Medical malpractice occurs when a patient suffers a serious injury because a healthcare professional failed to meet the standard of care. A breach of the standard of care can mean a doctor failed to disclose risks to a patient, or that the doctor made a negligent mistake during a surgical procedure.
Not all complications and injuries to patients are the result of breaches of duty to adhere to the standard of care. If a doctor meets professional standards and provides reasonable care and the patient still suffers, the doctor may not be liable for injuries.
Determining Negligence In Maryland Medical Malpractice Investigations
To determine if a patient has a case against a healthcare professional for medical negligence, patients must be able to prove the existence of three factors:
- A patient relationship existed with the healthcare professional meaning the patient was owed the standard of care, and
- The healthcare professional breached the standard of care, and
- The patient was injured as a direct result of the breach in the standard of care.
The standard of care sets a minimum level of risk assessment for doctors. To meet the standard of care, doctors must provide the same level of care that any other reasonable doctor in the same field with similar qualifications would provide. This means that if most doctors would agree that a procedure has more risks than benefits for a patient of a certain condition, then the standard of care set for that situation involves not performing that procedure for the patient. If one doctor does perform the procedure for a patient with the condition, and the patient suffers a serious injury, then the doctor may be liable for any injuries.
Standards are set through a complex interaction between current physician practices and medical studies. Standards will also change based on the development of new technologies that become widely available to doctors and through new medical studies that reveal better ways of practice medicine.
Patients and families of patients who believe that they were injured as a result of a breach in the standard of care should immediately begin to collect documentation of doctor visits and completed procedures.
Proving Breach of Duty In Medical Malpractice Cases
When a doctor was negligent and breached the standard of care, the injured patient must be able to prove the breach of care in court. Proving a breach can be a difficult and complex process.
Standards of care can have many gray areas and are not always easily understood. Usually, a medical malpractice attorney (possibly in conjunction with a physician) will carefully review all the medical details of the patient's case and look for possible instances of a breach of the standard of care. The medical malpractice attorney will verify breaches with an expert witness, and the witness will testify in court. An expert witness could be another doctor who holds a similar position, a medical researcher, or any healthcare professional who is able to speak about the standard of care for the medical specialty.
A breach of the standard of care might mean that a doctor failed to order the necessary diagnostic tests and missed a diagnosis, that the doctor prescribed the wrong medication or the wrong dose of medication, or that the doctor made a serious mistake during a surgical procedure and caused nerve damage or erred in administering anesthesia.
But even if an injury is obvious, it doesn't necessarily mean that a doctor will be held liable. The burden of proof in malpractice cases lies with the victim. If the injured patient cannot prove that the healthcare professional breached the standard and that the breach directly resulted in harm, the doctor can be acquitted.
A majority of doctors may agree with one way of practicing, but an accused doctor can still be released from liability if they can prove a “reasonable minority” of doctors agrees with their practices. A patient may not be able to acquire enough evidence that the doctor breached the standard, even if the injury was severe.
Patients who suffered an injury and who can prove that a healthcare professional breached the standard of care are eligible for compensation for their injury. Patients can receive compensation for medical costs associated with the injury, and for non-economic damages like emotional pain and suffering.
When Medical Negligence Is Obvious: (The Thing Speaks For Itself or “Res Ipsa Loquitur”)
There are certain cases of medical negligence that are so outstandingly bad that patients are not required to use expert testimony to prove that the healthcare professional breached the standard of care. In “res ipsa loquitor” cases, the breach of duty is so obvious that patients are not required to go through the steps to prove the breach. “Res ipsa loquitur”, which translates to “the thing speaks for itself”, removes the burden of proof for patients that were injured by an extremely clear breach of the standard. A res ipsa case might mean that a doctor left a surgical object in the patient, or that the doctor performed an operation on the wrong patient.
To use res ipsa in a malpractice case, patients must be able to show that:
- Evidence of the breach of duty is unobtainable
- The type of injury does not usually occur without negligence
- The healthcare professional is accused of the injury has sole control over the means to obtain evidence for the case
- The patient is not responsible for their own injury
- The patient was under the care of the healthcare professional at the time of the injury
- The injury could not have been caused by any instrumentatlity other than that which the healthcare professional controlled
The rules of res ipsa can vary between states. The major source of variance is expert testimony in res ipsa cases; some states believe that if expert testimony is used than the case is not common knowledge and res ipsa is not effectual, while other states allow the use of expert testimony in res ipsa cases. If you have a medical malpractice claim, we can help you understand whether res ipsa applies, and advise you of your legal rights. We can also help you collect the maximum amount of compensation that you're entitled to. Call us or schedule a free consultation online to get the information you need.