If you’ve been injured or your health has been diminished due to the carelessness or negligence of a doctor or other medical professional, it’s likely that you’ve thought about filing a lawsuit. It may make sense, especially if you’ve become burdened with medical bills, lost income due to an inability to work, or unable to care for your family; it is only fair to seek a legal remedy.
Many people are caused significant health and financial distress by injuries that otherwise should have been prevented had their doctor performed with the care that is expected of a medical professional. There are a few legal and economic factors to consider when deciding whether or not to pursue a medical malpractice lawsuit. First the legal requirements.
What Makes a Valid Medical Malpractice Case?
There are four basic elements that must be present for a medical malpractice lawsuit to have merit. These are a (1) duty of care, (2) a breach of that duty, (3) an injury to the patient and (4) proof that the injury was caused by the breach of duty. Let’s discuss these a little further. (Learn more detailed information about what you need to prove in a medical malpractice lawsuit.)
1. Duty of Care
This is one of the easiest elements of a medical malpractice case to establish. If you gave a doctor permission to treat you, and he or she agreed to treat you, then a duty of care has been established. Along with this duty comes an “acceptable standard of care” which we’ll talk about next.
2. Breach of Duty
This part of a medical malpractice case is more difficult to establish. Essentially, it must be shown that your physician departed from the above mentioned “standard of care”, or simply, he or she acted or failed to act as he/she should have under the circumstances. Whether it was due to a lack of attention, carelessness, fatigue or something else, a doctor is held to a reasonable level of care in his job; anything less than the acceptable standard of care constitutes a breach of duty.
3. Injury to the Patient
There must be an injury that was caused by the negligence of the physician or care provider. If a doctor was negligent but nothing came of it, you don’t have a medical malpractice case. More than that, the injury has to be significant, not for legal reasons, but for economics. I’ll talk about that later.
4. Causation - Proof that the Doctor Caused the Injury
The fourth element needed is proof that the doctors negligence directly contributed to the injury suffered by the patient. Often times the malpractice insurance company’s attorney will try to argue that there was some pre-existing condition, or other cause of the injury, so this proof must be sufficient to convince a jury.
Once it is established that your case is indeed a valid instance of medical malpractice, the economic factors must be considered.
Money Matters: The Economics of a Malpractice Case
The fact is, pursuing a medical malpractice claim is very expensive. Your attorney will have to spend tens of thousands of dollars or more investigating the case, hiring a medical professional to examine the details and testify as an expert witness, and spend a lot of the law firm’s resources preparing the case.
If your injury doesn’t merit an award or settlement that is large enough to cover all of your attorney’s expenses, then it’s not viable for them to take your case.
It’s an unfortunate fact that while many people are injured and do have a good case, they are unable to get an attorney to pursue their claim because they just cannot afford it. If you were given the wrong medication, but you’ll recover in a few weeks, then it’s likely not worthwhile to pursue your claim.
However, if you were caused any kind of permanent injury or disability, or you required multiple unnecessary surgeries and have been (or will be) unable to work for a significant period of time, then it may be worthwhile to seek compensation through a medical malpractice lawsuit. (Learn more about available damages in medical malpractice lawsuit.)
The Bottom Line: Always Talk to an Attorney
It’s important that anyone who’s been caused harm by the negligence of a doctor talk to an experienced medical malpractice attorney. Medical malpractice lawsuits are very complicated, and it’s impossible to determine exactly which cases deserve a shot at recovery unless you’ve had experience handling them. Talking to an attorney experienced in malpractice cases is the best way to find out what options are available to you.
Even if your case doesn’t merit a lawsuit, an attorney will be able to give you other options, such as reporting medical negligence to the licensing authority.