Every year, approximately 15,000-19,000 lawsuits are filed in the U.S. claiming medical malpractice or negligence. The Washington Post ran an article claiming that medical errors could be the third-leading cause of death in the United States, with as many as 251,000 victims a year. When we go to a doctor, we expect them to help us, and in some cases, we're literally putting our lives in their hands. We all know that medical professionals go through long years of rigorous training to enter the profession, but what happens when they make a terrible mistake?
A medical malpractice lawsuit can be filed against any licensed health care provider such as:
- Physical therapists
- Dental hygienists
- Pharmacy technicians
- Physician assistants
The following elements must be established when proving medical malpractice: 1) A doctor-patient relationship existed. 2) The medical professional failed in their duty to exercise the degree of care expected of a reasonable medical professional. 3) This failure caused your injury. 4) Your injury led to specific damages.
Medical professional-patient relationship - You need to show there was an established professional relationship. There is usually enough proof when a doctor or nurse sees you at their office. There will be documentation in the form of copays, emails, appointment reminders, and payments. You can't sue a doctor you met at a friend's house who gave you dismissive advice on a mole that later turns out to be skin cancer. You have to have a professional relationship.
The medical professional was negligent - Feeling unhappy with your medical professional's services doesn't constitute medical malpractice. They must have treated you with negligence as concerns your treatment or diagnosis. When suing for medical malpractice, you need to prove negligence caused your injury in a way that a reasonably competent medical professional, under the same circumstances, would not have. It is not medical malpractice to fail to provide the very best care, but rather the medical professional should provide care that is reasonably skillful and careful.
The medical professional's negligence caused your injury - Malpractice lawsuits tend to come from patients that are already sick, which is why they are seeking treatment in the first place. Because of this, you can run into issues proving that negligence made them sicker or caused their death. It must be proven that it's more likely than not that the medical professional's negligence is directly related to the injury. Under these circumstances, it often requires a medical expert to testify that the injuries were the medical professional's fault.
The injury led to compensable damages - As stated before, just because a medical professional didn't perform their best, that doesn't mean they are guilty of medical malpractice. Their actions or inactions must lead to specific damages like additional medical bills, physical pain, lost work or loss of future income, or mental anguish.
Usually, in a medical malpractice case, the primary focus will be on what the medical professional should have done under your circumstances. The standard of care under which medical professionals are judged is called the "medical standard of care." Usually, to prove this kind of negligence, it takes the expert testimony of an equally qualified medical professional to show the defendant deviated from these standards.