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Four Elements of Medical Malpractice

Updated September 20, 2022 | By Wilson Kehoe Winingham staff

Seeking help from a medical professional can be a frightening experience. You aren’t sure what’s going on and need your questions answered. In most cases, the medical professionals we see are trustworthy, providing the right care for whatever the situation. However, there are incidents where you may go to a health care provider for answers and care, leaving you with even more suffering. You may be able to pursue a medical malpractice lawsuit if a medical or health care practitioner fails to provide you with the care you need and deserve, causing instead even more harm in your life. 

On this page, you’ll learn what constitutes malpractice, the four basic elements of malpractice, and what to do if you have the basis for a medical malpractice case. 

What Is Considered Medical Malpractice?

Medical malpractice is defined as a healthcare provider’s improper, unskilled, or negligent treatment of a patient. See Indiana Code 34-18-2-14 for a complete list of healthcare providers or talk to an attorney at WKW. 

The concept of medical malpractice can be controversial, with doctors claiming that malpractice suits have established an unreasonable financial burden increasing the cost of medical care. On the other hand, trial lawyers maintain that medical malpractice litigation is a useful tool for compensating victims of negligence and policing the medical profession.

Four Elements of Medical Malpractice

Indiana categorizes malpractice as a tort or breach of contract based on health care or other professional services that were or should have been provided by a health care provider to a patient (I.C. 34-18-2-18). To prove medical malpractice in Indiana, an attorney must show the four essential elements of a tort: duty, breach, causation, and injury.

DUTY

A duty is created when a healthcare provider treats a patient, which means the healthcare provider owes the patient a duty to act as a reasonably competent healthcare provider would under the same or similar circumstances. Health care providers have the duty to meet the applicable standard of care.

The standard of care is a set of standards that state that health care providers need to be competent in their skills and that patients need to be treated by competent medical professionals. The standard is that another medical professional of the same training and rank would have performed the same care or treatment in the same or similar situation. The notion is that the standard of care outlines the level of skill and training medical professionals have and perform. 

When the standard of care has not been met, a health care provider is said to be incompetent and, therefore, breached their duty of care (discussed below). When determining what constitutes a medical malpractice lawsuit, it is necessary to establish the standard of care that is typically followed for the specific diagnosis, procedure, or treatment the patient-turned-plaintiff received. When an act performed deviates from the standard of care, it is usually because the medical professional breached their duty of care.

BREACH

Once duty–the basis for the standard of care and the relationship between the professional and the patient–has been established, it is necessary to prove the breach of their duty, which is the standard of care. 

A patient must provide expert testimony, documentation, and evidence to prove that a healthcare provider breached their duty by failing to meet the applicable standard of care. There is an exception to this rule if the breach is obvious to a layperson, such as a doctor leaving a surgical sponge inside a patient or removing the wrong limb. 

In this element of medical malpractice, there needs to be a demonstration that whatever the medical professional did was not within the standard of care and therefore was an act (or acts) of negligence. 

Some examples of negligent acts include:

It is the doctor’s duty to provide you with the information you need regarding your health and well-being. When they fail to do so, the result may be more significant harm to you. It’s important to know which questions to ask before making a health care decision, such as surgery, so you can make an informed decision about the next steps for your health. 

CAUSATION

The injured person must demonstrate that the harm was caused directly by the healthcare provider’s failure to meet the applicable standard of care.

The cause needs to be established for a medical malpractice case argument to be complete. The injuries were suffered due to the healthcare professional’s breach of their duty or standard of care. Proving that the breach of duty was the cause of a health issue is a complicated process that calls for an experienced, knowledgeable medical malpractice attorney. Contact a member of the WKW team today for more information. 

INJURY

Injury–sometimes called “damages”–due to negligence needs to be established for a medical malpractice case. For a medical professional to act with negligence is not enough. Rather, the negligence of their action or inaction must have resulted in injury to you.

The patient must show that they were harmed in such a way as death, disfigurement, deformity, physical loss of function, impairment to bodily or mental function, loss of earning capacity, or reduced chance of recovery. 

Additionally, the harm the patient suffered must have resulted from medical negligence. A doctor’s negligence can result in the following:

  • New health issues that call for different and further treatment
  • The current health situation has worsened because of negligence and would not have worsened otherwise
  • The necessary treatment was not provided or was provided incorrectly 

The causation results in damages you can collect, including economic and non-economic damages. You can sometimes seek punitive damages, but that is rare and only when the medical professional acts maliciously. 

Calculating non-economic damages can be difficult, mainly because they monetarily measure your pain and suffering. However, they are necessary for the final element. You deserve total compensation for the harm done to you and the strain it puts on your life in the future.

Complications of Medical Malpractice Cases

Despite the simple language used to define medical malpractice, there have been numerous court cases involving topics such as the following:

  • Who is a patient?
  • When is a doctor-patient relationship formed?
  • When does the duty of care begin, and when does it cease?
  • What is an act or occurrence?
  • What is the cause of an injury?
  • When are injuries due to malpractice?

Malpractice cases continue to present a unique set of challenges requiring a thorough understanding of medical and legal issues. A qualified medical malpractice attorney will have experience navigating these questions and Indiana medical malpractice law.

I Think I Have All Elements of Medical Malpractice; What Now?

If your experience involves all four elements of medical malpractice, then talk to an experienced medical malpractice attorney right away. Our Indianapolis medical malpractice lawyers can evaluate your case to determine whether you have a valid medical malpractice claim. 

It’s essential to contact our team right away. Indiana’s statute of limitations for medical malpractice cases is two years from the date that medical negligence occurred or the date on which you should have known about the malpractice. Because of the legal complexities of medical malpractice cases, starting the process sooner rather than later. Is crucial. We can help you get the compensation you deserve so you can focus on your healing process. 

Even with the elements of medical negligence, filing a medical malpractice claim or a lawsuit is a complicated and expensive process. For a successful outcome, you need experienced medical malpractice attorneys on your side to help hold the healthcare professional responsible for their negligence. We will guide you through the complicated legal system of medical malpractice cases. 

Contact a Medical Malpractice Attorney Today

If you or a loved one have been injured by medical malpractice, contact the attorneys of Wilson Kehoe Winingham. An experienced Indianapolis medical malpractice lawyer at WKW can help you get the compensation you deserve. Call 317.689.0654 or fill out an online contact form for a free, no-obligation case evaluation.

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