What is Medical Malpractice?
Medical malpractice is a subset of personal injury. Medical malpractice occurs when a healthcare provider or a medical entity commits a negligent act which causes injury to a patient. Medical malpractice can be caused by a doctor, surgeon, registered nurse, clinician, radiologist, hospital administrator, or any other medical professional.
There are many types of medical malpractice including failure to diagnose, improper treatment, or failure to warn; however, not all medical mistakes rise to the level of medical malpractice. For an act to be considered medical malpractice specific elements must be proven.
What elements are needed to prove Medical Malpractice?
For an act to be considered medical malpractice, the negligent party must have (1) owed the patient a duty of care; (2) breached that duty of care; (3) the breach was both the cause-in-fact and proximate cause of the patient’s injuries; and (4) the patient suffered damages.
It is the injured party’s burden to demonstrate that all four elements have been met and that medical malpractice occurred by a preponderance of evidence. The malpractice must be proven to be “more probably true than not.”
When does a medical provider owe a patient a duty of care?
The first element that must be established in a medical malpractice cause of action is that the medical provider(s) owed a legal duty of care to the injured party. The injured party has the burden of proving that a doctor-patient relationship existed between the injured party and the medical provider at the time the negligent act occurred.
Generally, proving duty of care is straight forward. A doctor-patient relationship may be formed in several ways—the injured party chose to be treated by the medical provider, the medical provider agreed to treat the injured party, the hospital assigned the medical provider to a patient, etc.
Once it has been established that the medical provider owed the injured party a duty of care, the injured party must prove that duty of care was breached.
What is Breach of Duty of Care in a Medical Malpractice Case?
Medical providers must exercise a certain level of skill, expertise, and care. When bringing a medical malpractice case in Arizona, to show breach of duty, you must show that the medical provider failed to exercise that degree of care, skill, and learning expected of a reasonable, prudent health care provider under the same or similar circumstances. This is accomplished through testimonies from other medical providers who share similar skill, training, specialties, certifications, and experience as the negligent medical provider.
The following are a few examples of breach of duty in a medical malpractice case:
- Misdiagnosing a patient’s condition
- Administering incorrect treatment for a patient’s condition.
- Making a serious mistake during treatment (i.e., performing a procedure on the wrong body part)
- Administering incorrect medication or incorrect medication dosage
- Prematurely discharging a patient
- Failing to warn a patient of known risks
- Failing to order adequate tests or failing to properly analyze the tests
As discussed above, a poor medical outcome does not mean a medical provider has breached their duty of care and committed medical malpractice. The medical provider must have deviated from the appropriate standard of care which led to the patient’s injury.
How to Prove Medical Malpractice Caused the Patient Harm?
Once established that the medical provider owed the injured party a duty of care, and breached that duty of care, the next element in a medical malpractice case is proving legal causation.
A medical malpractice case in Arizona requires the breach of duty was both the cause-in-fact and proximate cause of the injuries.
Arizona law holds that cause-in-fact exists if the defendant’s act helped cause the result and if that result would not have happened without the defendant’s act. The medical provider’s negligent act need not have been a large or abundant cause of the final result; there is liability if the result would not have occurred but for the medical professional’s negligence conduct, even if that conduct contributed only a little to the injured party’s injuries.
In addition to proving cause-in-fact, an injured party in a medical malpractice action must also show proximate causation. See A.R.S. § 12–563(2). The injured party must present facts from which negligence and a causal relation between the injury and the medical provider’s acts may be reasonably inferred. Typically, this means that the injured party’s injuries are a foreseeable consequence of the negligence act.
How to Prove Damages in a Medical Malpractice Case?
The final step to proving medical malpractice in Arizona is showing that the injured party suffered some form of damage or loss because of the medical provider’s breach of duty. There is no cap on the amount of damages recoverable. Arizona’s constitution specifically prohibits limitations on damages in civil cases for personal injury. (Ariz. Const., art. II, § 31).
In Arizona there are three types of damages that can be collected in a medical malpractice lawsuit:
- Economic Damages
Economic Damages, otherwise known as special damages, include past and future loss of income, cost of medical treatment, and any other financial losses due to the medical negligence in question. These economic damages can also include expenses such as prescriptions, physical therapy, lost earnings capacity, and more.
- Non-Economic Damages
Non-economic damages, otherwise known as general damages, include:
- Pain and Suffering: These damages include but are not limited to psychological trauma, time lost, decreased quality of life caused by the defendant. Physical pain, discomfort, anxiety, and mental anguish are also elements of pain and suffering caused by the malpractice. These are just some of the key components that you can claim.
- Loss of Consortium: Loss of love, care, affection, companionship, and other pleasures of the marital or parent-child relationship.
- Punitive Damages
Punitive damages may be available if the medical negligence is a result of reckless or intentional behavior by the medical provider. Typically, punitive damages are only granted in extremely egregious cases. In Arizona, punitive damages will only be awarded if the injured party can provide the medical providers wrongful conduct was guided by “evil motives.” See Rawlings v. Apodaca, 151 Ariz. 149, 162, 726 P.2d 565, 578 (1986).
How Much Does a Medical Malpractice Case Cost?
Medical malpractice claims cost a lot of money (approximately $50,000 – $100,000+) and take a lot of time. Costs incurred include research costs, costs for expert witnesses, filing fees, costs for medical records, etc. Most Plaintiff medical malpractice attorneys work on contingency basis. A contingency fee means that an attorney does not get paid unless a recovery is made.
What is the Statute of Limitations for Medical Malpractice cases in Arizona?
Generally, the statute of limitations for a medical malpractice lawsuit is two years. (Arizona Revised Statutes section 12-542 (1)). However, if the victim is a minor or the victim does not have the mental capacity, then the statute of limitations may be tolled (Arizona Revised Statutes section 12-502). Additionally, depending on specific facts of the case, the discovery rule may apply.
The discovery rule says the statute of limitations for a claim does not begin to run until the injured person knows or should know of the negligent conduct. Under the discovery rule followed in Arizona, the cause of action does not accrue until the patient knows or should have known that the malpractice occurred. Mayer v. Good Samaritan Hospital, 14 Ariz. App. 248, 482 P.2d 497 (1971).
In any potential medical malpractice claim it is essential to contact an attorney promptly to ensure the proper deadline imposed by the statute of limitations. Check out our more detailed blog regarding statute of limitations in Arizona.
Is Arizona a Comparative Negligence State?
Yes! Arizona follows the doctrine of comparative negligence. Under the doctrine of comparative negligence, a person may recover compensation even if they are up to 99% at fault. Even if you believe that you were partially at fault regarding your claim, if the defendant was at fault as well you may still be entitled to compensation.
Harris, Powers & Cunningham Represents Injury Victims Throughout Arizona
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