Medical malpractice occurs when a medical professional injures a patient. When a patient decides to file a malpractice case there are specific rules the patient must follow. Deadlines to file a lawsuit and rules on whether the patient must notify the doctor ahead of time vary from state to state. However, there are some general principles that apply across the nation when suing a doctor.
To prove a medical malpractice case, a patient must prove that 1) a doctor-patient relationship existed, and 2) that the doctor was negligent.
When proving a doctor-patient relationship, the patient must show that there was a doctor-patient relationship with the physician the patient claims injured him or her. To do so, the patient must prove that the patient hired the physician and the physician agreed to be hired by the patient. No doctor-patient relationship exists if someone overhears a doctor giving advice at a party. In this situation, the doctor did not agree to be the person’s doctor, therefore, no doctor-patient relationship exists. If the doctor is one the patient has been visiting continuously in his office, this element will easily be met.
The patient must also prove that the doctor was negligent. To prove negligence, the patient has to prove that the doctor did not meet the standard of care for medical professionals, that the negligence caused the injury, and that there are provable damages. It is not enough to show that the doctor’s treatment did not meet the patient’s expectations. The patient must show that the doctor did not perform in the manner expected of medical professionals. To do this, the patient’s attorney will gather testimony from other medical professionals in the geographic area, who can demonstrate that the doctor did something wrong, and to show what the doctor should have done.
The patient also must prove that the doctor’s negligence caused the patient’s injury. If the patient already had a preexisting condition, it will be difficult to show that the doctor caused the injury. If a patient has cancer and dies after a doctor’s treatment, it will be difficult to show that the doctor’s negligence caused the injury as opposed to cancer. The patient’s estate has to show that the doctor’s negligence “more likely than not” caused the death.
If the patient can prove the above elements, the patient will then need to show provable damages. Damages are any losses or harm the patient suffered as a direct result of the doctor’s negligence. Physical pain, mental anguish, loss of wages, and medical bills are all examples of damages.