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Medical negligence: What it is and how to prove it

health hospital business doctor patient
(© Gorodenkoff –

When pursuing a claim for personal injury, it is necessary to prove the five elements of negligence for a favorable outcome. This is also true for medical malpractice lawsuits, although those five elements are applied explicitly to the injured individual’s medical care. This short guide gives a slightly more in-depth look into proving medical negligence.

1. Duty of care

The very first thing you’ll have to prove in establishing medical negligence is that your treating doctor owed you a duty of care at the time of the injury. This means that your doctor is responsible for your health and safety under their watch. The duty of care can be proven by simply showing that you were the physician’s patient since once you establish a doctor/patient relationship, the duty of care is implied.

While proving the doctor-patient relationship may seem like an obvious step, there have been instances where people have sued a doctor after overhearing them giving medical advice to a third party. In that situation, the doctor did not owe the eavesdropping plaintiff a duty of care.

2. Breaching the duty of care

The next step is showing that your doctor breached the duty of care he owed to you. This will involve more than showing you suffered adverse effects from the treatments he administered to you since medical care isn’t always effective.

Instead, you will have to prove that you received a substandard level of care through the testimony of another doctor. The goal here is to show that another doctor with a comparable skill level would have treated another patient with a similar condition in a different manner.

If a doctor is willing to testify that the defendant did not apply the commonly accepted standard of care, you are one step closer to proving medical negligence.

3. Establish causation

You need also to prove that your doctor’s substandard level of care, or breach of duty, harmed you. Imagine your doctor mistakenly diagnosing you with a heart condition instead of acid reflux, but you didn’t experience any negative consequences due to the misdiagnosis. However, if you were misdiagnosed with heart disease instead of lung cancer, the diagnosis delay may leave room for the cancer to metastasize. In that case, the misdiagnosis did cause you harm.

4. Show proximate cause

It’s also necessary to show proximate cause, which means proving that the negligence directly caused the harm. If you were misdiagnosed with a heart condition and broke your leg as you were leaving the hospital, you can’t claim that the misdiagnosis caused you to break your leg.

Instead, you need to prove that a doctor’s negligence resulted in the worsening of your condition within a short time. Medical negligence can come under the guise of incorrect treatments, such as medications that cause you to develop a new medical condition, or not inform you on the side effects of the prescribed treatment, causing you to suffer those side effects after taking the drug as directed.

5. Establish damages

The final step is to show that the harm you suffered resulted in damages that can be measured in financial terms. This can involve showing how an incorrect treatment, misdiagnosis, or a failure to inform worsened your condition, requiring you to seek additional treatment to correct the situation.

Common damages you can seek in a medical malpractice case include:

  • Physical pain
  • Emotional anguish
  • Need for additional medical care
  • Lost wages
  • Lost earning capacity if the negligence resulted in a disability
  • Mental anguish, also known as emotional suffering.

While not every adverse outcome of medical treatments is the result of medical malpractice, it is essential to pursue compensation when your doctor has been negligent in providing your care.

A personal injury attorney who specializes in medical malpractice cases can help you gather the necessary evidence to prove the five elements of negligence to build a strong case even when the doctor, their insurance carrier, and hospital have hired an army of lawyers to back them up.

Story by Mary Aderholt

augusta free press
augusta free press
augusta free press

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