How Hard Is it to Prove Medical Malpractice?

Medical malpractice is a complex practice area with statutes and rules that differ from other types of civil claims. Legal matters concerning the medical field often require experts to testify on behalf of each party. They can also involve unique laws, such as deadlines to file and compensation limits. In addition, medical malpractice claims in California come with distinct burdens of proof for the plaintiff (injured party). It usually takes a medical malpractice lawyer’s assistance to prove a medical malpractice in California.

What Is the Burden of Proof?

The burden of proof refers to the weight of the evidence or facts necessary for a plaintiff to obtain a judgment award. Burdens of proof vary according to the type of case. In criminal law, the prosecutor has the burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In civil law, the burden is lighter. A plaintiff has the burden to prove the facts presented are more likely to be true than not true. Most medical malpractice claims require the establishment of four essential facts based on a preponderance of the evidence.

  1. The defendant owed a duty of care through a doctor-patient relationship. The plaintiff or his or her attorney must prove the defendant was his or her physician (or health care provider) at the time of the alleged malpractice. The defendant must have owed a professional duty of care to the plaintiff under medical standards.
  2. The defendant deviated from the accepted standard of medical care. The plaintiff’s side of the case must establish the defendant’s negligence, or a breach of duty of care. The plaintiff must convince the jury the defendant fell below the accepted standards of care for the medical industry in his or her actions or omissions.
  3. A causal link exists between the defendant’s deviation and the patient’s harm. Often the most difficult part of proving a medical malpractice claim is demonstrating within a reasonable degree of medical certainty that the defendant’s breach of duty was the reason the plaintiff’s harm occurred.
  4. The patient has specific and compensable damages. The plaintiff must establish specific economic or noneconomic damages related to the alleged act of medical malpractice. These may include illnesses, injuries, pain and suffering, additional medical bills, lost wages, or wrongful death.

The applicable standards of care will depend on the circumstances of the case. A radiographer, for example, will owe different duties to a patient than an orthopedic surgeon. To establish a standard of care and a breach of that standard, a plaintiff may have to hire a lawyer and medical experts to testify on his or her behalf. A medical expert in the same vocation as the defendant could serve to explain to a jury what the duties of care were according to the situation, as well as how the defendant breached these standards.

Shared Liability Laws

In a medical malpractice claim, the defendant might argue that the plaintiff caused or contributed to his or her own damages, such as by negligently ignoring the doctor’s treatment instructions. To maximize compensation, the plaintiff will need to prove that this is not the case. The greater the percentage of fault allotted to the plaintiff, the smaller his or her compensatory award becomes.

No cap on comparative fault exists in California. The state’s pure comparative negligence law states that the courts can find a plaintiff 99% responsible for causing his or her own injuries, but the plaintiff would still recover the remaining 1% of a compensatory award. Proving the defendant’s majority share of the fault, however, could help an injured patient obtain fair compensation for his or her damages.

How a Medical Malpractice Lawyer Can Help

Medical malpractice is one of the most difficult types of cases in California. Proving fault and causation can take a great deal of evidence, along with testimony from hired medical experts and an aggressive legal strategy. Plaintiffs can improve their odds of successfully proving medical malpractice by hiring experienced personal injury attorneys.