician’s care somehow fell short of what it should have been. Usually, this consists of showing that the attending physician failed to follow relevant applicable care or industry-wide consensus. One of the most fundamental ways of proving this is through the introduction of expert witnesses, who are strenuously vetted by the judge before being allowed to testify.
Third, the lack of proper care has to have caused an injury. It is not sufficient to declare that a doctor misapplied the standard of care. The plaintiff must prove that it was specifically this misapplication that lead to an identifiable injury that is compensable. For example, if you suffer an infection while recuperating in a hospital following a surgery, you cannot sue the hospital for damages based on the fact that the anesthesiologist administered an improper dose before the surgery, since the anesthesiologist’s mistake is not what led to your injury.
Fourth, the medical malpractice injury must have caused measurable damages. The plaintiff must be ready to confirm that the specific injury that was caused by a doctor’s negligent care justifies particular damages. While these damages may range from compensation for lost wages to emotional damages, the mere fact that a doctor was negligent in care does not open the door for an unlimited amount of damages.
While there are other factors that influence medical malpractice lawsuits, these four form the basis of all cases. If you have questions about a particular case, you should contact our Orange County personal injury lawyer who can help you understand your likelihood of succeeding at trial or through a settlement.