How Do You Prove Medical Malpractice?
New Jersey, as many other states, defines medical malpractice as the breach or violation of an accepted standard of care for the patient, which in turn causes patient harm. When patients experience this type of harm in a medical care setting, they have the right to pursue compensation for their losses in a medical malpractice lawsuit. A recent state-by-state breakdown of medical malpractice suits and payouts shows that New Jersey ranks in the top 10 among states in the nation for the number of medical malpractice cases filed.
Breaching the standard of care
The term "standard of care" refers to a generally accepted group of practices and/or procedures that medical providers in a specific geographic area would be expected to employ to treat a patient. This standard can vary based on particular factors, including the age and overall health of the patient. In other words, the standard of care for an 18-year-old patient with chest congestion may be different than a 55-year-old patient with the same condition.
Proving medical malpractice
In New Jersey, in order to prove medical malpractice has occurred, it is not sufficient to simply demonstrate you sustained an injury during your treatment. You and your attorney must prove your injury or illness was the direct result of the medical provider's breach of the standard of care. Many times plaintiffs in these cases must utilize expert witness testimony from individuals with extensive medical knowledge, training, and experience in a particular medical discipline.
Proof must be established that:
A doctor-patient relationship was present
The first requirement to prove medical malpractice occurred in your case is to establish a doctor-patient relationship existed. This means, you hired the doctor and his or her services, and the doctor accepted the responsibility to provide you with care. You are not permitted to sue a doctor whom you simply heard giving medical advice to someone else, even if you followed that advice yourself. Generally, this is an easy point to establish if you were treated directly by the physician.
The doctor was negligent
Simply being dissatisfied with your treatment or treatment results does not automatically make the doctor liable for medical malpractice. It is necessary to prove negligence on the part of the doctor in connection with your treatment or diagnosis. In order to sue for malpractice, you must be able to demonstrate that under the same circumstances, a competent physician would not have caused you the harm you received. Almost always, the patient and his or her attorney will need to present a medical expert to explain the appropriate standard of care in a particular case. The attorney must show how the defendant (doctor or medical personnel) fell short of that standard and was negligent.
The negligence of the doctor caused the injury
In many patient care scenarios, the patient is already injured or sick when he or she begins to receive treatment from the doctor. Many malpractice cases involve the question as to whether the doctor actually caused the patient's harm. For instance, if a patient has liver cancer and the doctor acted negligently in providing care and treatment, it may be difficult to prove that the negligence involved resulted in the death rather than the cancer itself. The doctor's mistake or negligence must be established as the likely cause of the injury in order to prove medical malpractice occurred. Again, expert medical testimony is often required to establish this assertion.
The injury resulted in certain damages
If as a patient you suffered no harm, regardless of the doctor's performance, you may not sue for medical malpractice. The types of harm you may sue for include physical pain, medical bills, loss of work and earning capacity, and mental anguish.