Personal Injury Lawyer
If a doctor or other medical professional does not perform his or her medical duties competently and injures a patient, the patient may sue for medical malpractice. Each state has different rules surrounding medical malpractice lawsuits, including how long a plaintiff has to bring their claim, so you should be sure to check the laws in your state if you are considering suing for medical malpractice. A local personal injury lawyer can help you understand how the local state laws relate to your case. However, as explained by our friends at Eglet Adams, there are some general medical malpractice rules that will apply in every state.
Elements of a Medical Malpractice Claim
A plaintiff in a medical malpractice suit must prove that they had a doctor-patient relationship with the defendant, that the doctor-defendant was negligent, that the defendant’s negligence caused their injury, and that the injury caused them to suffer specific damages.
A doctor-patient relationship is formed when a patient hires a doctor, and the doctor agrees to be hired. A plaintiff cannot sue a doctor whom they do not have a doctor-patient relationship with. For instance, you cannot sue a doctor for advice you overheard the doctor giving at a party. It is normally fairly easy to prove that a doctor-patient relationship existed, because a patient normally goes to a doctor’s office, where the doctor begins seeing and treating them. The most common scenario in which doubt arises as to whether a doctor-patient relationship has been formed is when a doctor consults with another physician who gives the doctor advice but does not treat the patient directly.
Proving the doctor was negligent requires showing that your doctor performed their medical duties in a manner that a competent doctor would not have in the same circumstances. Your doctor’s care does not have to be the absolute best possible, but it does have to rise to the level of a “reasonably skillful and careful” physician. In almost every state, the plaintiff must produce expert testimony to establish the appropriate medical standard of care and explain how the doctor-defendant did not meet that standard.
Once the plaintiff has shown that the doctor acted negligently, they will have to prove that the doctor’s negligence caused their injury. This is sometimes difficult to prove because many medical malpractice cases involve a patient that was already sick or injured. For instance, if a patient dies after surgery for advanced cancer, and the doctor did something negligent, it might be hard to prove whether the patient died from the doctor’s negligence or from the cancer. The plaintiff in a medical malpractice lawsuit usually has to show that it is “more likely than not” that the doctor’s negligence caused their injury, which often requires expert medical testimony.
Lastly, the patient’s injury must have caused specific damages. A patient cannot sue if they did not suffer any harm. Some examples of the types of specific harms patients can sue for are physical pain, mental anguish, additional medical bills, lost wages, and lost work and earning capacity.