The Four Elements of Malpractice

Throughout our lives, we put our trust and faith in doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals to take care of our health needs. Most of the time, they meet or exceed our expectations. Unfortunately, there are times when medical care falls short of a medical professional’s legally-imposed responsibility to provide appropriate treatment. If a mistake occurs in medical diagnosis, treatment, or management of a health condition, you may have the basis to file a medical malpractice claim.

Requirements for a Medical Malpractice Claim to Be Valid

Negligence is a legal term that refers generally to a failure to exercise the care that a reasonable or prudent person would use in a specific situation. It is characterized by the failure to act according to a certain standard, as opposed to acting in a manner that intentionally causes harm. In a health care setting, negligence of a medical professional may constitute medical malpractice.

When certain requirements are met, medical malpractice is recognized by our legal system as the basis for a court action. For doctors and other medical professionals, a claim can arise on account of specific actions, a failure to act, or a mistake made during diagnosis or treatment.

Regardless of what action or inaction leads to the claim, there are four specific elements that must be satisfied for a malpractice claim to be valid. The four elements of malpractice are:

  • Existence of a legal duty
  • Breach of that duty
  • Causal connection between the breach and injury
  • Measurable harm from the injury

A Doctor’s Duty to Provide Care for a Patient

In the healthcare setting, a doctor owes a legal duty to a patient when the doctor agrees to treat the patient. The duty arises as soon as the doctor-patient relationship is established.

The legal duty in a malpractice case is a medical standard of care. That means that the doctor is responsible for treating the patient with the same amount of skill and care as a prudent, reasonable, and similarly-trained medical professional would use in the same or a similar situation.

In a court case where medical malpractice is asserted, the standard of care is usually established through testimony of experts about accepted practices in the medical community for the procedure or treatment that gave rose to the malpractice claim.

Breach of the Medical Standard of Care

After the standard of care is established, the patient’s attorney needs to be able to demonstrate how that standard of care was breached by the doctor. This element is established by showing how the doctor fell short of the meeting the medical standard of care. In other words, the requirement means demonstrating medical negligence on the doctor’s part.

In a malpractice court case, as with establishing the standard of care, medical experts are used to demonstrate in what regard the doctor’s treatment fell short of or deviated from the medical standard of care imposed by law.

Medical Negligence that Causes Harm

After it is established that a doctor had a duty and was negligent in performing that duty, the patient’s attorney must be able to demonstrate that the doctor’s conduct caused injury or harm. Generally, in a malpractice case, the causal connection is made by showing that the patient’s health situation worsened because of the doctor’s negligence and that the worsened condition would not have occurred in the absence of the doctor’s negligence.

Sometimes, a doctor’s error can result in complications or create new health issues that require additional treatment. For example, if a doctor makes a mistake setting a child’s broken arm, and as a result, the fracture does not heal properly, additional surgery and corrective treatment are necessary. Had the doctor not made the mistake, the fracture would have healed properly, and the additional treatment would not have been necessary, so the necessary causal connection exists.

In other situations, such as when a doctor’s negligence occurs during the diagnostic phase of treatment, the negligence may mean that necessary treatment was not received in a timely manner. For example, if a doctor’s error results in a failure to diagnose cancer, the patient can be harmed by the delay in treatment on account of worsening of the condition and a change in the feasibility of specific treatment options. In some cases, the doctor’s failure may even mean the difference between life and death for the patient.

In contrast, if a doctor makes an error, but the patient is not injured, there is not a valid malpractice claim. In the earlier example, if the doctor used the wrong procedure to set the child’s broken arm, but the arm healed properly anyhow, the child was not injured. In that situation, a valid claim for malpractice would not exist.

Damages for Injuries Caused By Medical Malpractice

Medical malpractice is a civil court action. For the person bringing the action, the requested result is a monetary award, commonly referred to as “damages.” In a malpractice case, the patient must be able to demonstrate measurable injuries to be entitled to damages. This requirement is the fourth element of establishing a malpractice claim.

Damages in a malpractice action can include items such as the financial cost of additional medical treatment and compensation for pain and suffering caused by the doctor’s mistake.

In the example of the child with a broken arm, if the fracture did not heal properly because of the doctor’s error in setting it, the child would need additional treatment to repair the arm. Damages would include the cost of the additional medical care, and the requirement for measurable injuries is met.

The calculation of damages in a medical malpractice case often is very complicated and may include a number of different aspects. That can be especially true in situations where a doctor’s negligence causes a patient’s death or permanent injuries. However, the fact that calculating damages is complex does change the fact that the monetary value requirement is met.

If You Think You Have Been Harmed by a Medical Mistake

If you feel that you or a loved one suffered injuries or harm on account of a medical mistake, Robenalt Law can help. With the benefit of our years of malpractice experience, we will analyze your case and advise you how to proceed. There is a time limit for filing malpractice actions, so it is important to protect your rights as soon as you become aware of a medical mistake.

Your initial consultation is free. Our No Fee Unless We Win policy means that you owe us nothing unless we recover damages for you. Robenalt Law is a Cleveland law firm representing clients throughout Ohio and in Florida. Call us at (216) 223-7535, complete our online form , or email to schedule your free consultation.

Categories: Medical Malpractice