Satisfying the Burden of Proof in a Medical Malpractice Case
There are many different ways in which a doctor or other medical professional can commit malpractice, but it is not enough to believe that a healthcare provider was negligent – a person has to be able to prove that there was a preventable medical mistake. It is necessary to prove that there was a provider-patient relationship, that there was a breach of duty, and that the breach led to actual harm. The burden of proof in demonstrating these element lies with the plaintiff who was harmed because of the medical professional’s error. This means that the benefit of the doubt goes to the defendant and the plaintiff must produce sufficient evidence to shift the conclusion from one that holds that the defendant did not commit malpractice to one where there is a finding that there was a preventable mistake that resulted in harm to the plaintiff.
Establishing that the Doctor Owed a Duty of Care
The first thing that must be done in a medical malpractice case is to prove that the doctor or other healthcare provider had a duty to satisfy the relevant medical standard of care. It normally is relatively easy to demonstrate that both parties intended to entire into a relationship where the doctor would provide treatment or care in his or her professional capacity. There are some emergency situations where there might be a dispute as to whether the medical professional intended to enter into a legally-recognized relationship. Other cases where there may be some disagreement about the existence of the necessary relationship is when one doctor consults with another about a specific type of treatment and the injury arises out of a mistake that was made as part of that consultation. In order to maintain an action against the consulting doctor, it is necessary to demonstrate that it was a formal consultation rather than one doctor bouncing an idea off another. In order to bring an action against the medical professional, it also is necessary to show that the relationship was in place at the time of the malpractice.
It is one thing to know in your heart that a mistake was made and another thing to prove it. This is especially true in medical malpractice cases because the healthcare community is notorious for circling the wagons and refusing to provide testimony about what exactly went wrong in the care or treatment of a patient. It is crucial to take the time to gather sufficient evidence to prove the negligence and the harm that it caused before filing a malpractice action. This is one of the reasons that most states require certification by a medical expert that there is a valid basis for the case at the time of filing, or shortly thereafter.
In order to succeed in a medical malpractice case, it is necessary to show that the medical professional breached the applicable medical standard of care, which is established as what a reasonable and prudent healthcare provider in the same field with comparable education, training, and experience, practicing in a similar community and with equivalent resources, would have done under the same circumstances. Proving that there was a deviation from this standard must be done through a preponderance of the evidence, as opposed to the criminal burden of proof that is beyond a reasonable doubt. In most cases, this requires an expert witness.
The medical expert in a malpractice case plays a critical role throughout the entire legal action, from certifying the validity of the claims to commence the case, or at least consulting with the attorney so that he or she can affirm that there is a good faith basis for bringing the case, to establishing the medical standard of care at trial and testifying about how the defendant deviated from that standard. In the beginning, the expert reviews all records and formulates an opinion about the cause of the harm. It is necessary that the expert have the skill and aptitude to analyze the behavior of the defendant, so he or she must practice in the same field. If the patient was injured by a neurosurgeon, then the expert also must be a neurosurgeon so that he or she can outline the medical standard of care applicable in the case and then testify about how the standard was breached. It varies depending on the state in which the action is being brought, but in most jurisdictions, there are very stringent requirements for medical experts, including limitations on how much professional time they may spend testifying as experts.
Proving that there was a mistake that another medical professional would not have made and the error led to serious harm is a difficult task, but it is possible to develop a strong case in order to get the victim of malpractice the compensation that he or she needs to move forward and take care of responsibilities.
Stern Law, PLLC Advocates for Victims of Medical Malpractice
Medical malpractice can devastate the lives of many people, including the patient who was harmed and his or her family. It is critical to obtain compensation necessary to pay for ongoing medical care, replace lost income, and acknowledge the pain and suffering that resulted from the preventable mistake. At Stern Law, PLLC, our attorney fights hard for his clients for more than three decades and we understand how to develop an effective strategy in order to bring a successful legal action. In addition to representing our clients, we also offer resources for those who may have questions about medical malpractice, with compassionate and committed staff available to answer questions 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Call us at 1-844-808-7529 or fill out an online contact form in order to learn how we can help you get through this difficult time.