Medical malpractice refers to the responsibility of health care providers
including, but not limited to physicians, nurses, dentists, and hospitals for
injury caused to a patient as a result of that provider's negligent care.
Cause of the Injury
Defense to the Claim
To establish responsibility in a medical malpractice case, there must be a
showing that the health care provider owed a duty of care to the injured party,
breached that duty, and an injury was caused by that breach.
In order for a physician to owe a duty to a patient, a physician-patient
relationship must first have been established. The law then places upon the
physician a duty of possessing the reasonable degree of skill that is ordinarily
possessed by physicians in similar circumstances.
When a physician consents to treat a patient, the duty to use reasonable care
and diligence in the exercise of the physician's skill is established. The law
holds the physician responsible for failing to use his or her best skill or best
Certain activities are commonly expected to be
carefully performed by a physician, such as:
Taking a complete medical history;
Conducting a careful, appropriate, systematic physical examination;
Utilizing laboratory and other objective tests when appropriate;
Making a proper diagnosis;
Referring the patient to a specialist, when a higher degree of skill or care
than the physician can offer is required;
Staying informed of evolving methods and treatment in the medical field; and
Providing adequate follow-up care.
Physicians who specialize in a certain area are expected to have greater skill
in treatment within that specialty than a general practitioner.
A health care facility, such as a hospital, is responsible for injuries caused
by the negligence of its employees. As with other health care providers, the
hospital must exercise such reasonable care and skill as careful hospitals would
utilize under the circumstances.
In order for the patient to prove malpractice, it is usually necessary to
establish the required standard of care and prove that the health care provider
deviated from that standard. This proof is almost always by way of expert
For a health care provider to be held responsible for a patient's injury, there
must be a showing that the injury was directly caused by the health care
provider's negligence, that is, a deviation from the required standard of care.
Proving that the injury was caused by such negligence is often a complicated
issue in medical malpractice cases.
A defense to the claim of malpractice can be based upon the argument that the
patient's injury or condition would have occurred regardless of any medical
negligence, thus any such negligence did not cause the injury. If the injury
would have occurred anyway, but was significantly accelerated in time due to the
health care provider's negligence, liability may be found. Expert testimony is
usually required to establish these facts. As a general rule, the negligent
treatment will be seen as the cause of the injury if it was a substantial factor
in bringing about the injury.