What Are The Key Facts Required To Prove Medical Malpractice?


Every hospital administrator and surgical staff is frequently reminded of the case of Willie King, the New York man who made national news when he underwent surgery to remove his diseased diabetic leg. He woke up from the operation astounded to find his diseased leg still attached but his other healthier leg gone.

Ultimately, King’s diseased leg was removed at a different hospital. He was fitted with two prosthetics and received a large monetary settlement from the hospital for the medical malpractice committed by the hospital and surgeon. Even though this occurred a long time ago, King’s case had widespread implications felt today. Every hospital now has a procedure for clearly marking the correct surgical site prior to the patient entering the operating suite.

Amputating the wrong leg is a dramatic example of malpractice. The hospital and surgeon involved did not even try to defend the action. But, not all incidents of medical malpractice are so blatant. There are elements that must be proved before a victim of malpractice can be compensated for the damages suffered as a result.

Medical Malpractice: What You Need to Prove

To prevail on your medical malpractice claim, you must prove the following:

You and the healthcare practitioner you claim was negligent had a provider-patient relationship. Getting bad medical advice from a physician friend you spoke to at a party does not create a doctor/patient relationship no matter how much you relied on the advice and suffered damages because of it. You must have an agreement with the practitioner to provide you medical care. This element is rarely challenged.

The practitioner’s care was negligent. In order to prove the practitioner’s care was negligent, you must show it was below the standard of care provided by other practitioner’s in the same field of practice who perform the same type of care in the same community. This generally requires expert witnesses who testify that the professional care provided to you was below the generally accepted standard of medical care.

The expert will then apply this standard of care to your situation and show through his or her testimony that the care provided to you was below the acceptable standard in the community. The testimony will include the expert discussing what the medical care provided to you was, and what should have been done instead.

The negligent, sub-standard care caused you harm. It is not enough just to show the healthcare provider was negligent. You must also show it was that negligence that caused you harm. You need to prove that your suffering is not due to a pre-existing condition or some other problem, but that your suffering is due to the negligence of the healthcare provider.

You suffered damages because of the negligence. This requires you to provide quantifiable proof of the damages you suffered. This means medical expenses, lost wages, rehabilitation expenses, pain and suffering, and any other expense you incurred due to the negligence.

Not every medical mistake equates to malpractice. For example, a nursing student injected a substance meant for IV administration into a hospital patient’s urinary catheter. It turns out the patient did not suffer any harm from this and there were no damages.

Res Ipsa Loquitur

Res Ipsa Loquitur is a legal term that means, “the thing speaks for itself.” In the medical malpractice context, it means that the result would not have occurred unless someone was negligent. The elements of proving res ipsa loquitur include:

  • Evidence of the actual cause of the injury is unavailable.
  • The injury would not have occurred unless there was negligence.
  • The person injured is not responsible for his or her own injury.
  • The defendants had exclusive control of the instrumentality that caused the injury.
  • The injury could not have been caused by anything other than the instruments over which the defendant had control.

An example of this is when a sponge or instrument is left inside a patient after surgery. There is no actual evidence of how the foreign body was left in the body, but it would not have been left there unless someone was negligent. The unconscious patient could not have been responsible for this negligence and the surgeon and staff had exclusive control over the instruments of surgery that were left inside the patient. This same analysis applies to the amputation of the wrong limb suffered by Mr. King who was referenced above.

Medical Malpractice Examples

There are many categories of medical malpractice. Some examples include, but are not limited to:

  • Surgical errors. The wrong body part is operated on; the wrong person is operated on; a foreign body is left inside the patient; an artery or other organ may be clipped or punctured; anesthesia is not properly administered.
  • Wrong diagnosis or failure to diagnose. A patient is told they are fine when in fact they have a serious disease and are injured by a delay in appropriate treatment. On the other hand, a person is told they have a serious disease and undergoes painful and unnecessary debilitating treatment.
  • Medication errors. The wrong medication is prescribed, or the correct medication in the wrong dosage.
  • Lack of informed consent. A patient undergoes a procedure or agrees to take a medication and suffers from known side effects about which the patient was not warned. If the patient had been warned, he or she would not have consented to the procedure or the medication.
  • Birth injuries. There are many factors that can contribute to this such as inadequate monitoring during labor and delivery leading to oxygen deprivation, improper use of forceps, and other negligent acts.

If you are concerned that you may have been injured due to medical malpractice, contact our Philadelphia Birth Injury Lawyers at Raynes & Lawn to discuss the circumstances surrounding your claim. You can fill out our contact form or call us 800-535-1797 to schedule a free and confidential consultation. The law requires you to file your medical malpractice claim within a certain period of time after the injury, so call us as soon as possible.

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