Have you received medical treatment that caused you or a loved one to be injured? This is an upsetting and scary situation to face, and you may be struggling to understand your rights. Depending on the medical care you received, you may have claims against medical care providers. These claims are called medical negligence or medical malpractice. Common types of claims include failure to diagnose, misdiagnosis, and unsuccessful surgeries.
To sue your doctor for negligence, you have to show that: 1) the doctor owed you a duty; 2) the doctor breached that duty; 3) there was causation between the doctor’s negligent conduct and your injury; and 4) an injury.
Let’s discuss these specific components to a medical malpractice suit to help you better understand your rights under the law.
What does duty mean?
The most basic definition for duty of care is not to harm others through your actions. During your daily activities, such as driving, you need to have reasonable care for others’ safety1.
How does that apply to a doctor? Doctors have a tough and important job. There are no guarantees with any treatment. Things can go wrong that are outside of their control. We need to remember that when we look at what happened. But when doctors take on this work, they need to have the level of skill that other doctors have in the community. This is the level of trust that you put in your doctors. When you seek treatment, they have a responsibility to not to cause you harm through their actions.
When you receive medical treatment, a doctor has a duty to perform at the same level as other doctors do in the profession. They need to use the same level of skill, prudence, and diligence in your treatment as other doctors. In a medical malpractice suit, this is referred to as the standard of care.
The duty for the level of care applies to the actual performance of treatment to your body, like a surgery. It can also be the doctor’s recommendation to do one thing and not another. It can also apply to how much information you are given before treatment. It is not enough for you to say “yes” to treatment. You have to be told what is going to happen to your body. This is called informed consent.
How do we show a violation of that duty?
A violation or a breach of the duty occurs when the treatment falls below the standard of medical care we expect from a doctor in the community. In almost all cases, you need a doctor on your side to look at what happened and find a breach of the duty. This opinion can come from one of your other doctors whom you trust or a physician retained by your attorney as an expert witness. In either case, this physician will analyze your current condition and review your medical records to ensure that you received treatment that met the standard of care.
What is Causation in a Medical Malpractice Suit?
If we show your doctor had a duty to you, and we show that your doctor violated that duty, then we need to show that what happened while you were under the care of a physician caused you to get hurt. There needs to be a connection between the treatment you received and your current condition. It has to be a reasonable medical probability that it is more likely than not the doctor caused your harm. Causation can get confusing. Essentially, we ask, without this doctor’s conduct, would you have obtained a better result?
If you were harmed during the course of medical treatment, you should speak to an attorney who can review what happened and help you.
1Cal. Civ. Code § 1714(a)