Medical malpractice occurs when a doctor, nurse, surgeon or other health professional is negligent in providing proper care, resulting in patient harm. Some of the more common examples of malpractice included birth injuries, misdiagnosis, surgical accidents and anesthesia errors.
There are three basic steps to proving malpractice. The attorney must show that the healthcare provider was negligent, that the negligence caused the injury, and the patient sustained damages as a result.
To prove negligence, the plaintiff’s attorneys must compare the actions or inactions of the defendant to a reasonable standard of care and what other professionals would have done in the same situation. After establishing negligence, the attorneys must prove that the action was directly responsible for the injuries sustained by the patient.
Compensatory damages, including medical and rehabilitation costs, loss of current income, and in the case of total disability, future earnings as well are fairly straightforward. However, non-economic damages such as pain and suffering or other intangible costs can be more difficult to quantify. In Massachusetts, there is a $500,000 cap on non-economic damages. Punitive damages are rarely imposed except in cases where the patient dies due to willful misconduct on the part of the healthcare provider.
Malpractice cases are complex because of the technical nature of medicine. They often rely on the testimony of expert witnesses in the same field to help determine the appropriate standard of care. Though plaintiffs file many malpractice cases each year, most do not make it into the courtroom, and only a fraction of those result in an award.