Medical malpractice is a complex area of law. The legal process to file a claim is complicated and long. The emotional toll it takes on the plaintiff is immense. The stakes are high. The injuries can be life-changing. Unfortunately, this situation is the reality for many people in the United States. As the third-leading cause of death, directly following heart disease and cancer, medical errors are an increasingly common occurrence in the US.
In this article, we discuss when a medical injury is considered medical malpractice and when you need to contact a lawyer. If you have additional questions, or you think you may have a valid malpractice case, call our medical malpractice lawyers in Utah today at 801-535-4645, or fill out our convenient and confidential online form.
The 4 Elements Needed to File a Malpractice Claim
While being disappointed with a medical service or having a medical procedure done that turns out to be ineffective is frustrating, these situations do not necessarily create the grounds for a medical malpractice claim. There are four elements that must exist to file a claim: duty, deviation from the standard of care, direct cause of injuries, and damages. Lawyers refer to these elements as the “4 Ds” of medical malpractice, which we will outline and define below.
1. Duty of Care
An obligation to provide reasonable and competent care exists when a medical professional enters a doctor-patient relationship. A doctor-patient relationship exists when a patient has agreed to hire a doctor to treat them, and the doctor has agreed to be hired by the patient. This is to say that a doctor at a cocktail party discussing an ailment and associated treatment, which another guest overhears, follows, and suffers undesirable results, is not guilty of medical malpractice as no official doctor-patient relationship exists.
To bring a suit against a medical professional, duty of care must be proven, meaning the professional was obligated to act in accordance with the same standard of care that would be exercised by any competent medical professional in the same field and with similar experience.
How to prove duty of care: Proving the existence of a doctor-patient relationship can be done by collecting medical records that show the relationship was initiated.
2. Deviation from the Standard of Care
If the medical professional deviates from the standard, negligence or failure to provide the standard of care has occurred. If the doctor or medical professional did not practice the same standard of care, skill, and attention as a comparable professional in the same industry under the same conditions would have practiced, she is in breach of her standard of care duties. Some examples of a deviation from this standard include:
- Misreading or ignoring lab results or medical history
- Providing unnecessary surgical procedures
- Operating on the wrong surgical site
- Approving a premature discharge of a patient
- Failing to diagnose or misdiagnosing a patient
- Delaying or foregoing treatment of a patient
- Leaving surgical tools inside of a patient
How to prove deviation from the standard of care: Proving the breach of duty in a medical malpractice case is done with expert witness testimony. Additionally, part of the process of medical malpractice claims in Utah is the timely filing of a request for a “pre-litigation panel review,” of which one member will be a relevant medical professional. A procedural requirement for medical malpractice cases in Utah is the “Certificate of Compliance,” from the Utah Division of Occupational & Professional Licensing, Department of Commerce (DOPL) which satisfies pre-litigation review prior to timely filing a case in court. This Certificate can be issued even if the pre-litigation panel review does not agree a breach occurred. Utah Code § 78B-3-418.
Note that this is a general and simplified description of a complex procedural requirement for Utah medical malpractice cases, and you should consult a medical malpractice lawyer for specific information.
3. Direct Cause of Injury
The plaintiff must also prove that the medical professional's deviation from the standard of care led to his injuries. To say this differently, the plaintiff must prove that those actions or inactions directly resulted in the injury and no other superseding event caused the injuries.
How to prove causation: Proving causation can be somewhat straightforward, like in the case of a surgeon leaving a medical tool inside of a patient, resulting in an infection or other injury. However, in some cases, causation is more difficult to prove. For example, proving that a doctor's delay in treatment caused the injury is much more complex, thus takes more effort to establish. To prove medical negligence as the cause of the injury, various resources may be used, including expert witness testimony, medical reports, etc.
An experienced and trusted medical malpractice lawyer can work to link the healthcare provider's breach of duty to your injury.
Lastly, damages that can be compensated by the court must be present as a result of the injury. Damages can include any harm caused by the medical provider's breach of duty, including:
- Current and future medical bills
- Physical therapy/rehabilitation costs
- Lost wages
- Loss of earning potential
- Home renovations needed because of your injury
- Home health services
- Other home services, like landscaping, cleaning, etc (if you can no longer perform the services due to your injury)
- Emotional trauma
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Depression and anxiety
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Pain and suffering
In Utah, medical malpractice remedies may include both economic (monetary damages, like medical bills) and non-economic (non-monetary damages, like pain and suffering) damages. While the state restricts the maximum amount of compensation plaintiffs can collect for non-economic damages to $450,000, no caps exist for economic damages. Utah Code § 78B-3-410. Other damages may be recoverable depending on the case.
Should I Hire a Medical Malpractice Lawyer in Utah?
Medical malpractice cases are quite complex with different procedural requirements than other types of personal injury cases. Hiring a medical malpractice lawyer in Utah is essential if you've been injured due to a medical professional's negligence. If you believe you have a malpractice case, give the Andrus Law Firm team a call at 801-535-4645, or fill out our convenient and confidential online form. We're standing by ready to help you get the legal justice you deserve and get on the road to recovery.