The Four Elements of a Medical Malpractice Case

Blog Img: The Four Elements of a Medical Malpractice Case

Here is a disturbing statistic: medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the United States. You heard that right; it is right up there with heart disease and cancer. A recent study done by Johns Hopkins medical experts revealed that over 250,000 individuals in the United States died due to medical mistakes. Another study puts the number at approximately 440,000 deaths due to medical errors. We are still searching for how many medical errors alone occur in the United States annually. It’s not a stretch to state that hundreds of thousands of medical mistakes result in injuries and deaths a year combined in just this country.

Common Medical Mistakes

Examples of problems that commonly happen when patients receive healthcare include adverse drug effects, improper transfusions, misdiagnosis, under and overtreatment, surgical errors including wrong-site surgery, suicides, restraint related injuries or deaths, falls, burns, pressure ulcers (bed sores), and mistaken patient identities. Extreme mistake rates resulting in serious injuries or fatalities are most likely to happen in intensive care operating rooms and emergency departments.

The nine most common medical mistakes in the United States are adverse drug events, catheter-related urinary tract infections, bloodstream infections, injuries from falls and immobility, obstetrical adverse events, pressure ulcers, surgical site infections, blood clots, ventilator-associated phenomena. Four out of the nine most common medical mistakes are a result of infections. Infections occur a lot in the older population, so these are all things that we need to be aware of in our community.

Nearly half a million individuals are dying each year from medical negligence. We have a crisis within our healthcare system. If you have had any of the above happen to you and you were injured, you may have a medical malpractice case on your hands. Medical errors do not mean you have a winnable malpractice case. Four things need to be true for your case to be winnable.

Element One

A legal duty must exist between the healthcare provider and the patient. This element is the easier point to prove for your medical malpractice case. A professional relationship is established when a doctor or medical provider agrees to take on an individual as a patient. That legal duty owed by a medical provider to a patient is to use reasonable care in the patient’s treatment. Once the legal duty has been proven, you can move on to the next three elements.

Element Two

Show that the legal duty of care has been breached. A breach of a legal duty is proven by demonstrating that the medical provider failed to adhere to the profession’s standards, known as the standard of care. Some breaches of the standard of care are easy to recognize. For instance, if a surgeon is supposed to operate and amputate your left leg but instead amputates your right leg – that would be an obvious deviation from the standard of care. A doctor is obligated to work on the correct limb or organ; that’s simple enough. Other breaches, however, are not so clear cut.

Let’s say a medical provider quickly concludes that a patient is suffering from heartburn. Unfortunately, the patient actually has a clogged artery. As a result of not doing a proper workup, the patient is sent home. The next day, the patient dies of a massive heart attack. You would need to establish that the standard of care would have been undergoing a stress test or getting an urgent referral to a cardiologist. In these cases, you would need an expert doctor to give an opinion that the standard of care required the medical provider to do more than what the doctor actually did.

Element Three

Show that the breach of duty by the doctor resulted in an injury to the patient. When a doctor deviates from the standard of care, you are not entitled to a malpractice resolution. Instead, there needs to be an injury present. If a medical provider gives the wrong medication to the patient, that’s a breach of the standard of care. The doctor should have prescribed the correct medication. If the patient reads the label, does not take the medication, and sustains no injury, then there is no case.

Element Four

Lastly, a required element for a winnable medical malpractice case is damages. You can have the first three elements, but you will not win your case without the fourth. Damages mean something more than a minor injury. There needs to be a catastrophic injury in order to have a winnable malpractice case and meet the damage requirement.

Overall, understand that medical malpractice claims are costly to pursue. A lawyer must have an expert doctor who testifies as to the standard of care whenever a lawsuit is filed. If you want to file a case, you need an expert to give an opinion that there was a breach. It is usually not just one expert. You need an expert to testify about rehabilitation or what the individual will need to live the rest of the life and pay their medical expenses. Plus, you’ll need an expert in economics to calculate what the losses will be. To find out more about the National Injured Senior Law Center or to set up a free consultation, go to or call 855-622-6530.