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Personal Injury · Wrongful Death · Medical Malpractice

Medical Malpractice and Figuring Out When a Doctor Has a Duty of Care

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When people see a doctor or other medical professional, there is an expectation that the care and treatment provided is the product of careful deliberation by the doctor and conforms to standard practices used to remedy the medical issue at hand. This reliance is necessary and reasonable since the doctor has specialized training that allows him/her to diagnosis and treat illness and disease. Failure to correctly diagnose or treat an illness can expose the doctor to a medical malpractice claim if the patient was injured as a result. This possibility seems more likely in today’s medical culture that has doctors serving ever-increasing patient loads, which leaves most people with only about 15 minutes of a doctor’s time before he/she moves on to the next person. This often results in the patient feeling unheard, and wondering if the doctor had sufficient time to accurately assess the problem. If medical malpractice is suspected, the first aspect that must be established under the law is whether the doctor had a duty towards the patient. This element is often hotly debated in medical malpractice cases, and a recent decision by the Florida Supreme Court found that a doctor did have duty of care for a patient that committed suicide. The woman contacted her primary care physician about symptoms of depression and gastrointestinal issues. The doctor did not speak to the woman directly about her problems or schedule an appointment to see her, but instead changed her antidepressant medication and referred her to a gastroenterologist. The woman was found dead the following day. Since this duty of care is such an integral aspect of a medical malpractice claim, a brief discussion of when a doctor assumes this obligation will follow below.

Doctor/Patient Relationship

Before determining if a doctor owed a duty to a patient and what the appropriate standard of care should be, it is first necessary to establish a doctor/patient relationship existed when the malpractice occurred. This relationship is formed by agreement and entered into voluntarily. While proving the existence of this relationship is relatively easy in most cases, it is not clear in every circumstance. Typically, the party claiming negligence gathers evidence in the form of medical records and other documents to show there was a doctor/patient relationship. The evidence needs to demonstrate some variation of the following:

  • the patient picked this doctor to receive treatment;
  • the patient participated and assented to exams in order to treat a medical issue; and
  • the medical care was ongoing.

One issue that injured parties need to be aware of is if the doctor/patient relationship was terminated before the malpractice occurred, no duty is owed and therefore, the doctor cannot be liable for an injury.

Medical Standard of Care

Once it is clear a duty was owed, the next step is to figure out if the treatment offered by the doctor was appropriate under the circumstances. Analyzing the standard of care in any medical malpractice case hinges largely on the nature and extent of the doctor/patient relationship. Was the injured party a new patient? If the treatment occurred in a hospital setting, was the injured party receiving inpatient or outpatient care? Considerations like these will go to revealing what the scope of the doctor’s duty should be in a given case, which is a very complex legal question that should be addressed by an experienced medical malpractice lawyer.

Consult a Medical Malpractice Lawyer

Suffering an injury due to a doctor’s negligent care is an awful experience that no one should have. If you were the unfortunate recipient of a doctor’s inadequate care, talk to an lawyer about your right to recover for the harm you suffered. The Miami law firm of Pita Weber Del Prado have years of experience litigating medical malpractice claims, and can help you with your case. Contact the office for a free consultation.

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