What Constitutes Medical Negligence?

Medical malpractice law hinges on the concept of “medical negligence,” or a medical professional’s failure to meet an acceptable standard of care that results in harm to a patient. If you suffer injuries due to incompetent or ineffective medical treatment, it’s vital to speak to a qualified NYC medical malpractice attorney to learn your options for legal recourse and the elements of medical negligence you will need to prove.

The medical community constantly unveils new treatment methods and techniques for helping patients with all kinds of conditions, but it’s vital they only treat patients with acceptable, proven treatments. Experimental treatments, clinical studies, and other untested forms of treatment are only acceptable for certain patients under very specific conditions. In most cases, a doctor must refer to the medical community’s guidelines to determine the standard of care for any given patient.

What Is the Standard of Care?

The term “standard of care” refers to the level of treatment a patient should expect for a given condition. For example, the standard of care for treating a broken wrist may entail resetting the bone, applying a hard cast, reviewing the patient’s X-rays to determine if surgery is necessary, and prescribing pain medication while the victim heals. A doctor who failed to properly reset a bone before applying the cast could potentially cause the bone to heal incorrectly. The patient, in this case, would then need corrective treatment, which might involve re-breaking the bone and setting it into the correct position, so it may properly heal.

Following this example, the doctor would be liable for the costs of the patient’s corrective treatments as well as the pain and suffering endured during those treatments and while in recovery. The doctor would also be liable for any lost income the patient experienced due to time spent out of work for recovery. While a violation of the standard of care is an indicator of malpractice, it is not the only prerequisite for a medical malpractice lawsuit. It’s possible for a health care professional to commit medical negligence but not medical malpractice.

Malpractice vs. Negligence

The final element of a medical malpractice lawsuit is proving “actual harm” occurred. Negligence on its own does not constitute malpractice. If a driver runs a red light but does not cause an accident, the driver is still negligent but caused no harm. Similarly, if a doctor deviates from the approved standard of care in a way that does not result in any actual harm to the patient, then there are no grounds for a medical malpractice claim.

Some examples of medical negligence could include failing to follow up on test results, failing to recommend specialist intervention or additional testing, or failing to make a complete differential diagnostic list for a patient.

Proving Medical Negligence

If you suffered harm because of medical negligence, you must first prove an official doctor-patient relationship between you and your intended defendant. Next, you will need to prove that the defendant deviated from the standard of care for your condition in a way that resulted in measurable harm. This may include additional medical expenses, more missed time from work, or additional pain and suffering.

Your New York City personal injury lawyer will likely consult expert witnesses who can testify if the defendant’s treatment was acceptable and competent given the circumstances. These expert witnesses can also help a jury understand the scope of the effects medical negligence has had on your life, strengthening your claim.

You will need to have clear evidence of the extent of your damages, so be sure to retain copies of all financial statements and correspondence between you and your doctor’s office or hospital. You should also keep copies of communications with insurance companies. Your attorney will help you fully understand the scope of the damages available in your claim and determine whether medical malpractice occurred.