Winning a medical malpractice lawsuit has many different variables that need to be proven. Medical malpractice happens when a health care professional, doctor, or hospital, through a negligent act or omission, causes injury resulting in significant damages to a patient. Medical negligence can arise from the result of failure or errors in diagnosis, treatment, aftercare or overall health management. To file a claim of medical malpractice, most arising out of medical negligence, the claim must have certain definite characteristics.
What Constitutes a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit?
In order to file a medical malpractice claim, the following components must be present. The foremost and most significant component of a medical malpractice case is that there must be a violation of the standard of care. The definition of the standard of care pertaining to medical malpractice is that the level of care a reasonably prudent health care professional, with equal training and experience, would provide similar medical practices given the circumstances. Nearly all medical malpractice cases violating the standard of care require an expert testimony on behalf of the victim. Meaning an expert, usually, a doctor, trained in the same area of health care expertise needs to establish what the standard of care was and testify as to how this standard was not met and resulted in damages to the patient.
Furthermore, medical malpractice cases must prove that injury due to a violation of the standard of care was caused by negligence and that this injury resulted in significant damages to the patient. Simply violating the standard of care is not a valid claim for a malpractice case and it must be proven the patient sustained an injury that only occurred due to negligence. Unfavorable treatment or misdiagnoses is not enough cause for medical malpractice claims. Additionally, it must be proven that the injuries sustained from negligence caused sufficient losses such as physical pain, mental suffering, excessive medical bills, loss of work, disability or death.
Reyes vs. Yakima Health District
The case of Reyes vs. The Yakima Health District is an example of the sufficiency of expert testimony needed to win a medical malpractice lawsuit. Judith Reyes alleged that The Yakima Health District and subsequent physician Christopher Spitters, MD, were negligent in treating her husband, Jose Reyes, as the misdiagnosis of tuberculosis resulted in prescribed treatment that caused him fatal liver damage due to his undiagnosed and untreated liver disease.
The plaintiff, Judith Reyes, attempted to prove her claims by using an expert witness testimony who concluded there was malpractice throughout Jose Reyes’ treatment. However, the expert testimony never argued or examined what the standard of care was and how it was not met by the physician. Consequently, The Supreme Court of the State of Washington ruled 7-2 in June 2018 that the case would not go to trial because a conclusory statement, like the one the plaintiff and expert presented, is not enough to prove there was a claim of medical negligence. This ruling was upheld in the trial court and appellate court rulings.
Allegations of Misdiagnosis Alone Are Not Enough
Malpractice law in the state of Washington requires that the expert’s testimony establishes the standard of care specific to the case and details explicitly how it was not met. The justice explained that allegations leading to an assertion that the standard of care was to properly diagnose or treat the patient were insufficient. Rather, the affiant must factually prove what the standard of care was and how the defendant violated it. The expert witness, or doctor, in this case, failed to prove this as the allegations only aggregated to a conclusion of misdiagnosis. In order to have won, there must have been admissible evidence to support the claim of what the standard of care was and how it resulted in the death of Jose Reyes.
It is imperative in a medical malpractice case that it is proven through testimony that there was a violation of the standard of care, the injury to the patient was a result of negligence, and that the injury resulted in significant damages. In the example of Reyes vs. The Yakima health district, there were allegations of misdiagnosis, but the expert gave no insight into what a reasonable physician would have done and did not exemplify concrete evidence to convict because no standard or breach of care was included.
In order to win a medical malpractice case, the testimony must have evidence explaining the violation of the standard of care and how the negligence resulted in significant damages. When navigating litigation, lawyers will benefit from gathering all necessary evidence related to the standard of care specific to the case beforehand in order to explicitly testify as to how it was broken from negligent practices.