Like many other people, you may think you have a medical malpractice lawsuit if your doctor makes a mistake while treating you. This may or not be true. The truth is, there's a lot more to a medical malpractice case than a patient getting hurt. The key factors involve showing or proving:
- A doctor or another medical professional made a mistake, and
- You were harmed by that mistake
Usually, any malpractice case is a long and complicated legal matter because it's not always fast or easy to prove those two things.
What Is It, Exactly?
Medical malpractice is when a doctor or another medical professional - like a nurse or technician - does something or doesn't do something that causes an injury or some harm to you, the patient. The medical professional's act or failure to act (called an "omission") is called "medical negligence."
As you can see from this definition, a medical malpractice case involves a mistake or error by a medical professional that damages or harms a patient.
The mistake or omission can happen at any time during medical treatment. For example, your doctor may make a mistake diagnosing your illness, or she may not give you the proper treatment or medication for that illness. The key here is the standard of care. This is the generally accepted method or methods used by other medical professionals in the area to treat or care for patients under the same or similar circumstances.
For example, if you're a 45-year-old business professional with asthma living in Michigan, the standard of care your doctor must use is the standard other doctors in the Michigan and surrounding areas use to diagnose and treat asthma in 45-year-old business professionals. This standard is different, of course, for 20-year-old athletes in Arizona, or a 70-year-old retired railroad workers in West Virginia. The standard changes depending on the patient's age and medical problem, and usually, where the patient lives.
If you can prove your doctor didn't follow or "breached" the standard of care for your particular medical problem, you've made a big first step in making a good medical malpractice claim.
Injury or Damage
It's not enough that your doctor made some sort of mistake. Before you can file a lawsuit, you have to be able to show that the mistake caused you damage or further harm. The amputation of the wrong limb, brain damage after an operation, a medical condition or disease got worse after treatment, or even death are good examples of injuries or damage. In short, unless you've been harmed, there's no medical malpractice case.
You also have to prove that the injury is connected to the negligence. This is called "causation," meaning your damage or harm was caused by the doctor's mistake. This may be the most difficult - and expensive - part of any medical malpractice case. As a general rule, you'll need at least one expert witness to explain how the mistake caused your injury. These expert witnesses are almost always other doctors or medical professionals.
Experts are also used to help you show the standard of care that applies to your case and how your doctor breached that standard of care.