What Does Contributory Negligence Mean in Medical Cases?

by vtaylor
What Does Contributory Negligence Mean in Medical Cases?

Medical malpractice lawsuits are among the most difficult cases to prove since they involve complex legal and medical concepts and require extensive knowledge and evidence. If you have a medical malpractice claim, you will need to work with medical experts, gather medical records, present testimony about the standard of care, and handle more documents than what might be required in other types of personal injury claims. You will need to find medical experts who can present compelling, credible testimony that explains complex medical terms in language that average jurors can understand.

In addition, juries tend to be biased in favor of doctors because of their extensive education and the trust relationship many people have with their medical providers. Plaintiffs must contend with this bias while going up against large hospitals that have teams of defense attorneys dedicated to protecting them and their reputations. The malpractice insurer and defendants will pore through the evidence to try to show that the plaintiff contributed to their injuries to draw away blame from the doctors and other defendants. Here is some information from a medical malpractice lawyer in Philadelphia at Raynes & Lawn about contributory negligence in Pennsylvania and how it might affect your case.

Key Takeaways

  • Medical malpractice lawsuits involve intricate legal and medical aspects, demanding collaboration with medical experts and thorough evidence collection.
  • Overcoming biases, extensive documentation, and the need for clear, understandable expert testimony pose challenges for plaintiffs in medical malpractice cases.
  • A jury assesses whether the plaintiff shares fault and determines the percentage of responsibility. Contributory negligence may hinder recovery even in cases of proven medical malpractice.
  • Patient negligence contributing to injuries includes failure to provide accurate medical history, not disclosing medications, non-compliance with doctor’s instructions, false information, engaging in worsening activities, and missing appointments.

What Is Contributory Negligence?

In medical malpractice cases, contributory negligence is a legal phrase referring to a situation in which a plaintiff contributed to their own injuries. Because of their contributory negligence, they can’t obtain full compensation for the losses resulting from their injuries and their medical provider’s negligence.

A jury will determine whether a plaintiff contributed to their injuries. If the jury believes the plaintiff was partially at fault, the jury will then decide the percentage of fault for which the plaintiff is responsible. In some cases, a plaintiff’s contributory negligence can prevent them from recovering compensation even if they are able to show the doctor’s negligence amounted to medical malpractice.

In malpractice cases, defendants often try to show the plaintiffs were contributorily negligent to reduce or avoid liability. If a defendant successfully argues the plaintiff’s contributory negligence, the defendant might avoid having to pay compensation for the losses suffered by the plaintiff.

Can You Recover Compensation if You Were Partially at Fault?

If you were negligent and partially contributed to your injuries in a medical malpractice case, whether you can recover compensation will depend on where the incident occurred and your percentage of fault. Different states have varying negligence laws. A few states have pure contributory negligence rules, some have pure comparative negligence laws, and the remainder have modified comparative negligence laws. Here’s what to know about these differing rules.

Pure Contributory Negligence and Medical Malpractice

There are only a few states that follow pure contributory negligence. In those states, a patient who has any percentage of fault for their injuries will not be able to recover compensation. For example, you might sue a doctor for providing inadequate follow-up care after a surgical procedure, causing you to suffer injuries. If the doctor presents evidence that you postponed or canceled your post-procedure appointment, the jury could find that you were contributorily negligent. In a state that follows a pure contributory negligence law, you might be prevented from recovering compensation even if you can show the doctor was likewise negligent.

A few states that follow pure contributory negligence have an exception for plaintiffs to overcome the bar on recovery. This doctrine is known as the last clear chance rule. In states like Maryland, the last clear chance rule allows plaintiffs who are partially at fault to recover damages if the doctor had a final clear chance to prevent their injuries from occurring but failed to take it.

Pure Comparative Negligence and Medical Malpractice

At the opposite end of the spectrum are pure comparative negligence states, including California. In these states, plaintiffs can recover compensation even when they are partially at fault. Pure comparative negligence states allow plaintiffs to recover compensation even if they were 99% at fault. However, their awards are reduced by the percentage of fault the jury allocates to them.

For example, if a jury finds that you were 60% at fault and allocates 40% of the fault to the negligent physician, your damages would be reduced by 60%. If your total damages were $100,000, the physician would then only be responsible for paying 40% or $40,000. Even if you were 99% at fault, you could still recover $1,000. However, for practical reasons, medical malpractice attorneys in pure comparative negligence states will typically not accept representation in cases in which the patients were primarily at fault.

Modified Comparative Negligence and Medical Malpractice

The remaining states, including Pennsylvania, follow modified comparative negligence rules. In these states, plaintiffs can recover compensation if they were partially at fault as long as their contributory negligence was 50% or 51% or less.

