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Elements of a Medical Malpractice Case

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Working for You — What We Need to Prove

One of our goals at Keefe, Keefe & Unsell, P.C. is to make sure our clients understand how the legal process works.  You wouldn’t hire an auto mechanic without first asking how he or she planned to fix your car. The same should be true with your lawyer.

So what are you hiring us to do? Here’s a quick primer:

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Lawsuits can be complicated, but most boil down to simple concepts.

In a personal injury case, there are four elements we will be working with you to prove. We need to show (1) the defendant had a duty, (2) the defendant breached that duty, and (3) it caused (4) injury. A “duty” is a responsibility to exercise ordinary care. In other words, how can we reasonably expect someone to behave in a certain situation?  That sounds abstract, but it is a responsibility we all have as members of society.

Let’s consider a duty we are all familiar with: that of being a responsible driver.  When I’m driving, I am required to keep a proper lookout and otherwise operate my vehicle safely. Every driver has that duty, regardless of what they do for a living.  If I rear end you at a stop sign because I was looking at my phone instead of the road, I have breached that duty.  And if you’re injured as a result of my negligence, I owe you damages for the injury that was caused by my negligence.

Pretty straightforward, right?  A medical malpractice case is no different.

Doctors have a responsibility to exercise reasonable care with their patients.  If they fail to do so, and you are injured as a result of their negligence, they have committed malpractice and you have a lawsuit.  So what is considered proof? Let’s return to that driving example.

In all negligence cases, malpractice and otherwise, the plaintiff’s burden of proof is “by a preponderance of the evidence.”  This means “more probably true than not true” — at least a 50.1 percent chance.  If the jury thinks more likely than not, I looked at my phone and that caused me to rear end you, you win your suit — even if those jurors still have some uncertainty. They just need to be convinced it is a little more likely the plaintiff’s side is right.

Now, there are more layers to a medical malpractice case because we need to establish proof with expert testimony.  This requires us to bring in another doctor or other expert who can testify the defendant doctor made a mistake and did not take reasonable care to protect the patient.  And, of course, the defendant doctor will have their own expert who will testify there was no negligence.  The medicine can be complicated, and confusing medical concepts may be introduced, leaving the jury with a lot to sort through.

But at its core, a medical malpractice case is no different than a simple auto accident.

It just comes down to which expert — and party — the jury believes more.