We all require medical treatment at some point in our lives. Often, medical treatment can be complicated, confusing, or scary. When we undergo a surgery or take a medication prescribed to treat our illnesses, we are putting our trust in the doctors, nurses, and hospital workers caring for us to do so with a level of care appropriate for people who – quite literally – have our lives in their hands. So what happens when medical professionals breach that trust by failing to act with the appropriate level of care? An area of law called medical malpractice has developed in order to protect people in this situation and offer a legal remedy for those who have been injured by the negligence of a medical professional.
Medical malpractice is a specific type of tort law that arises when someone has been injured as a result of the negligence of a doctor or other healthcare professional or institution. Unfortunately, this type of situation is more common than you might think- almost 20,000 medical malpractice lawsuits are filed each year in the United States, and the cost of the underlying medical errors to the patients who have suffered them is estimated to be almost $30 billion dollars per year. Most doctors and other medical professionals are required to carry medical malpractice insurance, because of the substantial risk that they may be implicated in a situation where medical malpractice has occurred.
If you have been injured and believe that a medical care provider may be responsible, it is important to know the basic elements required to have a case for medical malpractice, and to gather as much information about your case as possible. A good medical malpractice attorney should be able to review the facts of your case, and help you to determine whether or not you are likely to have grounds for a medical malpractice claim.
A valid claim for medical malpractice must include four distinct elements:
There was at least one medical professional or institution who owed a duty of care towards the plaintiff as a result of their professional relationship with that person
The first element of a medical malpractice claim is about establishing that there was a duty of care owed to the injured party. This generally means that the party giving medical care must be an actual medical professional or institution, and that they have taken some kind of affirmative action towards providing care to the plaintiff. A normal doctor-patient relationship will qualify here, as the doctor (a medical professional) has agreed to care for the patient. However it is not necessary that a formal contract has been signed, or sometimes even that the patient has met personally with the doctor in question- so long as a professional relationship has begun between someone seeking medical services of some kind and a medical professional or institution who has taken affirmative steps toward providing those services.
The medical professional(s) owing this duty of care failed to uphold it by acting negligently or failing to act
If there was a medical professional who owed a duty of care to the patient, the patient must show that this duty was breached by the medical professional at fault. We expect medical professionals to act as a reasonably prudent person in their profession (which means having the training and experience required for their position) would act in the same situation. If a medical professional has failed to act as a reasonably prudent person would in their shoes, then they have not upheld their duty of care towards the patient.
The negligence of those owing a duty of care was the cause of the patient’s injuries
The next key element of a medical malpractice claim is that the negligent actions (or lack of actions) by the medical professional is what caused the injuries in question. Because we often see doctors when we are already sick or injured, it can be tricky to show the injuries caused by malpractice are separate from whatever underlying reasons a person had for seeing a doctor. Often a good malpractice attorney will use expert medical testimony to show that the negligence of the medical care provider caused injuries separate from the underlying reasons for the patient’s visit to the doctor.
The injuries suffered by the patient resulted in actual damages
The final key element of a medical malpractice claim is that the injuries resulted in actual damages to the patient. These damages can include a wide range of things, such as physical pain and suffering, mental distress, additional medical bills, and lost wages or earning capacity from time spent unable to work.
If you have been injured and believe you may have a claim for medical malpractice, it is advisable to consult with an experienced personal injury attorney who can help you to figure out who is at fault and what damages you may be entitled to compensation for. At Crosby Law, we have extensive experience with medical malpractice and other personal injury cases. We have been helping injured people get the justice they deserve for over 30 years, and we are available to speak to you today. Please do not hesitate to contact us for a free consultation.