Defining Medical Malpractice


Medical malpractice is a type of personal injury that falls under tort law for negligence. Medical malpractice is simply professional negligence under tort law.

Medical malpractice,  as a legal claim, has four elements the plaintiff must prove in a malpractice case: (1) the existence of a duty for the medical professional to provide the medical standard of care under the circumstances; (2) the breach of that duty by the medical professional providing substandard medical care; (3) the medical professional's substandard medical care caused the plaintiff's injuries; and, (4) the plaintiff suffered damages as a result of the plaintiff's injuries (i.e., out-of-pocket expenses, medical bills, corrective treatment or surgery, pain and suffering, lost wages, loss of consortium, and so forth). 

Medical malpractice occurs when the treatment of a patient falls below the appropriate medical standard of care. When someone is highly skilled or trained with a certain level of ability, then that person is held to a higher standard according to others performing at a similar level of skill, training, and experience. Essentially, the issue is simply thus: Would a reasonable medical professional of like skill, training, and experience treated the patient in the same manner as that medical professional under the same circumstances?

The medical profession is a science, but it is not an exact science. Some room for error exists as a matter of discretion, which is why the necessity for expert witnesses matter for medical malpractice claims to explain what the appropriate medical standard of care is under the circumstances. The medical standard of care in South Carolina is based on what the medical standard of care is for medical professionals is a local standard: what medical professionals do in South Carolina compared with similar neighborhoods and surroundings.

Unless the local medical standards of care adopt national standards of care, then the national standards of care in your situation may not apply; simply, national standards of care may serve as a benchmark to show negligence.

As with any profession or industry, you have below-average, average, and exceptional professionals. You do have wonderful doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals in the field, And then, you don't. Or, maybe that great medical professional had a really bad day or was acting under bad circumstances. Nobody wants to be in the situation of the patient suffering additional harm because of medical malpractice, which is when the treatment of a patient falls below the medical standard of care. The patient's health and recovery, if possible, is paramount for all involved.

Causation, as an element of negligence in a claim for medical malpractice, is also a major sticking point given the nature of the health care industry. When patients are seeking treatment for a health condition, the issue is whether the outcome of the patient's illnesses suffered is a direct correlation to the medical professional's treatment, the patient's preexisting health conditions, or a combination of all the above.

 Given the nature of the health care industry, and the treatment of patients, poor outcomes in health are not always attributable to medical treatment but the patient's health conditions as the reason for receiving medical treatment in the first place. But, sometimes, but for the medical professional's substandard treatment of the patient, the patient would not have suffered those injuries. Again, proving causation of the patient's injuries is often a critical factual assessment that also requires expert witnesses to testify as to the actual cause of the patient's injuries.  

Malpractice of any sort does not simply mean every time a professional makes a mistake that the professional should be sued for it. Especially when the health care industry is involved, and the need for health care professionals is a high value to our society, the mistake must be egregious. The mistake must be something that no medical professional standing in the shoes of that professional under the circumstances would have done what that professional did. Essentially, that professional's colleagues would not condone such an egregious mistake. 

While much technical jargon surrounds the medical profession, like other professions, some situations just come down to plain common sense. 

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