Dereliction of Duty Directly Resulting in Damages in New Jersey
Medical malpractice arises from an unfortunate, often costly, error resulting in avoidable injury. The foundation of any medical negligence claim is the doctor or healthcare provider’s failure to uphold the acceptable standard of care, which ultimately results in harm to the patient. While some situations do amount to malpractice, there are certain necessary standards which must be met in order to have a valid claim. To bring a medical malpractice lawsuit, an injured party must file an action in the Superior Court and prove four elements, known as the four D’s of Medical Negligence. These elements must be established by a preponderance of evidence, a more likely than not legal standard.
If you believe that you have a medical malpractice claim, consider these four crucial components. You can also discuss your unique case with a knowledgeable medical malpractice lawyer by contacting Fronzuto Law Group now at 973-435-4551. Consultations are absolutely free and we are here to provide answers to your specific questions anytime.
Your Guide to the 4 D’s of a Medical Negligence
The four critical elements of a medical malpractice claim, referred to as the 4 D’s, are: duty, deviation from such duty, direct cause, and damages. In other words, the foundation of the claim provides that a medical professional who entered into a doctor-patient relationship with a patient, breached their duty of care, by dereliction of their duty, that directly caused the injured party damages.
Duty: The Duty of Care of a Medical Provider
The first of the four elements, duty, means that a relationship between patient and healthcare provider exists and involves a duty of due care. A doctor-patient relationship must be established in order for the patient to have a reasonable expectation of the doctor fulfilling their duty to diagnose, treat, and otherwise provide medical care. When a patient seeks medical assistance, and the medical professional consents to provide such services, the treating professional now has a duty of due care.
Due care is competent care or care that adheres to a standard accepted by similarly situated providers. This duty assumes that the patient can rely on the doctor’s competence to diagnose and treat what ails the patient or, if not, refer them to another doctor who can. It also entails a reciprocal relationship of supplying necessary and relevant information to diagnose and treat the patient’s medical condition. For example, if it is customary for a general practitioner to refer patients with breathing problems to pulmonologists and your physician failed to do so, their failure may constitute a breach of their duty to practice medicine according to the accepted standard of care for a family physician treating the type of patient with your symptoms, history, and profile.
Dereliction: Deviation from the Acceptable Standard of Care
The second element, dereliction, is the failure to practice medicine according to professional standards, and thus, betraying that patient’s expectation of competency. Typically, an expert in the same field, education, and experience level testifies to the standard of care at trial and in an affidavit certifying the merit of a malpractice suit. Failure to properly treat an ailment or injury is one way to be derelict of duty, or negligent.
Another common dereliction is a delayed diagnosis, missed diagnosis, or misdiagnosis. For instance, when an obstetrician fails to diagnose a common pregnancy complication, such as gestational diabetes, they may be liable for injuries arising from the missed diagnosis, including birth injuries, especially if a simple test or review of the patient’s history reveals the condition. Other instances of negligence are prescribing the wrong medication (or not disclosing the dangerous side effects of medication), operating on the wrong patient, making a mistake during surgery, or failing to safeguard a post-surgery patient from infection (often referred to as postoperative negligence).
Damages to the Patient
Damages, the third element, refers to quantifiable monetary compensation to make a plaintiff whole, often proven through medical records, prescriptions, tests, lost wages, and other expenses arising from the unwarranted injury. Damages include physical and emotional injuries, not only medical expenses that would not have occurred without the negligence, but also the emotional and psychological suffering of prolonged illness and physical pain to the patient or their loved one. Pain, suffering, and emotional distress are injuries that are more difficult to quantify but can be ascertained by taking into account the seriousness of the injury, the length of time enduring the injury, future treatment, and the entirety of the circumstances. In extreme negligence cases, wrongful death damages are ascertained by emotional, psychological, and economic losses of the deceased and their family. Moreover, intentional wrongdoing may warrant punitive damages. However, New Jersey caps punitive damages at the greater of five times compensatory damages (economic and non-economic losses) or $350,000.00. There is no limit on compensatory damages under New Jersey law.
Direct Cause: A Direct Causal Relationship between Dereliction of Duty and Damages
Finally, the patient must prove that the provider’s negligence directly caused their injury, as opposed to some other factors. Essentially, the mere fact that a patient experienced a negative outcome does not necessarily mean that the physician was derelict, nor that the physician caused the bad outcome. Medical records, among other evidence of the physician’s actions or omissions, supply evidence of causation. So, if an oncologist gives a stage 4 chemotherapy patient the wrong dosage of chemotherapy, and the patient dies from an allergic reaction to the drug, the question of direct causation of the injury or death is initially unclear. Did the incorrect dose, the allergic reaction, or the cancer itself cause the outcome? The doctor’s negligence may not have been the direct cause of the injury, requiring further investigation and medical expert analysis to first, determine the cause of the patient’s death and second, directly tie the physician’s actions to the fatal event.
The complicated nature of medical malpractice litigation underlies the need for sound legal counsel from a skilled malpractice lawyer. Proving the four elements undoubtedly depends on the facts of each case, a comprehensive investigation, consultation with the right medical expert, and the use of deft negotiation or trial strategy to ensure the success of your claim.
Need Sound Legal Assistance with a Potential Medical Negligence Claim?
If you or someone you love has suffered injuries caused by a medical professional’s unacceptable care, it is highly advisable to seek out an attorney who can help you understand the elements of your malpractice action, determine your grounds for a claim, and explain the legal process and potential outcomes. Having achieved millions of dollars in successful verdicts and settlements on behalf of the injured, our team has the knowledge and resources to assist you with obtaining maximum compensation. Contact Fronzuto Law Group now at 973-435-4551 for a free consultation and tailored guidance regarding your case. You can also fill out our convenient online form to request a free case review today.