How to Prove Causation in a Medical Malpractice Claim?
Medical malpractice is when a health care professional falls short of the expected standards of care when treating a patient. If a negligent or careless medical provider injures a patient, the victim can file a medical malpractice claim in pursuit of financial compensation. Causation is one of the key elements that will need to be proven for a successful case.
What Is Causation?
Causation in personal injury law is a cause-and-effect relationship, specifically between the defendant’s negligence and the plaintiff’s injuries. It is the act or process of causing the injury or harm in question – the influence that the defendant’s act or omission had on the plaintiff’s safety or health. If a defendant failed to use an adequate level of care when treating a patient and this produces the patient’s injury or harm, it can be said that causation is present.
Actual vs. Proximate Cause
In a legal context, there are two main types of causation: actual cause and proximate cause. Actual cause is also referred to as “cause in fact.” It is what actually caused the victim’s injury or illness. In a medical malpractice case involving a birth injury, for example, the doctor’s incorrect use of forceps may be the actual cause of the infant’s fractured skull.
The proximate cause is the legal cause of a plaintiff’s injury or harm. Proximate cause deals with liability, or legal responsibility. Proximate cause may not be what directly caused a victim’s injuries but may still be viewed as the legal cause. For example, the doctor that incorrectly used forceps may not have been properly trained by the hospital. If this were the case, inadequate training would be the proximate cause while incorrect use of forceps would be the actual cause.
What Are the Four Factors Necessary to Prove Causation in a Medical Malpractice Claim?
A medical malpractice claim relies on evidence that the doctor or defendant was negligent and that this more likely than not caused the patient’s injury. This is known as a preponderance of the evidence, and it is the burden of proof in all personal injury claims. Proving that the defendant caused the plaintiff’s injuries in a medical malpractice claim requires evidence of four elements:
- A doctor-patient relationship existed, establishing a duty of care.
- The defendant breached his or her duty of care.
- The defendant’s breach directly caused the plaintiff’s injury.
- Actual damages were suffered by the plaintiff as a result of the breach.
Causation is typically the most difficult element to prove in a medical malpractice claim. The defense may try to argue that while the plaintiff suffered harm, it was not caused by the defendant. The plaintiff’s medical records may be used to try to show that he or she was already ill, for example. You may need a medical malpractice attorney to help you prove causation.
Medical Expert Testimony and Causation
One of the strongest pieces of evidence in a medical malpractice claim is typically medical expert testimony. These are statements provided by someone who is an expert in a subject relevant to the claim, such as a licensed health care practitioner in the same field as the defendant. Medical experts can be hired to explain elements such as the duty of care or the cause of the plaintiff’s injuries. Medical expert testimony can be especially crucial for proving causation.
In Kentucky, using a medical expert is a legal requirement when filing a medical malpractice claim. A certificate of merit must be filed alongside the initial complaint. This is a legal document signed by a medical expert after he or she has reviewed the facts of the case and formed the opinion that the plaintiff has grounds for a medical malpractice lawsuit.
For more information about the requirements for proving causation in a medical malpractice claim, contact us for a free case review with a knowledgeable attorney.