Medical malpractice happens when a patient is harmed by a medical professional who doesn’t competently perform his or her medical duties. Even when rules vary, there are some broad categories and general principles that need to be met in order for lawyers to prove negligence. These can be considered the four Ds: damages, direct cause, duty of care, and deviation from duty.
Duty of Care
Any medical professionals that have entered a patient-doctor relationship owe the patient duty of care and have an obligation to give competent and reasonable medical care. This can be one of the easier things to disprove or prove since there is usually a clear line between who is responsible for treating a patient. If you are a patient in a hospital, then every medical professional at the hospital that has anything to do with your diagnosis or treatment is covered by the duty of care. This includes nurses, doctors you see, specialists, and anesthesiologists. Even if the person at the hospital isn’t your primary care physician, they will still owe you the same duty of care.
Deviation from Duty
This is one of the harder parts for proving negligence and this means proving that a medical professional breached the duty of care. You would need to prove the professional failed to act in line with the best practices, that a doctor in the same circumstances and same field would have provided different treatment, and a reasonable doctor in that same situation wouldn’t have acted the same way. For example, if a doctor prescribes you twice the recommended dose of a medication, then a lawyer is able to get testimony from a different physician who can explain why the prescription was dangerous. Lawyers need to prove that whatever that doctor did wasn’t the same thing a competent doctor would have done. This can be difficult to prove since medicine can be subjective. For example, an internist who came up with a wrong diagnosis may not have been negligent. However, it’s much easier to prove negligence for a doctor that messes up casting a broken bone that needs corrective surgery in the future because they were intoxicated at the time of treatment. A competent doctor would have set the bone correctly while sober.
Just because a doctor made a mistake, it’s not enough to prove negligence. The patient also needs to prove that the error resulted in damage. For example, if a doctor prescribed you heart medication instead of antibiotics for an infection, but you didn’t have any effects from the wrong medication, then you don’t really have a case. Damages don’t just have to be physical and can also be financial or emotional. It is much easier to prove damages happened from the error if they are physical and result in additional surgery or expensive treatments in order to fix the mistake.
You also need to prove damages were a direct result of the actions of the medical professional. If you get a hip replacement and aren’t following the post operative instructions from the surgeon and the implant fails, then it’s not the doctor’s responsibility. However, it would be the direct cause if there was some kind of surgical mistake that caused the hip implant to fail. Direct cause can also be harder to prove because of how complex medicine is. There can be a lot of finger pointing in medicine. For example, even in a case where there was a surgical sponge remaining in the patient, the hospital still tried to use the defense that it was the patient’s health choices that led to the complications. In this case, the patient had to disprove the defense with expert witnesses and research in order to prove direct cause.
If you or a loved one is the victim of medical malpractice, it’s important to work with a medical malpractice attorney who will analyze the case and work with the right experts to show negligence and how you were damaged as a result. There is a short statute of limitations and medical malpractice cases can be very complex, making it even more important to speak with a lawyer as soon as you can in order to start building a case.