Four elements of medical malpractice explained

Those who think they may be a victim of medical malpractice may be confused about whether or not they have a case. This article discussed the foundational elements and provides an example of how these elements are applied.

Four elements of medical malpractice explained

Medical malpractice is an area of law that allows those who are injured by the negligent or reckless conduct of medical professionals to hold those professionals responsible for their wrongdoing. These cases can result in monetary awards to help cover the costs associated with any resulting injury.

Those who consider moving forward with a medical malpractice case can benefit from having a basic understanding of how these cases are structured. These cases generally require four elements:

  • Duty
  • Breach
  • Causation
  • Damage

These four elements make up the foundation for a medical malpractice case. Applying these elements to a current case can help to provide a better understanding.

The elements in real life: A med mal case example

A current case out of Florida provides a good example. In this case, a nineteen-month old child got a hold of a remote control. Before the mother could remove the remote control from the child's grasp, the child removed the battery and consumed it. The mother promptly called 911 and both parents accompanied the child to the emergency department. Once there, the parents were adamant about removing the battery as quickly as possible.

The physician assigned to the child allegedly discouraged this, stating the incident was akin to "a coin in her throat." At the time, the child was suffering from severe burns in her esophagus from the battery. Once this was discovered, the child was rushed to surgery to remove the battery.

Poison control centers recommend the removal of lithium batteries within two hours. In this case, the battery was not removed until approximately five hours after it was consumed.

The parents are pursuing a medical malpractice claim in this matter. The elements could apply as follows:

  • Duty. This is generally an easy element to establish. The presence of a patient/doctor relationship is often sufficient to show that the physician had a duty to the patient.
  • Breach. Next, the parents will need to establish that this duty was breached, that the physician failed to fulfill his obligations to the patient. This often requires expert testimony as to the expected practices in similar situations.
  • Causation. It is also imperative to link the breach in duty to the injury. Here, one option would be for the parents to show that if the battery had been removed within the two hour window the child would not have suffered from the burns.
  • Damage. Finally, the parents will need to show that damage was done. This can be shown in many ways. One example is the fact that this injury has resulted in approximately $400,000 in medical expenses for additional procedures needed to treat the burns that resulted from the extended period of time the battery was within the child's esophagus.

In order to find success, victims generally need to tailor their case to establish these factors.

An example with real implications: What it means for you

Victims of misdiagnosis, surgical error, birth injury or other form of medical malpractice who suffer an injury from a medical professional can use this example to help determine if they have a case.

If you believe that you or a loved one has a case, it is wise to seek legal counsel. Gathering the needed evidence, finding experts to provide testimony and filing required court documents can be a labor intensive process. Your attorney can aid in this process, advocating for your rights and working to better ensure a more favorable outcome.