What is the definition of medical malpractice?


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Question:

My wife and I recently had some issues with her care at her doctors office. I was wondering, what exactly is the definition of medical malpractice? What is necessary to have a good medical malpractice case?

Answer:

Medical malpractice occurs when a doctor or another health care professional treats a patient in a manner that does not measure up to the medical standard or care, and the patient suffers harm as a result. Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? Let’s break it down so that it is (hopefully) a little more understandable

The "medical standard of care" can be defined as the type and level of care that a reasonably competent health care professional -- in the same field, with similar training -- would have provided in the same situation. It usually takes an expert medical witness to testify as to the standard of care, and to examine the defendant's conduct against that standard.

In the real world, the most contentious aspect of a medical malpractice case involves proving exactly what the medical standard of care should have been under the circumstances that led to the alleged malpractice, and then showing precisely how the defendant failed to provide treatment that was in line with that standard.

The injured patient’s attorneys and medical experts are going to say one thing (“Here’s the standard, and here’s how the defendant didn’t live up to it”) and the defendant’s own attorneys and experts are going to look at the same set of facts and reach the opposite conclusion: They may or may not agree with the plaintiff’s assessment of the appropriate standard of care, but they will definitely try to show that the defendant’s provision of medical treatment was in line with the standard of care under the circumstances.

So, all but the most egregious cases of malpractice (a surgeon leaves a medical instrument inside a patient after a procedure, for example) will turn on the strength of expert medical testimony in light of the practical and medical facts of the case.

This is the main reason why a medical malpractice claim (especially one where the plaintiff suffered significant injury) is not usually the kind of case you want to handle on your own. The complexity of these cases from every angle -- legal, medical, and procedural -- means you want to have an experienced medical malpractice attorney (and the right expert witnesses) on your side.      

by: , J.D.

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