If you were injured or suffered adverse health conditions because of something your doctor did wrong, you may be able to sue the doctor – and sometimes the hospital – for medical malpractice. When you bring one of these lawsuits, one of the most important steps will be proving what exactly your doctor did wrong, which usually means proving medical negligence.
Medical negligence laws in Texas allow patients to sue when a doctor or other care provider acted negligently. To prove that the doctor acted negligently, you will need to establish in court that the doctor owed a specific “standard of care” and that the doctor’s actions or failure to act was a breach of that duty. You must also show that the doctor’s breach of care caused you specific injuries for which you could be compensated in court. You will need the assistance of medical expert testimony in order to be successful in your medical negligence suit.
The Arlington medical malpractice attorneys at The Queenan Law Firm, P.C. can explain in more detail how to prove medical negligence in Texas and what kind of evidence these claims require. We can also bring your case to court and advocate on your behalf, as we have done time and time again for our clients. Call our offices for a free case evaluation at (817) 476-1797.
What Constitutes Medical Negligence in Texas?
Texas law allows people who were injured while under someone else’s medical care to sue them for negligence in a medical malpractice lawsuit. These lawsuits are often complicated and difficult to understand because they deal with complex issues of medical science, expectations and standards for medical professionals, and legal issues. While your attorney can handle many of the complex issues, it is important to understand what the basic building blocks of a medical malpractice claim are.
To prove a doctor’s care was negligent, you must prove 4 major elements in your case:
- The healthcare provider owed you a duty defined by the “standard of care” in your case.
- Your healthcare provider breached that duty, usually by failing to use the necessary care or skill.
- The doctor’s breach of duty caused your injuries or complications.
- The injuries or complications involve damages or harm the court can compensate you for.
Proving that doctor negligence actually caused the injuries is not always at issue in the case, but some problems do involve this element quite heavily. Similarly, the fact that you suffered damages is not usually in question, but rather the amount of damages is often debated in most cases. This means that the case will usually focus on the first two elements: defining what the doctor’s duty was and proving that the duty was breached.
Proving the Standard of Care in a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit
For the court to determine whether the doctor breached the duty they owed you, you must prove to the court what your doctor’s duty was. It would be simple if the duty was something general like “do no harm” or “make the patient better,” but these standards are somewhat impractical because they are either too vague or too difficult to uphold. Instead, the standard of care in your case will be based on the specifics of your case and the standards that a reasonable physician would have upheld in the same situation.
Each case is different, and the facts and equipment that your doctor has will inherently define what options they have in providing you with care. It is simple to pinpoint what went wrong after the harm has already been done, but these cases work by analyzing what should be done from the outset based on the skills and information a doctor has. Therefore, the standard of care is usually defined by looking at what other doctors would have done in the same situation. If your doctor did something else or failed to do what they should have done, it will be considered a breach of their duty to you.
Typically, you prove the standard of care by having another doctor testify as a medical expert. The defendant doctor will use their own medical expert, and the outcome of the case will often be based on which expert the jury believes. The medical experts will be able to testify as to what a doctor should do based on the information that was available in your case and whether the choices your doctor made were negligent or not.
Proving a Breach of the Standard of Care in a Texas Medical Negligence Case
Many healthcare procedures, treatments, and diagnoses have inherent risks and might have bad outcomes. Just because you had a bad outcome, however, does not mean that the doctor was did anything wrong. Instead, looking at the choices your doctor made and comparing them to the standard of care is how you prove negligence, not by proving that you faced injuries or that something went wrong.
Many complications and injuries in medicine are natural, unavoidable issues. For instance, blood loss is common during surgery, and it would typically not be considered medical malpractice if a patient woke up a bit woozy from blood loss after surgery. However, allowing a patient to lose extreme amounts of blood and failing to stanch the bleeding or provide a blood transfusion to replace lost blood might be well below the standard of care.
Similar issues arise when the care provided was reasonable but still resulted in injuries. It is often difficult to tell if a doctor failed to diagnose an illness because they were not looking in the right place or because failing to catch the diagnosis was a reasonable mistake that most doctors would have made. Alternatively, it may be hard to determine if a surgical error was caused by negligence or resulted from reasonable limitations based on the fact that the surgery was performed by a human.
In most cases, the definition of the standard of care will determine how the breach can be proved, but testimony from other medical professionals that were involved with your care and expert testimony from medical experts will be essential evidence at trial to prove the breach of duty.
