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What Are the Elements of a Medical Malpractice Case?

By Saunders Law Group on September 23, 2014

Proving a medical malpractice in lakeland case requires demonstrating that the health care provider acted negligently. To prove negligence, the claimant must show: duty, breach, causation, and damages. These basic elements are the same ones that must be shown in any personal injury case, with one catch: statutory strictures make proving medical malpractice cases more difficult than the standard personal injury case. Chapter 766, Florida Statutes, is the statute that governs medical malpractice matters. Florida Stat. sec. 766.102 specifically discusses the proving of medical negligence.

As with other negligence cases, however, these elements must be proven by the greater weight of the evidence (meaning evidence that is more convincing compared to the other side’s evidence). “More convincing” means that a Judge or jury needs to be convinced by 51% that the Plaintiff’s evidence is more persuasive.

First, Duty.

Did the Defendant health care provider owe a duty to the Plaintiff patient? This element is usually not difficult to prove as it arises naturally as a result of the physician/patient relationship. How is duty defined? Duty means the duty to act within the “standard of care,” or, the level of skill, care, and treatment which is recognized as reasonable and appropriate by other reasonably prudent physicians in similar practice areas.

To prove the standard of care, in most all instances the Plaintiff must call an expert witness to testify. Florida Stat. sec. 766.102 requires that any expert testimony concerning the prevailing professional standard of care be from a health care provider who holds an active and valid license and completely reviews the pertinent medical records and meets other specific criteria. There are additional strictures for expert testimony from a specialist against or on behalf of a physician who is also a specialist, or from a general practitioner against or on behalf of a physician who is also a general practitioner, and for testimony from a physician who is one other than a specialist or general practitioner. Additionally, the attorney who proffers a person as an expert witness must certify that the witness has never been found guilty of fraud or perjury.

Second, Breach.

Breach means that the health care provider breached the duty described above that he or she owed to the patient, and deviated from the standard of care set forth above. Proving a breach in the standard of care also, in most all instances, requires expert testimony. It is interesting that the medical negligence statute notes that while the existence of a medical injury does not create any inference or presumption of negligence against a health care provider, “the discovery of the presence of a foreign body, such as a sponge, clamp, forceps, surgical needle, or other paraphernalia commonly used in surgical, examination, or diagnostic procedures, shall be prima facie evidence of negligence on the part of the health care provider.” Florida Statute sec. 766.102(3)(b). Therefore, usually, simply having a medical injury does not give rise to prima facie evidence of the doctor’s negligence, but exceptions to that – such as leaving a sponge or other foreign object in the plaintiff’s body – exist.

Third, Causation.

Did the health care professional’s breach of the standard of care cause or contribute to some harm to the patient? Again, in most cases, proof of causation requires expert testimony. A physician who meets the specifications of the medical negligence statute must testify that the plaintiff’s injuries probably would not have occurred if the physician had followed proper medical practices. Additionally, the Defendant health care provider should have reasonably foreseen this result or a similar result.

Finally, Damages.

Damages mean that, as a result of all of the doctor’s decisions above, the plaintiff actually suffered some harm.  Many times, damages as a result of the doctor’s decisions are easy to ascertain as they are readily apparent; other times, they take years to manifest and may be more difficult to prove.

Please keep in mind Florida has a two-year statute of limitations on medical malpractice cases. If you are a victim of medical malpractice, it is important to act quickly to resolve your claim. Please call the attorneys at Saunders Law to discuss your case and determine whether you are entitled to any compensation.

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