When an injury occurs that is the fault of someone other than the injured party, the plaintiff (typically the injured party) must assert a legal basis for any compensation claim. The most common legal basis is negligence, which often means carelessness. To prove the defendant liable for negligence, you must prove several elements (facts).

Medical negligence is the basis for a medical malpractice claim. These cases are often highly complex.

Element #1: Duty of Care

Element #1: Duty of Care

To support liability, your doctor must have owed you a duty of care. This duty of care involves two sub-elements. First, you must prove the existence of a doctor-patient relationship between you. Normally, this is easy. The only time it might likely become a problem would be if the doctor just happened to witness your accident as a bystander and rendered emergency first aid. This is a legal “gray area”.

If there was a doctor/patient relationship, Georgia law requires a doctor (or other healthcare professionals) to apply the level and type of care that an ordinary, prudent healthcare professional with the same training and experience would provide under similar circumstances in the same community. 

The problem here is determining the exact nature of that duty. Did the doctor wait too long to order a C-section during a difficult birth, for example? You will probably need an expert medical witness and a skilled legal team to answer this question.

Element #2: Breach of Duty

A doctor breaches their duty of care when they fail to meet their demands. There are two possible ways of doing this. The doctor can do something they shouldn’t have done, or they can fail to do something they should have done. 

Not every medical error counts as medical malpractice because the law doesn’t expect doctors to be perfect. Just as with duty of care, however, you might need a medical expert to prove breach of duty. Once you prove duty of care and breach of duty, you are closer to proving negligence.

Element #3: Damages

Georgia recognizes three general types of damages in medical malpractice lawsuits:

Economic damages are easy to count, at least conceptually—medical expenses, lost wages, out-of-pocket expenses, etc. Estimated future medical bills and lost earnings can be difficult to count, even though they still qualify as economic damages.

Non-economic damages are inherently more difficult to count because they represent intangible losses. Examples include emotional distress, loss of enjoyment of life, and pain and suffering.

Element #4: Causation

Causation is the thread that ties together negligence and damages. To win damages due to the negligence of a healthcare provider, you must prove that the negligence is what caused your damages. Here are two kinds of causation that matter. 

Actual Cause

To establish actual cause, all you need to do is prove, on a “more likely than not” basis, that the harm you suffered probably would not have occurred but for the defendant’s negligence.

Proximate Cause

While actual cause is a factual distinction, proximate cause is a legal distinction. The question here is, “Was the relationship between the defendant’s negligence and the victim’s harm foreseeable enough to justly hold the defendant liable for that harm? If the answer is no, then causation is absent, and the defendant wins the case. This restriction aims to prevent injury victims from recovering from unforeseeable freak accidents.

Comparative Negligence

What happens to your claim if your own negligence partly caused the harm you suffered? Let’s say, for example, that you carelessly filled out a medical history exam, leading to a diagnostic error that harmed you. 

In that case, Georgia will apply a modified form of comparative negligence. A court will assign you a percentage of fault and then subtract that same percentage from your damages. If your percentage of fault was 50% or more, however, you will lose 100% of your damages.

Negligence Per Se

Negligence per se is a shortcut to proving negligence. It applies if your doctor actually broke a law in their treatment of you. Normally, you can win a lawsuit against a doctor for breach of their professional duty even if their treatment of you violated generally accepted standards of patient care but didn’t violate a law. 

A doctor’s violation of an accepted standard of patient care may or may not break a law. Once your doctor breaks a law related to patient safety, however, they have breached their professional duty of care to you. In other words, you have proven negligence.

This doesn’t win the case for you all by itself. You also have to prove that you suffered harm and that your doctor’s negligence is what caused that harm.

Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress

You can also sue your doctor for negligent infliction of emotional distress. This might happen if, for example, your doctor negligently misdiagnoses you with a terminal disease that you do not have.

An Atlanta Medical Malpractice Lawyer Can Help with Your Negligence Claim

Negligence claims can get surprisingly complex, especially in medical malpractice claims. Under the right circumstances, however, they can command a surprisingly high amount of damages. If you believe you may have a valid medical malpractice claim, contact an experienced Georgia medical malpractice lawyer from Malone Law Medical Malpractice and Severe Injury Lawyers to explore your options, call us today at (770) 390-7550.