What does it take to win a medical malpractice case?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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The success or failure of a medical malpractice lawsuit will likely hinge on whether the doctor’s medical practice fell below the accepted standard of care for that particular type of doctor.

The term “standard of care” refers to how a similarly qualified doctor would have provided treatment under the same or similar circumstances. For instance, an OB/GYN is held to a higher standard than a general practitioner and is evaluated in comparison with other OB/GYNs. If the defendant in the case is a nursing facility, its procedures and practices are weighed against the procedures and practices of other nursing facilities. Once it is established that the doctor failed to meet the standard of care, the next issue is whether the injury is the consequence of the doctor’s negligence.

An example would be if during knee surgery, the doctor negligently nicks an artery and the artery is repaired. While the artery is being repaired, the patient suffers from an unrelated brain aneurysm and dies on the table. Because the injury was unrelated to the death, the patient’s family will have trouble winning a case against the doctor for nicking the artery.

Finally, the patient must show that there are damages as a result of the breach. If the doctor’s negligence does not cause serious damage, the doctor may not be held responsible. For example, let’s say an OB/GYN negligently fails to recognize that a mother’s gestational diabetes has resulted in the fetus growing to a size that she should not be able to vaginally deliver. The mother, however, goes through labor and delivery without incident and a healthy child is delivered. Although the doctor’s prenatal treatment fell below the standard of care, there were no damages or injuries.

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