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What must you prove in a medical malpractice suit?

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When you become ill or injured in California and go to doctor or the emergency room, you fully expect that the health care professionals involved in your case have the training and skill necessary to properly diagnose your problem and treat it. You definitely do not expect that any of them will make your condition worse or injure you through their negligence. Unfortunately, however, not all health care professionals meet your expectations. In fact, medical errors account for an alarming number of patient injuries each year and are today the third leading cause of death in the United States.

You likely already know that if you suffer an injury or a worsened condition as the result of the negligence of a health care professional, you can sue that person, the hospital or other entity for medical malpractice.

Elements of proof

To prevail in your lawsuit, you must prove all four of the following by a preponderance of the evidence:

  1. That you suffered an injury
  2. That the health care professional owed you a duty of care
  3. That he or she breached that duty by providing you with services that failed to meet the expected standard of care
  4. That his or her breach was the proximate cause of your injury

Standard of care

Keep in mind that different health care professionals work under different standards of care. For instance, the standard of care imposed on a surgeon is different than the one imposed on a nurse, which, in turn, is different than the one imposed on a physical therapist, x-ray technician, etc. What this means for you is that the expert witness you present at trial to explain your injuries to the judge or jury must hold the same degree and work in the same field as the person you are suing. In other words, if you sue your surgeon, your expert witness likewise must not only be a surgeon, but also one who practices the same type of surgery. Only such a similarly situated health care professional can testify as to the applicable standard of care that you allege your surgeon breached.

Medical malpractice cases require intense research and preparation, as well as the services of medical experts. And keep in mind that just because someone obtained a less than satisfactory medical outcome does not necessarily mean that cause for a malpractice lawsuit exists.

An attorney experienced in medical malpractice cases can review your situation and discuss your legal options.

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