How Hard Is It To Prove Medical Malpractice?
It may not be surprising to learn that a medical malpractice suit is very different from other personal injury cases. Our experienced Baltimore medical malpractice attorneys know the unique challenges and specialized needs of these lawsuits. Although these cases are difficult to win, it is not impossible. Here, we outline the particular challenges present in proving medical malpractice.
How Hard Is It To Prove Medical Malpractice?
Burden of Proof
Winning these cases is difficult. A medical malpractice lawyer must prove a specific set of events happened. In criminal law, the burden of proof is to leave no reasonable doubt. Civil law is different, and the burden of proof lies in presenting a case that is more likely to be true than untrue.
The plaintiff must provide evidence that the defendant was negligent and that this directly led to harm for the defendant. There are four specific a plaintiff must prove.
Duty of Care
The first step is proving that there was a duty of care. This step exists to protect against situations where, for example, a doctor asked for advice at a party or event turned out to be mistaken. In this case, an individual could not sue for malpractice.
What needs to be shown is that the physician (or health care provider) was responsible for the patient at the time of the claim. This one is the easiest to prove and least contested point of most malpractice lawsuits. There is often easily obtained evidence of doctor/patient relationship, such as medical records or medical bills.
Deviation From the Standard
A patient may be harmed even following standard procedure. There were simply unexpected outcomes. If these outcomes were truly unforeseeable and the physician’s actions were reasonable under the circumstances, it is not malpractice.
An essential part of the plaintiff’s case is to demonstrate that the physician deviated from the standard course of action, and this caused harm. Often a medical malpractice lawyer will call upon expert witnesses to show this. For example, a physician with a similar role can outline how they would have proceeded differently with all conditions being equal.
A Causal Link
Both negligence and an injury are necessary to present a case. The plaintiff must show that there was an injury to them and an injury would not have happened in the absence of malpractice. Their lawyer must present a clear and direct causal link between the two.
Both negligence and injury may occur without resulting in malpractice. Negligence without injury and injury without negligence is not sufficient to make a case. It is simply not the case that every mistake in the medical field will result in injury or harm. For example, a nurse who administers an unnecessary test may waste a patient’s time without harming them.
The plaintiff’s case must demonstrate specific damages and how they are compensable. These damages may be economic or non-economic and may include illnesses, injuries, pain, medical bills, temporary or permanent disability, lost wages, or wrongful death.
These costs are what they are looking to recover from this case and may run very high. For example, the plaintiff may have needed to pay for further surgery. They could miss months of work. They may have a permanent injury resulting in years of therapy or a lifestyle change. As a result, they would incur high costs and have high losses.
As well as needing to be exact in presenting a case that fulfills all the above requirements, there are many other facets to medical malpractice cases that present challenges.
Some medical cases are so blatantly the fault of the doctor or hospital that they may not even try to argue at all and accept the blame and the consequences that follow. However, this is extremely rare. You will often find that a doctor will completely deny fault, and determining that they are at fault is incredibly hard. Separating reasonable and unreasonable behavior in the medical field can become tricky and require specific expertise.
Typically a patient is the responsibility of more than one party. For example, the hospital administration, doctor, nurse, and carer may all be involved in an individual’s care and treatment. It can be difficult in this situation to establish who is liable for damages.
If it is verified that more than one individual or administration demonstrated negligence, they are each 100% responsible for compensating the damages to the client under Maryland Law. However, if no particular person can be shown liable, the case becomes difficult to win.
Another factor that can cause complications, specifically in medical malpractice, is the expense of calling witnesses forward to testify on specific medical knowledge. The costs of calling these witnesses can pile up quickly. With the high costs of both the expert witnesses and the hours of deposition, there will need to be an expectation of a reasonably high payout. Otherwise, the costs incurred by this will mitigate any eventual recovery from the claim.
Juries can be very tough in these cases. In contrast to other personal injury claims, the jury often sympathizes with the defendant. They understand that the medical field is complicated and that there may not be a clear answer to every decision. They want to believe a physician was only doing their job and trying to provide the best care. Only if the doctor in question made an obvious serious error that represented complete negligence, such as leaving surgical equipment in a patient during a surgical procedure, does this get mitigated.
However, it is not impossible to show a jury that the doctor was, in fact, in the wrong, even in complicated cases. It does, however, require more skill. A deep understanding and clear presentation of the evidence is necessary to present a case of negligence to the jury.
Examples of Medical Malpractice
Common causes for medical malpractice suits, where it can be clearly shown that the health worker or institution was at fault, include:
- Birth injuries
- Misdiagnosis or failure to diagnose
- Hospital infections
- Misreading or ignoring test results
- Unnecessary surgery or surgical errors
- Surgical errors or wrong-site surgery
- Incorrect medication prescription or dosage
- Absent or poor follow-up or aftercare
- Premature discharge
- Disregarding or not recording appropriate patient history
Finding Qualified Medical Malpractice Attorneys
Due to the complicated nature of these cases, it can be difficult to find lawyers who are qualified to represent in these cases. Only lawyers with extensive experience can skillfully analyze and present the complex medical evidence required.
The high costs involved also require a lawyer experienced at bearing those costs and ensuring a payout for the claimant.
If, after reading this, you believe that you have experienced medical malpractice, you must act before the claim expires. In Maryland, the expiry date is five years from the incident or three years after discovering the injury.
Negligence from a healthcare professional and the hospital can cause injury that can impact your entire life. Seeking compensation is the best course of action if this has occurred. Our experienced and skilled professionals will be here to help you recover the compensation you deserve. If you believe you have suffered from medical malpractice, call Peter Angelos Law in Baltimore, MD today to discuss making a claim.