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Elements of a Medical Malpractice Case

Caring Medical Malpractice Attorneys in Baltimore

It is important to understand what is expected of doctors and medical professionals in order to establish whether your own experiences constitute negligence and warrant a medical malpractice case. Demonstrating that a doctor was negligent in meeting one of these duties is often the first step in establishing medical malpractice.

A Doctor’s Responsibility

Any doctor is expected to treat his or her patient with a level of skill and care that another competent doctor would exercise in the same circumstances. This is the basic standard of care upon which medical malpractice claims are based.

Furthermore, a doctor must always provide their patients with adequate information, including information about the medical condition, risks, benefits, and alternatives to proposed treatment. The risks that require disclosure include possible consequences of prescribed medications and proposed medical procedures, which might adversely impact the patient and his or her family.

Lastly, although a doctor is permitted to delegate tasks to other trained healthcare professionals as would generally be considered acceptable, the doctor is still required to supervise and assume responsibility for all tasks that are delegated.

Requirements for a Viable Medical Malpractice Claim

To be successful in a medical malpractice case, a patient must be able to prove four important elements:

  • Standard of Care: The healthcare provider was required to meet a certain standard of care accepted in the medical community.
  • Breach of the Standard of Care: The healthcare provider deviated from the standard of care in rendering medical services to a patient.
  • Cause: The healthcare provider’s breach of the standard of care directly caused actual injury to the patient.
  • Damages: A patient must show the nature, type, and extent of his or her injuries, harm, and other damages.

More Information on Damages

A patient must also establish that a doctor-patient relationship existed when the negligent care was rendered. A doctor-patient relationship does not necessitate payment or a written contract, and is established any time a doctor examines a patient or provides treatment. The same principle applies to other health care providers who render medical services.

Harm due to medical negligence can take many forms, including pain and suffering, cost of medical bills, loss of earning capacity, and loss of the ability to enjoy life in the same way as prior to the injury. It is insufficient to simply show that harm occurred after a physician or healthcare provider was negligent. Harm must be shown to have resulted from a healthcare provider’s negligence.

Proving a Doctor-Patient Relationship

If a doctor-patient relationship exists, then the doctor owes the patient a duty of care—the standard of care of a physician with similar training under similar circumstances would display.

Proving Harm Caused by Negligence

Did the doctor render care within the standard of care? Doctors must exhibit the same level of care and treatment that an average physician in the same role and circumstances would. If the offending doctor deviates from the standard of care, they endanger their patients and expose their hospital for retribution.

To prove that negligent care caused injury, one must reasonably prove that a doctor’s failure to uphold the accepted standard of care caused the patient harm.

Types of Damages & Compensation

Compensatory Damages

Compensatory damages can be recovered for the non-economic and economic harm a patient endures due to medical malpractice. Economic damages include medical expenses, lost wages, the loss of earning potential, and other life-care expenses. Non-economic damages are more difficult to solidify but can include physical and emotional harm as well as physiological damage.

Punitive Damages

The court awards punitive damages when the defendant has committed an egregious act of wantonness or willful negligence that injured another. These damages serve as a punishment for the guilty party and acts as a warning for other healthcare providers to deter them for committing the same mistake. Doctors and hospitals may face punitive damages if they alter medical records after committing an error, fail to admit a mistake, and fail to treat obvious and serious illnesses.

Caps on Malpractice Damages

The state of Maryland has a unique statute concerning award limits in medical malpractice cases. The base limit set in 2005 was $650,000 for non-economic damages. However, that limit is raised, by statute, $15,000 annually beginning January 1st of each year. In 2012, the medical malpractice cap is $755,000.

Economic damages have no cap. These awards are made to assist those who have experienced medical malpractice by ensuring that they and their beneficiaries/dependents have the same comfort of life as they once had, including living standards and educational expenses. Though varied, these awards account for lost wages beginning from the time of injury. They take into consideration the value of the patient’s earning potential and life expectancy.

Statute of Limitations

The statute of limitations for medical malpractice cases in Maryland is 5 years from the time the injury was committed, or 3 years from the date the injury was discovered or should have been discovered—whichever is shorter.

Discovery Rule

The discovery rule exists for all personal injury cases because, sometimes, a reasonable person cannot discover the cause of his or her injury, or even know that an injury has occurred, until a later event connects the dots between the accident and the injury.

The discovery rule does not apply in full force to medical malpractice cases in Maryland. Regardless of when the injury could have been discovered, claims are time-barred after 5 years.

Don’t wait to get real answers to your questions. Contact Murphy, Falcon & Murphy at 410.951.8744 for a free case evaluation.