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How Can I Prove Medical Malpractice?

Most Americans have tremendous respect for medical doctors, hospitals, nurses, and many others involved in the health care system. These medical care providers are typically well-trained, well-intentioned, and provide valuable services to society. However, mistakes by medical professionals can produce catastrophic harm to victims. Fortunately, the law balances these important interests by holding medical care providers responsible when they negligently cause injury – just like anyone else in Oregon. And the statistics cannot be ignored – thousands of people die and are injured each year as a result of medical malpractice, making it the third leading cause of death in the United States, behind heart disease and cancer.

What Is Medical Malpractice?

Medical malpractice occurs when a medical care provider causes someone injury by failing to use the degree of care, skill, and diligence used by ordinarily careful practitioners under similar circumstances. This can include both acts and failures to act. For example, the act of performing a surgery improperly, or the inaction of failing to diagnose a need for treatment, could both constitute medical malpractice.

Proving Medical Malpractice

To prevail on a claim for medical malpractice, the law requires a person to prove the following four elements.

1. The injured patient (referred to as the plaintiff in a lawsuit) must prove that the medical care provider owed a “duty” to the victim.

“Duty” is the legal term for responsibility or obligation. A health care provider-patient relationship, such as a physician-patient relationship, is sufficient to prove this duty. However, Oregon law has also recognized that a physician can be held liable to a non-patient third-party in the proper circumstances. For example, in one case a physician allegedly acted negligently by prescribing an anxiety medication to a patient with numerous mental problems. The patient then had an automobile accident while taking the prescribed medicine, and injured third-parties. The court held that the injured third-parties could assert a claim against the physician, even though they did not have a direct relationship with the physician.

2. The injured patient must prove that the medical care provider “breached” the duty to the victim. 

This means that the medical care provider failed to meet the standard of care recognized by the medical profession to which the medical care provider belongs. This is often the most difficult element to prove in a medical malpractice case and requires the use of expert witnesses and other complicated evidence. Our attorneys have found that medical care providers are often reluctant to admit any wrongdoing at all, even in cases with serious consequences to a victim. In many cases, all the expert testimony and other evidence must be presented to a jury for final determination.

3. The injured patient must prove they were harmed.

This just means that the negligent act or omission of the medical care provider caused injury to the victim. This element also can be proved with expert testimony. Often, evidence can be presented showing that the victim suffered injuries and required additional medical treatment as a result of the malpractice.

4. The injured patient must prove that the medical care provider’s breach of the duty of care caused the harm.

This element, often referred to as “causation,” can be very complicated, and generally requires the testimony of expert witnesses. For example, if a patient dies during surgery, the surgeon, even if negligent, may claim that the patient died from other causes, not from the surgeon’s negligence. To counter such a claim, the victim likely would present an expert witness, such as another doctor, to prove that the surgeon’s actions caused the death. Our attorneys find that medical care providers frequently claim a lack of causation in defense of their actions. This element also frequently requires jury resolution.

Contact An Attorney

At Nelson MacNeil Rayfield we have attorneys who specialize in medical malpractice law. While we respect the professionals in the health care system, we also believe that anyone who negligently causes harm should be held responsible for their actions. Medical malpractice claims are complicated, both factually and legally. We can help you evaluate the merits of your claim by thoroughly investigating the facts and by consulting with experts. While we do not pursue every claim we investigate, our medical malpractice attorneys have vigorously pursued many malpractice claims. If you have questions, or would like to consult with an attorney who specializes in medical malpractice, please call for a free consultation.