Why Is It Hard to Prove Medical Malpractice?
Medical malpractice can result in serious injuries or deaths, and it is much more common than many people realize. According to research published in 2017 in the journal Studies in Health Technology and Informatics, medical errors result in 251,000 deaths in the U.S. each year, making medical negligence the third-leading cause of preventable death in the nation.
When medical errors rise to the level of malpractice, the victims or the families of people who are killed as a result have the right to file medical malpractice lawsuits to hold the negligent medical providers accountable and recover compensation for their losses. However, medical malpractice cases are difficult to win because of the complexities and the difficulties involved with proving negligence in malpractice claims. Here is some information from the medical malpractice attorneys at Raynes & Lawn about why proving malpractice is so difficult.
Why Proving Medical Negligence Is Difficult
While most personal injury claims involve negligence causes of action, doctors and other medical professionals operate under different standards of care than the general public. Medical negligence can be more difficult to prove because of this difference in standards and the availability of evidence. By contrast, it might be relatively simple to determine liability in a motor vehicle accident caused by someone who ran a red light since everyone has a duty to operate their vehicles safely and cautiously. For doctors and other health care providers, the standard of care is more than a general duty of care. Instead, medical professionals must provide treatment that meets or exceeds the expected standard of care for other medical professionals who have the same levels of education and skill in the areas where they practice.
Proving that a doctor was negligent in the care provided requires people to get the help of medical experts. The experts can determine the expected standard of care and analyze whether the treatment that was provided fell below the type of care a similarly situated medical professional would have provided under the same conditions.
Elements in a Medical Malpractice Case
Plaintiffs in medical malpractice cases have the burden of proof to show by a preponderance of the evidence that malpractice occurred. To meet this burden, plaintiffs must present sufficient evidence to prove the elements of medical negligence, including the following:
- The plaintiff had a provider-patient relationship with the defendant.
- The provider’s treatment was substandard and fell below the expected standard of care.
- The substandard treatment was the cause of the plaintiff’s injuries or worsened condition.
- The plaintiff suffered calculable damages as a result of the substandard care.
Out of these elements, the easiest to prove is that a provider-patient relationship existed. To prove this, a plaintiff can present medical records showing that the health care professional was the plaintiff’s medical provider at the time that the medical mistake occurred. This element is normally not challenged. However, prevailing in a medical malpractice case also requires plaintiffs to prove all of the other elements by a preponderance of the evidence.
Proving that the doctor’s care was substandard and failed to meet the expected standard of care is much more difficult. This element is frequently challenged by defendants. You must be able to prove that the defendant failed to provide treatment meeting the level of care that a reasonable provider would have provided in the same region, the same practice area, and the same conditions. There is not a single overriding standard of care that applies to all medical providers. Instead, what is expected and considered to be reasonable will vary by geographic region, area of practice, experience level, and whether the practitioner is a specialist.
Even if you can prove the first two elements and show that the health care provider was negligent, that is not enough to prevail in a medical malpractice case. You must also prove causation, meaning that you must present evidence showing that the substandard care that you received caused your injuries or worsened condition.
Finally, you must also have suffered calculable damages, which include economic and non-economic losses you suffered because of the doctor’s negligence. Some examples of these damages might include additional medical expenses, wage losses, rehabilitation costs, and physical pain and suffering, among others.
Factors Making Medical Malpractice Cases More Difficult
There are several factors that make proving medical malpractice more difficult than many other types of personal injury claims, including the following:
- The complexity of the evidence makes it more difficult for people without a background in medicine to understand
- Difficulty finding medical experts who are prepared to testify against other doctors
- Expenses involved in the litigation process
- The tendency of juries to be biased in favor of doctors
- Trouble showing the injuries were caused by negligence and not an underlying condition
Many juries have trouble understanding the testimony of medical experts when they use complex medical terminology. Before a malpractice claim can be filed in Pennsylvania, plaintiffs must also have the evidence reviewed by medical experts and file a certificate of merit with the court. The certificate of merit attests that a medical expert has reviewed the evidence and believes that the care fell below the expected standard. However, it can sometimes be difficult to find a medical expert who is willing to testify against a peer in a malpractice case. Juries also tend to be biased in favor of doctors, making it important to work with an experienced medical malpractice attorney who can use time during jury selection to weed out prospective jurors who might be biased. Finally, proving that a victim’s injuries were caused by negligence instead of the patient’s underlying medical condition can also be difficult in some cases.
Speak With an Experienced Philadelphia Medical Malpractice Attorney
If you believe that you were injured because of the negligence of your health care provider, you should consult an experienced medical malpractice lawyer at Raynes & Lawn. We can review what happened and explain whether your case appears to have legal merits. Call us today at 1-800-535-1797.
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