You may hear about them in the papers or on TV, but the truth is that medical malpractice cases are not merely lawsuits based on the fact that a patient was somehow injured by a healthcare provider.
Medical malpractice is a form of negligence, meaning that only those injuries caused by a doctor's negligent actions can legally form the basis of such a lawsuit.
However, as is explained below, proof of negligence doesn't always guarantee a successful claim.
Because medical malpractice cases are based on negligence law, a plaintiff must prove that a doctor, medical professional, or facility breached its duty of care, which in turn was the legal and actual cause of the injury.
Medical professionals and facilities owe patients a special duty of care. They must act in a manner consistent with the accepted standards of the industry, as well as those within their own specialty.
This means that a medical malpractice case is only valid if a provider failed to follow the generally-accepted standard of care to ensure patient safety and proper treatment.
Even if a patient is able to prove that a doctor acted in such a manner, that may not be the end of the inquiry.
There are medical instances when a plaintiff may prove negligence, but the defendant is held not to have been negligent when a patient does one of the following:
- gave informed consent
- accepted unavoidable known risk
- contributed to his own harm
- failed to mitigate damages
- failed to disclose important information
Though it isn't often discussed in the media, patient behavior oftentimes is more important than that of a medical provider when analyzing the viability medical malpractice cases.
[Editor's note: Post was updated on 8/19/2011 to clarify the interplay of defendant negligence and medical malpractice allegations.]