The legal elements involved in a medical malpractice case include:
- Legal duty
- Breach of that duty
- Proximate causal connection between the breach and injury (medical, economic, other)
- Harm from the injury
A legal duty arises once the physician-patient relationship is established. In a medical malpractice
case, the legal duty is considered the standard of care. This generally means that the physician is
responsible for treating the patient with the same amount of skill as a prudent, reasonable, and
similarly-trained medical professional in the same or similar situation. In a medical malpractice case,
the standard of care is usually established through the testimony of medical experts. The expert’s
primary focus is on the standard of care and accepted practices in the medical community.
Once a standard of care is established, it is then the responsibility of the patient’s attorney to establish
that there was a breach of that duty on the part of the practitioner. The patient’s attorney would
need to demonstrate how the practitioner breached the standard of care and prove the practitioner
was negligent in his/her treatment of the patient. This means that the practitioner failed to use care
similar to what a reasonable, prudent, and careful person would use in a similar circumstance. Medical
experts are utilized to demonstrate how the practitioner did not follow and/or deviated from the
standard of care imposed by law.
Once it is established that the practitioner had a legal duty and was negligent in performing that duty,
the patient’s attorney would need to demonstrate that the practitioner’s conduct/breach of duty
caused injury or harm to the patient. The connection that the patient’s health condition worsened
because the practitioner was negligent and would never have occurred had the practitioner not been
negligent needs to be proven. To put it simply, they must prove that the patient’s harm is a direct result
of the practitioner’s error.
In a medical malpractice case, the patient must be able to demonstrate measurable injuries to be
entitled to damages. Damages can include the financial cost of additional medical
treatment/procedures and compensation for any pain and suffering caused by the practitioner’s error.
One of the top incidents by allegation is categorized as Improper Performance. It also is one of the
chief medical factors in paid claims. Improper performance breaches a relevant standard of care
and/or expectation. Examples of improper performance can be categorized as failure to communicate,
failure to document, failure to act as a patient advocate, failure to follow standards of care, and failure
to use equipment appropriately and responsibly.
Recommendations to help reduce potential liability can include:
- Participate in relevant webinars and CME courses
- Keep yourself up to date on standards of care
- Keep yourself up to date with changes in healthcare in terms of practices, technology, and
policy and procedures
- Attend seminars and conferences to expand your knowledge
- Network with other professionals to gain insight into various topics and issues