What Are The Requirements for a Medical Malpractice Claim?
WHAT ARE THE REQUIREMENTS FOR A MEDICAL MALPRACTICE CLAIM?
By Thomas E. Haught
When we have to make lifestyle changes due to an illness or injury potentially caused by our healthcare provider, we may wonder if we have the requirements for a medical malpractice claim.
Many people know the word “malpractice”, but they don’t really understand its parameters. A malpractice claim generally involves one or more of these events:
1. Failure to diagnose
2. An incorrect diagnosis
3. Treatment that causes further illness or injury.
The practice of medicine is complicated. As a society, we trust our health to individuals who have completed lengthy, grueling education and training for their profession. But we must remember that to err is human and mistakes happen in every line of work, including medicine.
Proving Medical Malpractice
To use the word “mistake” when applied to requirements for medical malpractice claims, however, is actually misleading. A doctor can make a mistake, or make the wrong decision, but not commit malpractice. To prove a claim for medical malpractice, we must prove:
1. The standard of care in the medical community by which the alleged at fault doctor is compared
2. The doctor deviated from that standard of care and
3. The resulting injury was caused by that deviation from that standard of care
In other words, if a doctor treats a patient and during that treatment the doctor meets the correct standard of care, no malpractice has been committed, even if the patient suffers further illness or injury. Confused? Let’s compare two examples.
An elderly gentleman reports to the emergency room with chest pains. The doctor has seen this hundreds of times, as chest pain is generally considered the number one reason for emergency room visits. The doctor is now charged with meeting the standard of care for treatment of chest pains. This likely includes a comprehensive evaluation, a stress test, angiograph, etc. Let us now assume that our doctor HAS met the standard of care in the treatment of the patient, discharges the patient, and later that night the patient suffers a massive heart attack. Was malpractice committed? The answer is no, because our doctor met the standard of care for treatment. I think we can all agree that if the patient suffered a heart attack that very night, then certainly, at least in hindsight, a mistake was made or questionable judgment was exercised. But we must remember that bad judgment, or even a clear mistake, does not equal malpractice if the doctor complied with the applicable standard of care.
In this second scenario, the same elderly gentleman reports to the emergency room with chest pains and the doctor is charged with meeting the standard of care for treatment of chest pains. However, this time, the doctor does no evaluation, conducts no tests and instead sends the patient home with instruction to take some antacid, believing the chest pains to be nothing more than indigestion. Later that day, the patient suffers a heart attack. Has the doctor committed malpractice? Absolutely.
You can see that in both of our examples, the outcomes were exactly the same, but medical malpractice was only committed when the doctor deviated from the standard of care.
Standard of Care in Medical Malpractice
So how is “standard of care”, as used in these explanations, determined? By expert testimony. The law recognizes that the practice of medicine is complicated business and requires expert testimony to assist the jury in making fair decisions. In the vast majority of medical malpractice claims, the law requires that another doctor, who practices the same discipline of medicine as the alleged at-fault doctor, confirm that the accused deviated from the established standard of care. This is one of the necessary requirements for a medical malpractice claim.
We don’t give much thought about our good health until we lose it, and nothing can be more devastating to a person and their family than to have to change lifestyles due to an illness or injury. The devastation is only magnified when the illness or injury is caused or worsened by those that we trust to heal us—healthcare providers. If you believe that you, or someone you know, was the victim of medical malpractice, or you have questions about the requirements for medical malpractice claims, contact the attorneys at Gardi & Haught, Ltd. at 847.944.9400 for a free case evaluation.