Many doctors, hospitals and other medical professionals will face a medical malpractice claim at some point. After dealing with the initial shock and disbelief that many doctors who are sued feel, it is time to get serious about building a strong defense to the medical malpractice claims. While every case of medical malpractice is unique, there are some common legal defense strategies that are useful that focus on whether the patient (i.e., the plaintiff) has met their burden concerning each element of a medical malpractice claim.
Proving A Medical Malpractice Claim
To establish liability in a medical malpractice claim, the victim patient must show these four elements:
- Duty – that the doctor owed a duty of care to the victim as his or her patient, i.e., that a doctor-patient relationship existed between the doctor and the victim
- Breach – that due to the negligence of the doctor, there was a breach by the doctor of that duty of care to the victim patient
- Causation – that the doctor’s actions, inaction, or negligence caused the victim’s injury
- Damages - that the victim’s injury resulted in damages
It is usually easy for victim patients to show the first two elements, as the plaintiff was most likely a patient of the doctor’s at some point in time, and as such, a doctor-patient relationship existed; and the doctor may have made a mistake.
Lack of Causation
An area where plaintiffs often run into trouble when making their medical malpractice claim is proving the element of causation. Legal causation doesn’t always work the way someone might think it should, especially in medical malpractice cases. For example, if a doctor fails to diagnose, or misdiagnoses, a condition that causes an injury or results in death, which is unavoidable and/or unpreventable, the fact that the doctor made a mistake or error is irrelevant to the harm that happened; the patient was going to be injured or killed as a result of the condition he or she already had, regardless of whether the doctor made a proper diagnosis at all. Generally, to prove causation in a medical malpractice case, it must be shown that but for the doctor’s actions, the injuries would not have happened.
When There Is No Injury, Damages Can Be Reduced or Eliminated
On occasion, a patient sues a doctor even though no actual harm occurred to the patient. When this happens, the focus of the case is less on whether the doctor made a mistake and is more on whether the patient was really harmed. If the patient was not harmed, damages might be reduced or completely eliminated.