Proving Cause of Injury in a Texas Medical Negligence Case
Causation in medical negligence is a required element in order to recover damages incurred as a result of your ordeal. In order to establish causation in court, a plaintiff in a Texas medical negligence case must demonstrate by a preponderance of the evidence that the doctor’s breach of their duty of care caused the injury for which damages are sought. “Preponderance of the evidence” is legal language which simply means that the negligence more likely than not caused the injury.
There are two types of causation in negligence cases: cause-in-fact and proximate cause. The plaintiff must establish both types in order to be successful in their lawsuit. Cause-in-fact exists in situations where the plaintiff would not have suffered the injury “but for” the actions or inactions of the defendant. Proximate cause must be found while considering all other potential factors in the injury. If some other factor could be seen as “superseding” the negligence as the cause of the injury, the medical care provider could use that as a defense against an assertion of negligence.
To illustrate causation in medical negligence, let’s say that a patient comes into the emergency room complaining of pain on the right side of their abdomen. If the patient has an inflamed appendix and the doctor fails to identify it, they will likely be liable if the condition naturally becomes worse. However, if the patient leaves the hospital and goes out to a restaurant where they get food poisoning, rupturing the appendix, the exacerbation of the injury attributed to the food poisoning may be considered a superseding cause, relieving the doctor of liability.
Proving cause of injury in Texas is particularly difficult in the context of a medical negligence case. This is because the knowledge required to understand the context of the medical negligence and resulting injuries is extensive. Therefore, it is the job of the plaintiff (or more specifically, the plaintiff’s attorney) to introduce evidence for the benefit of the judge and the jury which tells the story of the negligence and the resulting injury. Such evidence most often comes in the form of medical expert testimony. Your attorney can secure the testimony of a medical expert to help you demonstrate your case.
Proving Damages from Injury in a Texas Medical Negligence Case
Just because a doctor acted negligently in their care of a patient does not mean that the patient can recover damages in a lawsuit against the doctor. The patient must prove in court that the negligence created or exacerbated specific injuries for which the patient could be compensated.
Reasons for compensation in a medical negligence case in Texas are called “damages.” The court will calculate damages in order to determine how much a defendant in a medical negligence case might owe the plaintiff. Texas courts will consider a number of different categories for the purpose of calculating damages.
Patients may be compensated for the medical costs of repairing the injuries caused by the negligence. Potential plaintiffs should record all the costs of subsequent procedures, hospital stays, and other medical services required as a result of the injury for introduction as evidence for damages.
If the injury caused the patient to miss out on work, a court may order the defendant to cover any lost wages that the patient incurred. For long-term injuries, courts may consider a loss in earning power or missed opportunities for promotion into their calculations.
Finally, courts will consider the patient’s pain and suffering resulting from the injuries. Texas law requires that courts take into account the physical and emotional trauma that medical negligence may cause a patient. If your injuries are accompanied by physical manifestations such as scars, courts will take into account the impact that your scars may have on your social life, personal relationships, and the consequences of having a daily reminder of your experience.
How Can an Attorney Help Prove a Medical Negligence Case in Texas?
As we mentioned before, medical negligence cases can be particularly complex due to the subject matter of the case. Few people outside of the health care industry have the requisite knowledge or expertise to fully understand the appropriate standard of care or the prognosis of injuries resulting from negligence in a particular instance. Our Dallas medical malpractice injury attorneys can prepare expert testimony and compile provider documentation as evidence in order to paint a clear picture of what happened.
Some health care professionals (or their insurance providers) may decide to offer a medical negligence plaintiff a settlement deal. Medical negligence settlements are deals where the defendant in a lawsuit agrees to pay the plaintiff a certain amount of money in exchange for the plaintiff’s waiving of their right to sue.
While settlements can be the optimal path for plaintiffs in many circumstances, it is important that you fully understand all of your options before signing away any of your legal rights. Medical provider insurers are obligated to look out for their own bottom line, which motivates them to provide you with as small of a settlement as they can get away with. Our Houston medical malpractice injury attorneys can explain the terms of a settlement, examine the language, and negotiate on your behalf, so that you come away with the most favorable deal available.
Call Our Dallas Medical Malpractice Injury Attorneys for a Free Legal Consultation
If you or a loved one was harmed by medical care that fell below the standards your doctor should have followed, you may be entitled to compensation. By filing a medical malpractice lawsuit for your injuries or the death of a loved one, you may be able to get the financial compensation you need. Talk to an experienced Fort Worth personal injury lawyer at The Queenan Law Firm today to set up a free legal consultation on your case. Our phone number is (817) 476-1797.