Medical Malpractice: Background
Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors | Last reviewed December 03, 2018
Medical malpractice is a type of personal injury case, based on the negligence committed by a medical professional. Accidents happen in hospitals and in the practice of medicine in general, some of which are preventable. When a physician makes a preventable error that results in injury, the patient often may sue for damages.
Elements of a Medical Malpractice Claim
For negligence to be "actionable" (i.e. to have all the components necessary to be a viable cause of action -- and thus, a legitimate lawsuit), the following elements must exist:
- There must be a duty owed to someone;
- There must be a breach of that duty;
- The breach of that duty must result in harm or damage that is proximately caused by that breach.
The simplest way to apply the concept of proximate cause to medical malpractice is to ask whether, "but for" the alleged negligence, the harm or injury would have occurred. In other words, would the injury have occurred even if the doctor wasn't negligent? If the injury still would have occurred regardless of the alleged act of malpractice, then there is no valid claim. See Elements of a Negligence Case for more details.
What is a "Reasonably Prudent" Physician?
When determining whether the conduct of a member of the general public is negligent, the conduct is judged against a standard of how a "reasonably prudent person" might act in the same or similar circumstance. But when determining whether a medical professional is at fault, his or her practice or conduct is judged at a level of competency and professionalism consistent with the specialized training, experience, and care of a "reasonably prudent" physician in the same or similar circumstances. This constitutes the "standard of care" or professional "duty" that a physician owes to his or her patient. If the physician breaches or violates the standard of care and his patient suffers accordingly, there is actionable medical malpractice.
Who is Considered a Medical Professional?
The term "patient" generally refers to a person who is receiving medical treatment and/or who is under medical care. The most common defendant in a medical malpractice suit is the treating physician, although many other professionals or medical organizations may be held responsible, as well. In many states, other licensed medical professionals such as chiropractors, nurses, therapists, and psychologists, may also be sued for malpractice, i.e., negligently breaching their respective professional duties owed to a patient.
Damages Available in a Medical Malpractice Case
Many of the recoverable damages in a medical malpractice claim are similar to those in any other personal injury case. Some of those damages include:
- Medical expenses
- Future medical expenses
- Physical and mental pain
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Cost of hiring someone for household services
- Loss of consortium
- Loss of companionship
- Loss of earning capacity
- Lost wages
Get an Attorney's Help with Filing a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit
Both the legal and medical professions are very complex -- and determining whether or not you have a valid medical malpractice claim requires expertise. Even if you're already convinced you have reason to sue, you will benefit from the guidance of a seasoned legal professional, who can help you get the compensation you deserve. If you would like to learn more about your medical malpractice case, you can contact an experienced medical malpractice lawyer.
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