For example, Pennsylvania follows a modified comparative negligence rule. Under this law, a plaintiff can recover compensation as long as their comparative fault is less than 51%. If a jury finds that you and the doctor were each 50% at fault, you could recover half of your damages. However, if you are 52% at fault, you won’t recover anything.

How Contributory Negligence and Comparative Fault Work in Pennsylvania

As mentioned above, Pennsylvania follows a modified comparative negligence rule for all personal injury claims, including those involving medical malpractice. This means that if a patient contributed any fault toward the cause of their injuries, their damages will be reduced by the percentage of fault attributed to them. If they are found to have contributed 51% or more of the fault, they won’t be able to recover damages.

Medical malpractice insurers, hospitals, and defendants often try to defend against malpractice lawsuits by arguing the patient was at least partially at fault. If they are successful, they could reduce the amount of compensation they might otherwise be forced to pay. In some cases, they might successfully argue the patient was 51% or more at fault, helping them to avoid liability even if medical malpractice occurred. However, an experienced and skillful Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyer can implement legal strategies to strengthen their client’s case and combat defense allegations of their client’s contributory negligence.

The modified comparative negligence rule in Pennsylvania is found at 42 Pa.C.S. 7102. Under this rule, a patient’s contributory negligence will not prevent him or her from recovering compensation. However, it will bar them from recovering compensation if their negligence is more than the defendant’s negligence. This means that a patient’s negligence must be 50% or less to recover compensation, and the defendant’s negligence must be 50% or more.

Any damages awarded in a case in which the plaintiff is adjudged to be partially at fault will be reduced by their contributory negligence. The jury will determine the percentage of fault after hearing the evidence. Then, the damages will be reduced by a percentage equal to their allocated percentage of fault for their injuries.

How Can a Patient be Contributorily Negligent in a Malpractice Case?

While some medical malpractice cases involve clear negligence on the part of the medical provider without any fault attributable to the patient, others are less clear. Practitioners often claim that the patient’s negligence contributed to their injuries. A patient might be negligent in multiple ways that could contribute to their injuries, including the following examples:

  • Failing to provide accurate medical history information
  • Failing to tell the doctor about all of the medications, including OTCs and supplements, the patient takes
  • Failing to follow their doctor’s instructions
  • Lying about how their injuries happened
  • Engaging in activities that cause their condition or injuries to worsen
  • Failing to show up for several appointments

How Negligence is Assigned by Courts

Medical malpractice plaintiffs must strive to minimize their percentage of fault so that they can maximize the compensation they might receive. By retaining an experienced medical malpractice lawyer in Philadelphia, a plaintiff might increase their chances of showing the defendant was at least 50% at fault. The attorney might also gather evidence showing the plaintiff was not at fault for their injuries while demonstrating the defendant was wholly at fault. They might gather evidence such as medical records, expert witness reports, eyewitness statements, lab test results, photographs, video evidence, and more.

Once the evidence has been admitted in court, the jury will review everything presented by both the defendant and plaintiff. The jury will then assign percentages of fault to the parties based on the evidence. As long as you can prove the doctor or other healthcare provider was at least 50% at fault, you can recover damages.

The Importance of Experts

Every medical incident is unique and involves complex procedures that can be difficult to understand. As a result, it can be difficult to win a medical malpractice lawsuit. You must show that your medical provider failed to deliver care meeting the medical standard of care and caused your injuries and losses. To do this, you will need to present expert witness testimony.

Under Pennsylvania law, a prospective expert witness who will testify for you must be licensed and have experience and training in the defendant’s field. They must have a deep level of knowledge about the standard of care that reasonably competent practitioners in the field provide. An expert must be able to testify that the defendant failed to conduct themselves in a way that a reasonably competent provider would in the same treatment scenario.

Pennsylvania requires medical malpractice plaintiffs to file certificates of merit when they file lawsuits. This certifies that your case has been reviewed by a qualified medical expert who has evaluated your medical records and can testify that the doctor’s care deviated from the standard of care and caused your injuries.

Raynes & Lawn has an extensive network of qualified medical experts and can help you find someone who is qualified to review your case and provide an opinion about your claim’s legal merits. This is important because you will need an expert as a preliminary matter to determine whether you have grounds to file a medical malpractice lawsuit. If your claim does not have legal merits, this can also save you time and money.

Consult a Philadelphia Medical Malpractice Lawyer

If you believe your injuries were caused by your healthcare provider, you should consult a medical malpractice lawyer in Philadelphia at the law firm of Raynes & Lawn. Even if you were partially at fault, you still might be able to recover compensation for your losses.

We have more than 50 years of experience helping malpractice victims recover fair compensation for their losses and have recovered tens of billions of dollars on behalf of our clients. To learn more about your legal rights, contact us for a free consultation today by calling 1-800-535-1797.



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