Patients injured due to the negligent actions of a doctor or another medical professional may have the right to file a medical malpractice claim and receive compensation for their injuries. If the injured plaintiff wins their claim, they may receive payment for pain and suffering, lost wages and medical care. Punitive damages may also be assessed for certain losses or against defendants whose behavior is deemed especially egregious.
Do I have an injury claim?
Not all injuries are caused by a professional’s breach of duty. In fact, to successfully win a medical malpractice case, you must prove certain elements of your injury claim.
First, you must prove that the doctor owed you a duty of care, which is only proven if you have established a patient-doctor relationship with an affirmative duty to provide care. For example, if you have been going to a doctor for the treatment of cancer for two years, and they have been providing medical care to you, then you have established a relationship and duty of care.
If, however, you are in a restaurant and you have a heart attack, and a doctor next to you fails to provide aid, they may not have a legal duty of care toward you because you are not their patient.
What is Breach of Care?
If a duty of care has been established, the next element you must prove to win your case is breach of duty, which is proven if the evidence shows that the doctor failed to provide a reasonable standard of care.
Reasonable care can be established by statute or law. It can also more generally be described as providing a medical service that meets the level of care that another doctor, in the same location with the same equipment, would provide to you under similar circumstances.
For example, a doctor in a small town at a local hospital may not be expected to provide the same level of care as a doctor at a world-famous hospital with the greatest medical equipment and resources available.
Proving Breach of Care
Proving breach of duty or care can be one of the most difficult elements to prove in a medical malpractice claim. Breach of duty does not occur simply because a patient’s condition worsens or the patient dies.
As mentioned above, you must prove that the doctor did not follow the laws, rules, standards and treatment guidelines that another doctor in the same situation would have followed. Proving breach of duty may also require medical testimony from a medical expert.
Keep in mind that the burden to prove breach of care remains on the plaintiff at all times. To rule in your favor in a medical malpractice claim, the court will have to weigh the direct and circumstantial evidence against the medical professional, and decide if you have proven and established a prima facie case of negligence against them. Some of the most common breach of duty cases includes:
- Medication errors
- Surgical mistakes
- Nursing home abuse
- Birth injuries
How much can I win for my injury case?
To win your injury claim, you must prove duty of care, breach of duty, that the breach of care was the proximate cause of your injuries, and that you have, in fact, suffered injury or loss. If you do not suffer injury or loss, you do not have a medical malpractice claim, regardless of the breach of care.
Assuming that you prove the above-mentioned factors, you will generally have a limited time to file an injury claim, referred to as the "statute of limitations." The statute of limitations will vary by state, but it is generally between one to four years. Some states will not start the time limit until the injury is discovered, which is referred to as "the discovery rule."
The amount of compensation that you can expect to win for your medical malpractice claim can vary based on your degree of fault, whether your state has capped medical malpractice damages, and whether you file your case within the statute of limitations.
Medical Malpractice Statutory Caps on Damages
Many states have passed very controversial laws on medical malpractice compensation awards. Some states have capped non-economic loss such as pain and suffering, while other states have capped total damages.
For example, Texas limits non-economic damages, total damages awarded in a wrongful death claim, and punitive damages. Punitive damages are currently limited to $200,000, or two times the amount of economic plus non-economic damages up to $750,000, or whichever is greater.
Do I need a medical malpractice lawyer?
Injury claimants are not required to hire a medical malpractice lawyer to file their injury claim. Medical malpractice claims, however, can be very difficult to win without legal help. Medical malpractice lawyers can answer your questions, determine the potential value of your claim, and help you gather evidence to win your case.
Medical malpractice lawyers will also have the resources and expertise to locate the best medical experts to help you with your medical injury case.