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What must a plaintiff prove in order to file a successful medical malpractice claim?

In order to file a successful medical malpractice claim, a plaintiff must prove five elements of a negligence case. First, the plaintiff must show that the defendant owed a duty to the plaintiff. For example, the hospital, doctor or other health care provider must have owed a duty of care to the patient. Then, the patient must prove that the hospital or doctor breached that duty by failing to conform to the standard of care that is acceptable in the medical profession.

The patient then has to prove that a breach of the duty caused an injury. The breach of duty must have been a direct, or “but for” cause as well as a proximate cause of the injury. As a “but for” cause, the injury would not have occurred without the negligence of the doctor or hospital. As a proximate, or legal, cause, the injury must have been foreseeable to the defendant. In some jurisdictions, the doctor or hospital will also be held liable if their conduct was a substantial factor in causing the patient’s injury.

Furthermore, the patient must prove that he or she suffered damages, which may be compensatory and/or punitive. Compensatory damages include economic and non-economic damages. Among the economic damages are medical expenses, lost earnings, loss of future earnings and pain and suffering. The non-economic damages consist of physical and psychological harm.

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