Understanding Proximate Cause in Medical Malpractice
Seeing a medical professional for treatment or consultation is typically not a pleasant experience. When a patient enters the examination room, and the medical professional shows up, it can feel as if he/she is prying into every aspect of the patient’s personal life. While this intrusion is true, it is also necessary to begin to ascertain what is causing the reason for the visit. While, in most instances, the medical professional will use his/her expertise to correct the problem, in some cases, he/she may err, and cause a greater problem to develop. In cases in which the error is preventable, it is crucial to retain the services of an attorney experienced in medical malpractice law to recover compensation for the patient’s injuries. Recently, the Florida Supreme Court overturned a ruling in favor of an anesthesiologist, holding him responsible for the operating room death of a woman undergoing surgery for a brain tumor. A quick discussion of medical malpractice, as well as the reasoning of the Supreme Court in this particular matter will follow below.
Medical Malpractice, Generally
To prevail on a claim of medical malpractice, which is a special form of the legal theory of negligence, a plaintiff (or his/her estate, if the injured person expired as a result of the error) must prove each of the following element:
- The injured patient’s medical professional owed the patient a legal duty, commonly referred to as an accepted standard of care;
- An act or omission by the medical professional did not conform to the accepted standard; therefore, the medical professional breached the standard;
- The breach of the standard was a direct and proximate cause of the patient’s injuries; and
- The patient suffered quantifiable damages as a result of his/her injuries.
At issue in the above Supreme Court case was whether the breach was a direct and proximate cause of the decedent’s injuries.
Although the Court overturned the lower court’s ruling in favor of the medical professional, it is important to note the reasoning of the lower court in its decision. In the trial, the woman’s husband alleged that the medical professional did not order a second electrocardiogram after an initial electrocardiogram showed abnormal results, nor did he report the abnormal lab results to the surgeons. As a result, and in light of this, the lower court held that the medical professional was not the primary cause of the patient’s death.
In reversing, the Supreme Court agreed with regard to the primary cause determination, but held that the medical professional is nonetheless liable for his part since his failure to read and report the abnormal test results substantially contributed to causing the patient’s death. In other words, the court noted, medical malpractice jurisprudence makes clear that a medical professional may be the proximate cause of a patient’s injury even if that he/she is not the primary cause of that injury.
In fact, the Florida Supreme Court, in a previous case, laid out a standard for proximate cause. Essentially, to be successful on the element of proximate cause, a plaintiff “must introduce evidence which affords a reasonable basis for the conclusion that it more likely than not that the conduct of the defendant was a substantial factor in bringing about the result.” Thus, the mere possibility of the defendant’s role in the injury will not suffice, there must be something more substantive linking the role with the injury. Working with an experienced attorney can help ensure that any legal action includes evidence of this critical issue.
Seek Legal Advice
If you suffered an injury which you believe is due to preventable error on the part of a medical professional, and you are curious about your options to recover compensation for the injury, contact the attorneys at Pita Weber Del Prado as soon as possible. Our experience with medical malpractice issues is extensive, and we will use this knowledge to review the case. If we believe it could be successful, we will develop a strategy for pursuing an action against the individuals we deem most responsible, in an effort to get you the most compensation possible. Contact our Miami office today for a free initial consultation.