Elements of a Medical Malpractice Claim

Elements of a Medical Malpractice Claim

Medical malpractice claims arise after healthcare professionals make an error when diagnosing treating, or helping with aftercare for a patient. While most people reportedly have had a positive experience within the healthcare system, two in five Americans say that they have either personally suffered from a medical error or witnessed a loved one suffer the consequences of a medical error (NORCA at the University of Chicago research 2017).

Medical malpractice can result in serious health complications, financial hardships, loss of future wages, and loss of quality of life, and these consequences are just a few examples of the possible negative impacts medical errors cause. If a person wants to pursue compensation through a lawsuit, they will need to substantiate their claim by proving the four elements of medical malpractice.

What Are the Four Elements of Medical Malpractice?

The four elements that must be proven in a medical malpractice case are:

  • Duty of care. A medical malpractice claim will only be successful if it is established that the caretaker owed them a duty of care. Patients are owed a duty of care by the medical professionals involved in their treatment thus this element can be easily proven.
  • Breach of duty. The next element that must be proven is that there was a breach in the duty of care that you were owed.
  • Direct cause. It must be demonstrated that your damages (i.e. your injury, illness, or resulting complications) were caused by the breach of duty.
  • Damages. For the case to be successful, evidence must also be submitted to show that your injury or complications resulted in compensable damages.

How Does Medical Malpractice Differ from Medical Negligence?

Before continuing, it is important to note that medical malpractice is different than medical negligence. Medical negligence occurs when a medical professional makes a decision or acts and accidentally causes a patient harm; however, medical malpractice involves an intentionally negligent act. In medical malpractice cases, when the healthcare provider makes a medical error, they understand (or should understand) the potential consequence of their actions.

What Are the Most Common Medical Malpractice Claims?

The following are some of the most common forms of medical malpractice that can result in a claim:

  • Misdiagnoses or delayed diagnoses. Patients may receive a misdiagnosis or an incorrect diagnosis if their physician or nurse fails to recognize their symptoms, order needed medical tests, or refer the patient to a specialist. Errors can also occur if test results are lost, mislabeled, or misinterpreted.
  • Failure to treat. Medical malpractice claims can arise if a patient is released too soon, is not given accurate follow-up or after-care instructions, or is treated without having had their medical history reviewed.
  • Prescription errors. Patients can suffer if their healthcare providers fail to recognize the signs of addiction or abuse before prescribing drugs, give them an incorrect dosage, or do not account for potential allergic reactions.
  • Surgical errors. Doctors, nurses, anesthesiologists, and other medical professionals can make grave mistakes during a patient’s surgery or procedure, such as performing surgery on the wrong patient or part of the body, leaving medical devices or tools inside a patient, or failing to adhere to hospital and medical protocol before, during, or after surgery.
  • Childbirth injuries. Before, during, or after childbirth, mothers and their children may suffer injuries because of medical errors, such as improper use of forceps, failure to recognize fetal or maternal distress, or substandard pre-or postnatal care.

Examples of Medical Malpractice Claims

Here are some real-life examples of medical malpractice cases.

  • LA VA Medical Centre vs. Houghton. In 1989, Benjamin Houghton was diagnosed with metastatic testicular cancer. He initially underwent chemotherapy treatment, which was successful. In 2006, his left testicle was atrophied, and his doctor believed that there was a chance his left testicle had cancerous cells. Thus, Houghton and his doctor decided the best course of action was to remove the testicle. After awakening from surgery, Houghton was told a mistake had occurred; the wrong testicle was removed. Because of the physical, psychological, and financial damage suffered, Houghton and his wife filed a $200,000 claim against the medical center where the surgery was performed.
  • Duke University Hospital vs. Jesica Santillan. Jesica Santillan was a 17-year-old girl with a congenital heart defect. In 2003, she died after receiving a heart and lung transplant at Duke University Hospital because they failed to check if the donor’s blood type matched hers. After the transplant, Jesica suffered from severe brain damage and went into shock because her donor did not have the same blood type. Duke University Health System settled with her family after they filed a lawsuit.
  • Hilo Medical Center vs. Arturo Iturralde. Iturralde needed back surgery that involved putting a titanium rod into his spine. However, after being unable to locate the rods that were supposed to be inserted, surgeon Robert Ricketson removed the handle from a screwdriver and placed that in Iturralde’s back. The screwdriver broke within a few days and caused Iturralde a lot of pain and internal trauma. He had to undergo several other surgeries and died within two years. His estate filed a malpractice suit against Ricketson and the medical center for $5.6 million.

If you or a loved one have suffered damages as a result of medical malpractice, the attorneys at Golomb Legalcan help you pursue compensation. Contact our firm to discuss your legal options via phone (215) 278-4449 or online.