Medical malpractice claims are very similar to personal injury claims with a few key differences. One of the most apparent differences between these two types of lawsuit is the need to prove causation. In the legal world, “causation” refers to proof that a particular issue resulted from a specific action. The plaintiff must prove that the defendant’s actions, or in some cases inaction, directly caused the plaintiff’s damages.
Due to the inherently uncertain nature of medicine, causation is very important in medical malpractice claims. It’s essential for plaintiffs to be able to definitively pinpoint the cause of their damages, and medical issues often complicate this process. Symptoms of one condition can mimic those of other medical conditions, and a patient may develop medical problems unrelated to a defendant’s prior actions. Additionally, some unrelated medical issues may exacerbate the plaintiff’s condition, making causation even harder to prove.
Types of Causation
In most personal injury claims, two aspects of causation come into play. Cause, in fact, refers to damages that would not have happened “but for” the defendant’s actions. Proximate cause is a legal limitation on causation that basically indicates the defendant’s actions are the most likely cause of the plaintiff’s damages. If you intend to succeed in a personal injury claim, medical malpractice claim, or any other claim requiring you to prove causation, you’ll need evidence to support both cause-in-fact and proximate cause. An attorney can help you with this process.
A plaintiff may rely on the legal doctrine of “res ipsa loquitur” which translates to “the thing speaks for itself”, during some medical malpractice claims. This doctrine applies to situations in which a plaintiff suffered an injury during a medical procedure, but may not be able to exactly pinpoint the root cause of the injury, but it is an injury that could not have happened if not for medical negligence. An example would be finding a surgical instrument left inside a patient’s body after surgery. It’s not necessary to pinpoint exactly how the instrument wound up there, only that it couldn’t have happened if not for negligence.
Medical malpractice claims rely heavily on the concept of causation. First, plaintiffs may only file lawsuits for damages directly caused by a negligent doctor or other medical professional. Proving causation is important so the plaintiff can clearly define the scope and extent of his or her damages and receive an appropriate amount of compensation. Second, proving causation can actually help a plaintiff in a medical sense, as a medical examination to determine the causation of a plaintiff’s condition can help uncover medical issues the defendant may have either missed and left to worsen or caused through negligent actions.
Problems Proving Causation in Medical Malpractice Claims
One of the most troublesome aspects of proving causation in medical malpractice claims is the fact that most evidence in such claims is difficult to understand without medical training. Additionally, some people may experience medical problems unrelated to the issue at the heart of a medical malpractice claim and assume these problems relate to the subject of the lawsuit. This is why expert witnesses are so crucial, and typically required, in medical malpractice claims.
An expert witness in a medical malpractice claim will testify as to whether or not a defendant’s actions were justified in the given situation. Medical malpractice occurs when a doctor or other medical professional fails to meet an acceptable standard of care for the situation. Expert witnesses will explain to the court in layman’s terms how a defendant either met or failed to meet an acceptable standard of care for the incident in question.
Causation and Damages
Plaintiffs should work closely with their attorneys concerning the elements of causation in a medical malpractice claim. Failing to prove causation for part or all of a patient’s injuries can lead to a failed case and no means of recovery. A plaintiff must show the link between a defendant’s actions and the plaintiff’s damages to secure compensation. Causation is a crucial element of any type of civil action, but the importance of this concept in medical malpractice claims can’t be overstated.