The law and medicine are two of the most complex theoretical professions in the world. The practice of both requires years of education theory, ethics, and performance. When these two professions intersect, the complexities only become exponentially greater. And there is no more complex mixture of the two than medical malpractice claims.

This page will summarize the basics of medical malpractice claims and how medicine and the law intersect as a medical malpractice claim goes forward.

How Medical Malpractice is the Intersection of Medicine and the Law

When you go to a doctor for something other than an annual checkup, there is usually something physically wrong with you. You may be in pain from something in your body that needs to be removed, requiring surgery.  In many cases, the process goes off without a hitch, but sometimes the doctor will make mistakes while performing their duties. This is where the law comes in.

According to legal theory, an injured person has a claim of medical malpractice if the doctor did not meet the “medical standard of care.”  Medical standard of care is defined as a level of medical care that a competent and skilled health care professional in the same field would have provided under the same circumstances.  If you and your medical malpractice lawyer think that your doctor did not meet the medical standard of care, and you can prove that the substandard level of care harmed the patient, then you may have a medical malpractice claim.  Even if your doctor acted below the medical standard of care, you will not have a valid medical malpractice claim if you were not injured because of it.

Proving Injuries Under the Medical Standard of Care

In order to succeed on a claim for medical malpractice, there are four minimum requirements that need to be met:

  • Did the provider have a duty of care for the patient?
  • Did the provider violate this duty of care for the patient (was negligent)?
  • Did this negligence cause harm to the patient?
  • Did the harm cause injuries or death?

While these seem like basic questions, they are actually complex and need a lot of research in order to come to a valid legal claim. This is another way that medicine and law intersect.

Duty of Care

The first requirement in a medical malpractice claim — that the health care professional has a duty of care to the patient — is generally not disputed, as a doctor-patient relationship is usually obvious. One wrinkle in proving a duty of care is when a third party (such as an insurance company) requests an independent medical evaluation and pays for it.  In this case, there is no doctor-patient relationship.

Breach of Medical Standard of Care

Next, the injured party has to define what the medical standard of care was in their particular case and then show that the doctor’s actions were below the standard. In most cases, in order to prove both of these requirements, the plaintiff will hire an expert in the field to testify.

In fact, under Pennsylvania law, any medical malpractice lawsuit must be supported by a certificate of merit. This certificate, which must be provided within 60 days of the lawsuit, has to confirm that an expert in the field reviewed the case and attests that the doctor did not meet the medical standard of care. The main reason why a certificate of merit is required is to weed out claims that are without merit.

Causation of Injuries

After you have established duty and breach, you then must show that the breach of the medical standard of care caused your injuries. There is a relatively low bar for proving causation, as the injured patient only needs to reasonably show that the actions of the health care professional were the “substantial cause” of the patient’s injuries.

Damages in Medical Malpractice Cases

Another area in which the law and medicine intersect is in the determination of damages that the plaintiff is asking for in their lawsuit. There are three types of damages that you can pursue in medical malpractice cases in Pennsylvania: economic, non-economic, and punitive.

Economic Damages – These damages are for actual money losses that you have incurred as a result of the malpractice. These damages are easy to compute, as there is a dollar figure on each damages claim. This category includes hospital and doctor bills, costs of medication and therapy, transportation costs, etc.

Non-economic Damages – Non-economic damages are those that do not have a specific dollar amount associated with them, such as pain and suffering. The plaintiff will attempt to get a higher compensation by claiming severe pain and suffering and the defendant will try to prove that there is little to no pain and suffering.

Punitive Damages – These damages are rare and are used to punish health care providers for egregious behavior, such as purposely injuring a patient.  Again, this is where law and medicine intersect as criminal charges may be filed against the health care provider.

Let Wapner Newman Help With Your Medical Malpractice Claim

As we have shown here, there is a complex intersection between the law and medicine when a medical malpractice claim is made. You are going to want to hire an experienced and knowledgeable law firm to help with your claim.  The medical malpractice attorneys at Wapner Newman understand this intersection. We know the law and have established connections with medical professionals who assist with the medical aspects of the case.

If you have been injured by a health care professional, don’t fight for your rights on your own.  Call our medical malpractice professionals today at (215) 569-0900 for a free consultation. We care deeply for our clients and aggressively fight for them, especially when it comes to complex cases like medical malpractice.