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What is Medical Malpractice?

When a doctor causes injury or harm to their patient, a medical malpractice claim allows the patient to seek restitution for the damages caused. There are several components of a medical malpractice claim that are important to understand—here, the medical malpractice attorneys at Murnane & O’Neill explain what is required for a viable medical malpractice claim, as well as common types of medical malpractice.

Requirements for a Medical Malpractice Claim

Existence of a Doctor-Patient Relationship

In order to seek recourse against a physician for medical malpractice, a physician-patient relationship must exist between the plaintiff and the physician—essentially, the plaintiff must have hired the medical practitioner to provide medical treatment or consultation, and the medical practitioner must have agreed to be hired. While this is rather easily established for most plaintiffs who received direct medical treatment from a physician, it may be more difficult for a plaintiff who received treatment from a medical practitioner indirectly, such as from an “e-doctor.”

The Doctor was Negligent

Negligence is a vital component of a medical malpractice case—a physician is said to have been negligent if they have failed to implement a reasonable and appropriate medical standard of care while treating the plaintiff. Because of the broad nature of such a claim, it is important for a medical expert to testify on the extent of the physician’s negligence, and how they deviated from an appropriate medical standard of care.

The Doctor’s Negligence Caused Injury

It is possible for a doctor to exhibit negligent behavior or practices, but not cause harm to a patient. To legally qualify as medical malpractice, a doctor’s negligence must cause direct physical or mental injury to a patient. Because malpractice often involved patients who were already sick or injured prior to negligent treatment from a medical practitioner, a medical expert is often needed to explain that a patient’s injuries came from their physician’s negligence, and not a pre-existing condition.

The Injury Led to Damages

In a medical malpractice claim, the plaintiff may sue for the specific harm they were caused, known as damages. Damages can be general, special or punitive. General damages, like pain and suffering or mental anguish, are damages that cannot be quantified in an easily measurable way, but still deserve remuneration. Special damages are quantifiable, and can include medical bills, lost wages, lost earning capacity and more. Punitive damages are meant to punish a physician for extremely egregious behavior, often when the physician knowingly caused harm to a patient.

Common Types of Medical Malpractice

While every medical malpractice claim is different, there are three major types of malpractice cases: failure to diagnose, improper treatment or failure to warn a patient of known risks. A failure to diagnose case involves an instance where a more competent physician could have accurately diagnosed a patient—leading to a better outcome for the patient—but the patient’s actual physician failed to. A doctor who improperly treats a patient is one who implements a treatment no other reasonable doctor would—this also includes instances where a physician administers the proper treatment, but fails to administer the treatment to its fullest extent. Finally, doctors are required to provide their patients with informed consent—meaning a patient is fully aware of the risks involved in a procedure, use of medication or other treatment. A doctor who fails to provide this information to a patient who would have otherwise refused the treatment may be guilty of medical malpractice if the patient then becomes injured in a way that the doctor should have warned them could happen.

Medical Malpractice Cases Require the Skilled Legal Advocacy of a Medical Malpractice Attorney

Medical malpractice cases are complicated, especially for victims who have been severely harmed or injured. An experienced medical malpractice attorney—such as those at Murnane & O’Neill—can help victims walk through the complexities of their case, and to seek remuneration for the injuries they have suffered. For more information about how the attorneys at Murnane & O’Neill can help medical malpractice victims, contact us today!