After leaving your doctor’s office with possible signs of an illness or infection, you developed a serious infection. The doctor’s office never called you back with the lab test results. You suspect medical malpractice, but how do you prove it? The question may seem like a simple one: a patient went in for medical care, a doctor made a mistake and, as a result, the patient suffered more harm and incurred more medical bills. Simple, right? This would obviously seem like an incident where medical malpractice occurred. Though that certainly sounds like a case of medical malpractice, and it certainly could be proven so, this area of law isn’t as straightforward as you may think. There are numerous ways to prove that a doctor or institution owes a patient after medical malpractice occurred, but establishing that proof is a bit more complex than it may initially seem. So how do you prove that a patient did indeed suffer from medical malpractice?
Proving a Medical Malpractice Case in NJ
When you are injured by a medical professional’s incompetent diagnosis or treatment, you may have a medical malpractice claim. There are a few ways to establish this, and the first is by proving negligence occurred. To do that, the patient needs to show that four things happened. First, that the doctor “owed a duty” to the patient. Second, the patient must prove that the medical professional in question deviated from the accepted standard of care. Third, the connection between the duty owed and the deviation from the standard of care must be established, thus leading to the ultimate factor: the injury or harm done to the patient.
To prove a medical malpractice claim, you must first provide credible evidence that you were a patient of the doctor who injured you, meaning the doctor diagnosed, treated or consulted with you. That relationship may be confirmed by medical records and your account of why you came to see the doctor and what occurred when you did. You must next connect the doctor’s negligence to your injury. A mere mistake does not constitute negligence. The doctor must have acted incompetently in treating or diagnosing you, deviating from the standard of care expected of a physician treating a patient like you. A doctor’s performance of their duties is measured against similarly educated and experienced doctors in the same circumstances—what a reasonably prudent doctor, or other medical professional, would do under the same conditions.
The next component of a malpractice claim is causation. An injured patient must prove the doctor’s negligence directly caused the injury and not something or someone else. So, if an emphysema patient dies after a surgeon’s incorrect insertion of a breathing tube, the doctor may not be liable if it is unknown whether the patient died of the disease or the surgeon’s negligence. In other words, one could not say that but for the botched surgery, the patient would not have died. Causation may also be evidenced by a medical expert’s testimony that the negligence was the cause of the patient’s injury.
Finally, as the claimant you must prove that you suffered specific harm due to the injury, meaning general and special damages. General damages include pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, and future economic losses, namely future earnings. Special damages are calculable losses like past medical bills, future medical bills, vocational rehabilitation, and lost earnings. Punitive damages are awarded if a doctor knowingly causes a patient harm. In New Jersey, punitive damage awards may not exceed five times the special and general damages or $350,000.00, whichever is more.
Uncovering Medical Mistakes & Who is Responsible
A multitude of malpractice claims involve incorrect diagnosis or treatment. Misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis, birth injuries, medication errors, anesthesia related negligence, and surgery errors represent the most common malpractice sources. Delayed diagnosis or misdiagnosis not only prolongs treatment, but may limit treatment options the longer a condition or illness persists untreated. For example, an infection may be treated with a round of antibiotics but an untreated infection turned septic may require hospitalization and weeks of drug therapy. Incompetent treatment might be either the wrong treatment or the right treatment that is incorrectly administered. One form of medical malpractice occurs when a prescription is botched, either by the patient receiving the incorrect medicine or by the patient receiving the improper medical device. These cases are a bit more unique, and there are some complicating factors involved, but you can establish negligence through the medical records involved with your prescription.
Last but not least, you can establish medical malpractice by proving you did not give “informed consent” to your doctor. This form of malpractice involves failing to obtain informed consent about a drug, procedure or medical therapy. Doctors have a duty to fully disclose all possible known side effects and outcomes of a proposed treatment so that the patient can make an informed decision about their health. The exact wording of informed consent varies, but generally speaking, it is when a patient approves of a procedure or course of action and informs the doctor or medical professional via written approval. The doctor also must inform the patient of all the risks, benefits and alternatives involved with this procedure for informed consent to be given. When the doctor fails to do so and the patient suffers from the treatment that they otherwise would not have chosen had they known the facts, it may be malpractice.
How a Medical Malpractice Attorney can Help Prove Your Claim in NJ
How do you know who injured you when your doctor claims your previous doctors made mistakes? Sometimes it’s hard to determine. And yet, you must name your defendant or defendants in a medical malpractice lawsuit and meet lawsuit filing deadlines to pursue your claim. New Jersey has a two year statute of limitations for filing malpractice claims, meaning a claimant has two years from the date of discovering the injury or when they reasonably should have discovered the injury to file their lawsuit. A knowledgeable attorney can delve into the circumstances of your case to identify if, when, and how medical mistakes happened and who is responsible. Your lawyer also gathers medical records and other evidence to help support your claim.
Malpractice is confirmed by a medical practitioner’s admission of fault, by a medical expert’s opinion that another physician committed malpractice, and/or circumstantially by adding up the facts and timing of symptoms. So, if your doctor ordered a urine analysis to confirm a urinary tract infection and then failed to follow up on the test results, leaving you with an untreated infection that turned to a life-threatening condition, the question is would a doctor with the same education and training have been reasonably expected to follow up with the patient as standard practice and prudent care? A medical expert in the same field as your physician can testify to the appropriate standard of care for a physician under the circumstances of your case. In addition, to file a lawsuit, you’ll need an affidavit of merit signed by a medical expert. An experienced medical malpractice attorney can help you find and use the best experts to prove your case.
Since medical malpractice lawsuits have strict deadlines, filing requirements, and an evidentiary burden that you must meet, you can ensure that your case successfully moves through the legal process and that you are in the best position to obtain maximum compensation with the help of an experienced attorney. For additional information and a free consultation with one of our talented medical malpractice lawyers, contact our local offices in New Jersey at 973-435-4551 now. You can also fill out our convenient online form with a brief description of your case and we will get in touch with you right away.