Medical negligence, or medical malpractice, occurs when a doctor fails to meet the required professional standard of care and his or her negligence causes patient harm.
Like all lawsuits, filing a medical malpractice claim requires proving a specific set of legal requirements. These requirements, or the 4 D's of Medical Negligence, form the underlying basis of a medical negligence lawsuit.
Understanding the four d's of malpractice and how to prove each will help you understand how they impact your case and whether you have a valid claim.
What Are the 4 D's of Negligence?
The 4 D’s of medical negligence are 1) Duty, 2) Deviation, 3) Direct Cause, and 4) Damages.
The plaintiff must prove each of these elements by a preponderance of the evidence. This means they must show that it is more likely than not that each element exists.
1. Duty - The Medical Professional Duty of Care
Whenever a healthcare provider agrees to treat or provide medical services to a patient who requests treatment, that doctor has a duty to provide care to that patient.
A doctor and a patient must establish a relationship; otherwise, no duty exists. For example, a doctor sitting in a restaurant does not have a duty to provide medical care to another person in the restaurant who is suffering a heart attack. However, if the doctor volunteers to provide medical assistance, he or she then has a duty to provide appropriate medical treatment.
2. Deviation from the Standard of Care
Once a healthcare provider agrees to provide medical treatment, he or she has a duty to provide treatment according to a medical professional standard of care.
This standard of care is a defined legal term. It requires healthcare professionals to provide patients care and treatment with the same skill, care, and diligence that another similarly qualified medical professional would provide under the circumstances.
A plaintiff must show that the healthcare professional deviated from, or failed to meet, those standards.
Examples of deviations include:
- Misdiagnosing a patient,
- Misreading a laboratory test or report,
- Recommending unnecessary surgery,
- Prescribing improper types or amounts of medication, and
- Using improper surgical techniques, such as leaving a surgical tool or sponge inside a patient.
Proving deviation usually requires expert witness testimony. Such experts will include other healthcare professionals who can describe the normal medical standard and what they would have done under the circumstances.
3. Direct Cause of the Injury
Once the plaintiff has proven the first two D's, he or she then must show that the healthcare professional's deviation directly caused the plaintiff's injuries. This means that the plaintiff must show that the healthcare professional's deviation, and not some other, intervening event, caused the plaintiff's injuries.
In some cases, proving causation is relatively straightforward. For example, if a doctor leaves a sponge inside a patient and that sponge causes an infection or other medical injuries, proving causation should be fairly simple.
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In other circumstances, proving direct causation can be very difficult and may require witness testimony, medical reports, and other forms of evidence. For example, establishing that a doctor’s choice of medical treatment caused an injury may require extensive expert testimony explaining complex medical procedures. It may be challenging to show that the doctor's actions or choices were the direct cause of the plaintiff's injuries.
A skilled attorney understands what facts and information will help prove causation. It is crucial to have an experienced medical malpractice lawyer on your side who can provide you with expert legal advice.
Finally, a plaintiff must show that the medical professional's negligence caused damages that can be compensated by a court. Medical malpractice damages consist of any harms caused by the healthcare professional's negligence, such as:
- Further medical treatment,
- Hospital bills,
- Physical therapy, and
- Lost wages as a result of missing work.
Medical malpractice can also cause victims significant mental and emotional trauma, fear, and chronic pain. These damages, if proven, must also be compensated.
Do I Need an Attorney?
Medical malpractice is a unique area of law. These types of cases require knowledge and experience. Proving a medical malpractice claim is very difficult for several reasons. Many states have created procedural hurdles to make it difficult to file medical malpractice claims. Further, doctors and insurance companies often have large legal teams with lots of resources.
You should hire a well-qualified attorney to represent your claim. The award-winning lawyers at O'Connor, Parsons, Lane & Noble have decades of experience and understand how to build a successful medical malpractice claim. Our skilled attorneys have won millions of dollars in damages awards.
We care deeply about our clients and will provide you with the support and advice you need. Our law offices offer free consultations. We can help you decide if you should pursue a legal claim. Call our offices at 908-928-9200 or fill out an online form today.