One crucial element victims must prove when pursuing a medical malpractice claim is a breach of duty of care by the healthcare professional involved. In the Garden State, like in many jurisdictions, proving breach of duty in a medical malpractice case is fundamental to success, as it establishes that the healthcare professional failed to meet the accepted standard of care. This blog post will explore breach of duty of care, examine several ways to prove breach of duty, and review the necessary elements for a successful medical malpractice claim in New Jersey.
What Is a Breach of the Duty of Care?
Generally, a patient must establish the healthcare provider’s negligence to succeed in a medical malpractice claim. To do so, they must prove four key elements: (1) that their healthcare provider had a duty of care; (2) that they breached this duty; (3) that the breach caused the patient harm; (4) and that the harm resulted in damages. However, since successful medical malpractice cases often rely on proving that the healthcare provider breached their duty of care, it’s helpful to take a closer look at what it means.
Essentially, the duty of care is a healthcare provider’s legal obligation to provide patients with reasonable care per prevailing medical standards. The medical community determines these standards and bases them on what a reasonably competent healthcare provider would do under similar circumstances. Generally, this means that healthcare providers must exercise the same skill, care, and diligence that other professionals in their field would typically provide. When a healthcare provider deviates from the accepted standard of care, harming the patient, they have breached their duty.
How Do You Prove Breach of Duty in a Medical Malpractice Case?
Proving breach of duty in a medical malpractice case is accomplished by presenting evidence that demonstrates the healthcare provider’s actions or omissions fell short of what reasonably skilled and careful healthcare professionals would have done in the same situation. The following examples are just a few ways injured parties and their attorneys can establish this deviation:
Identify the Healthcare Professional’s Duty
To prove breach of duty, you must identify the duty the healthcare professional owed them. This duty arises from the specific relationship and encompasses an obligation to provide practice-appropriate, competent care.
Establish the Standard of Care
Expert testimony from qualified medical professionals who can assess the healthcare provider’s actions against the profession’s accepted norms typically determines the standard of care. New Jersey has also established guidelines and precedents that define the standard of care for various medical conditions and procedures. These guidelines are often based on national medical associations’ recommendations or criteria.
Adhere to New Jersey’s Affidavit of Merit
In New Jersey, medical malpractice cases require submitting an affidavit of merit. This document is a sworn statement by a qualified expert that confirms that the case has merit. It provides the injured party and court with a reasonable basis for pursuing a medical malpractice claim.
Gather Medical Documentation
Detailed medical records can help establish the care the medical professional provided and highlight any deviations from the standard. For example, they can supply critical insights into the healthcare provider’s actions, such as missed diagnoses, medication errors, or surgical mistakes. Relevant medical records can include charts, test results, imaging reports, and treatment plans.
Gather Expert Testimony
Typically, expert witnesses are experienced healthcare professionals practicing in the same field as the doctor who can provide expert opinions about whether the conduct breached the standard of care. To do so, they evaluate the doctor’s actions and testify about how the conduct deviated from accepted medical practices. Expert testimony helps the court understand complex medical issues and objectively assess the doctor’s conduct.
Gather Witness Testimony
Along with expert witnesses, it’s important to gather witness testimonies from people who were present during the medical procedure or had direct knowledge of the events. Testimonies from these people can provide additional evidentiary support.
Establish Negligence Per Se
In some cases, the doctrine of negligence per se may establish a breach of duty. Negligence per se occurs when the doctor violates a statute or regulation protecting patients. If you can show that the healthcare provider’s actions directly violated a specific law or regulation, it may be easier to establish a breach.
Build a Strong Case
Building a solid case involves more than just gathering evidence. It also relies on presenting case-specific evidence effectively. This includes using medical records and documentation, witness testimonies, and expert witness evidence to demonstrate that the doctor’s actions deviated from the accepted standard of care. But it also includes strategies like highlighting any alternative approaches that other reasonable healthcare professionals may have taken in the same situation and any specific and unique circumstances surrounding the incident that contributed to the breach. For example, if a healthcare professional failed to obtain their patient’s informed consent or to communicate the risks and potential outcomes of a procedure properly, that failure may be used as evidence of a breach of duty.
It’s important to remember that the burden of proof lies with the injured party. This means you must present sufficient evidence to convince the court that the healthcare professional breached their duty of care. The stronger the evidence, the better the chances of a successful outcome. For this reason, it’s always a good idea to work with an experienced lawyer who understands the complexities and nuances of medical malpractice law.
Contact O’Connor, Parsons, Lane & Noble
At O’Connor, Parsons, Lane & Noble, our experienced attorneys take a comprehensive approach to building a solid malpractice case. We understand what it takes to ensure our clients receive the maximum settlement for their injuries and losses. In fact, we hold the record for the largest birth injury verdict in New Jersey. Our successes and professionalism have gained the respect of our clients and peers. We know how to play hardball when a case requires aggressive tactics but pride ourselves on being compassionate and approachable. If you believe you are a victim of medical malpractice, we are always a phone call away. Contact us today at 908-928-9200 for a free consultation, and let us explain how we can help you attain the compensation and justice you’re entitled to.