We trust our doctors with our very lives, relying on their specialized knowledge to provide care when we’re injured, ill, or experiencing normal health changes related to pregnancy and aging. However, a doctor’s knowledge and skills alone are not always enough to ensure that every patient receives the best possible care. To address that issue, the courts established a specialized duty of care that all doctors owe to their patients.
If you or a loved one experienced an injury or worsened health condition due to medical malpractice, it helps to understand the legal implications of a doctor’s duty of care. A successful medical malpractice claim depends on the injury victim (plaintiff) providing evidence that their doctor or medical provider breached this duty and the result was a serious injury that caused economic and non-economic damages to the victim. “Damages” in a personal injury claim such as a medical malpractice claim refer to the consequences of a preventable injury. Contact a Phoenix medical malpractice lawyer today for help navigating your potential medical malpractice claim.
General Breach of Duty in Negligence Claims
Before understanding a doctor’s special duty of care, it helps to recognize that we all have a general duty of care to others. This legal premise requires all citizens to acknowledge that their actions have consequences for others. For example, drivers owe a duty of care to other drivers sharing the road. This duty requires them to take reasonable measures to prevent injury to others by following traffic laws, avoiding distractions, and driving in a safe manner. If they breach this duty by a negligent or reckless action like texting and driving or running through a red light, and their actions cause an accident, the driver is liable for damages to any injured victims of the accident.
Another example is a business owner’s duty of care to ensure that their business property is free from safety hazards that could harm a customer or patron.
There are many examples of the general duty of care we have to others to act the way a reasonable and prudent person would under the same circumstances to avoid endangering others. In many actionable injuries such as car accident injuries, slip-and-fall injuries, or dog bites, proving liability requires documenting evidence demonstrating that the following occurred:
The at-fault party had a duty of care to take reasonable measures to prevent injury
They breached this duty by acting negligently, recklessly, or wrongfully
Their breach of duty directly caused injury
The injury victim suffered significant damages from the injury, like medical expenses and pain and suffering
Once the evidence in a case shows the above, the at-fault party is liable for damages. In most cases, the compensation for the damages comes from the at-fault party’s insurance—commonly auto insurance personal injury protection, premises liability property insurance, or commercial property liability.
What is A Doctor’s Special Duty of Care?
When a doctor treats a patient, their duty goes beyond the general duty of care. In a medical malpractice claim, the injury victim has to prove similar points to those in general negligence claims, but doctors and other medical professionals have more than a general duty of reasonable care to their patients. In addition, they owe patients the duty to treat them according to the standards set by the medical community, or the way another reasonable and prudent medical professional would have treated the patient under the same circumstances. Winning a medical malpractice claim or lawsuit rests on the answer to the four precepts below.
A Doctor/Patient Relationship Existed at the Time of the Malpractice
Before any medical malpractice case can move forward, the injury victim must provide evidence that a doctor/patient relationship was in place at the time of the injury. In other words, if your neighbor is a doctor and you tell him that you have an upset stomach at the neighborhood block party, and the next day your appendix bursts, you cannot sue your neighbor for malpractice because you were not his patient at the time the injury occurred. Even if the neighbor handed you an antacid for your upset stomach, no doctor/patient relationship was in place at the time, so it wasn’t that doctor’s duty to treat you as a patient.
Once you agree to a doctor/patient relationship by arriving at an emergency facility, scheduling an appointment with a doctor, or undergoing care at a hospital or clinic, a doctor/patient relationship exists. This is provable through medical records, invoices, and receipts.
The Doctor Owed a Special Duty of Care to the Patient
Once a doctor/patient relationship is established, the medical provider owes the patient a duty to treat them at the industry-accepted level of care. The key to proving that this didn’t occur in a malpractice case is to consult with other doctors in the field to determine what another, reasonable doctor would have done in the same circumstances.
The Doctor or Provider Breached Their Duty of Care
If the doctor breached their special duty of care to the patient by negligence or medical error, they are liable for damages. There are many examples of breaches of duty in malpractice claims, including:
Failure to gain informed consent
Wrong patient/ wrong side/ wrong-site surgeries
Medical implement left behind during surgery
The Breach of Duty Directly Caused the Patient’s Injury
Courts sometimes dismiss medical malpractice cases because there is no evidence of causation. For example, if you become ill the day after a podiatrist removes a plantar wart from your foot, you’d have to provide medical expert testimony and other evidence to prove that the wart removal directly caused your illness.
When evidence shows that a doctor’s breach of duty directly caused the injury, the doctor is liable for damages. An example is a doctor who fails to obtain a medical history on a patient and then prescribes the patient a medication that’s previously caused them a reaction. If the patient then suffers a severe anaphylaxis reaction resulting in a lack of oxygen to the brain and mild cognitive impairment, the doctor’s breach of duty directly causes the injury.
The Patient Suffered Damages Due to the Injury
Before a patient can file a claim for compensation for damages against a doctor, they have to provide sufficient evidence that they suffered damages from the injury. Damages in medical malpractice claims typically include:
Past and future medical costs related to the injury
Diminished earning capacity if the injury caused a disability
Pain and suffering compensation
In some cases, damages could include other non-economic dames like disfigurement compensation, loss of limb, or loss of enjoyment of life.
Proving that the victim of medical malpractice suffered damages requires producing evidence like medical reports, medical payment receipts, employer statements, and medical expert testimony about the impacts of the injury on the victim’s daily life.
A successful claim for damages results in compensation issued directly from a doctor’s medical malpractice insurance, not from the doctor’s personal funds.
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The personal injury attorneys in Phoenix, Arizona, at Knapp & Roberts have the compassion and trial lawyer skills to tell your story to a jury. We will get to know you and your family so that we can help the jury understand what has happened to you and your family and how it has changed your lives. Obtain the compensation necessary for the injuries and losses you have suffered.