Medical malpractice cases are usually some of the most complicated and expensive cases to pursue. This page is designed to provide you with some basic background regarding such claims, specific questions should be addressed to a lawyer.
Proving Your Case
In order to make a successful medical malpractice case a plaintiff must be able to prove the following:
Negligence. Medical providers (such as doctors, nurses, physical therapists, etc.) are negligent when they fail to use that degree of care which would have been used by a reasonable medical provider under similar circumstances. Medical providers are not considered negligent just because there has been a mistake as long as that mistake could have been made by any reasonable medical provider in similar circumstances. Likewise, a bad outcome is not necessarily negligence. The law allows medical providers to have a bad outcome as long as any reasonable medical provider in similar circumstances may have had the same outcome.
An example of this concept might involve a situation where a heart surgeon accidentally lacerates a nerve during the heart surgery. Although that laceration was a mistake, and the outcome may be bad for the patient, it does not necessarily mean the surgeon was negligent. Instead, the question becomes whether or not any reasonable heart surgeon in a similar circumstance may have also lacerated the nerve. If so, the heart surgeon in question may not be negligent. However, if a reasonable surgeon exercising reasonable care under similar circumstances would not have lacerated the nerve then the heart surgeon in question may be negligent.
Causation. The law requires that the malpractice (negligence) be linked directly to the harm. In other words, the law requires that the plaintiff prove that the malpractice caused some harm to the plaintiff.
For example, using our heart surgeon again, let’s assume that the heart surgeon was negligent in lacerating the nerve. Sometime after the surgery the patient said she was experiencing pain on the left side of her body and claimed that the pain was caused when the heart surgeon lacerated the nerve. However, there is also evidence that the patient had pain in the same area of her body before the surgery which may have been caused by an earlier automobile accident. In that case the plaintiff may be able to prove that the doctor was negligent in lacerating the nerve, but may not be able to prove that the doctor’s negligence was actually causing the pain in question.
Damages. Obviously, the plaintiff must be able to prove that he or she sustained some type of damage as a result of the medical provider’s negligence. This often presents a problem for the plaintiff. Medical malpractice cases are extremely expensive to pursue. As discussed below, the plaintiff must usually use one or more medical experts in order to prove the case. Those experts are very expensive. As a result, the damage in a medical malpractice case must be fairly significant. Otherwise, it may not be economically feasible to even pursue the case. In order to establish significant damages it is usually necessary to show that there has been some type of permanent or ongoing injury as a result of the negligence.
Unlike virtually every other type of personal injury case in the state of Minnesota, a plaintiff in a medical malpractice case cannot simply sue the medical provider. Instead, the plaintiff must be able to establish that a qualified expert has reviewed the file and believes that the medical provider in question committed malpractice. In fact, the plaintiff must produce an affidavit from such an expert at or near the start of a medical malpractice lawsuit. Furthermore, as the case moves along more detailed information must be provided regarding expert opinion. In many cases it is necessary to produce an expert to testify about negligence and separate experts to testify about causation and damages. As indicated above, the need for expert witnesses in medical malpractice cases make those cases extremely expensive.
Burden of Proof
You should always keep in mind that the plaintiff has the burden of proof in medical malpractice cases. That means that a jury would have to be satisfied by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely true than not true) that there was malpractice and damage. If, on the other hand, the jury did not know one way or another whether or not there was malpractice and damage, the plaintiff has not met his or her burden of proof.
Anyone contemplating a medical malpractice case should always consult with a lawyer right away about the applicable Statute of Limitations.