Imagine this: You see a neighbor — a local family doctor — at a social gathering at your church. You mention to them that you’ve been feeling short of breath and run-down. They tell you that you’re probably pushing yourself too hard lately and need to get some rest. You collapse a few days later because you have a serious heart arrhythmia.
Can you sue that doctor for medical malpractice? In this example, probably not. In order for a case to be viable, malpractice plaintiffs must be able to prove the following:
The provider owed the plaintiff a duty of care
In other words, you must show that you had some kind of doctor-patient relationship. A casual mention of your concerns in a public setting to a doctor who had never treated you before doesn’t establish any kind of legal obligation on the doctor’s part toward you.
The provider must have breached that duty
This happens when the doctor gives you less than a reasonable standard of care for the given situation. What exactly is considered “reasonable” varies from place to place and situation to situation. For example, a general practitioner in a rural area wouldn’t be held to the same high standard as a cardiac specialist in a major medical facility.
You suffered an injury of some sort from the provider’s breach of their duty
There must be some proximate link between the provider’s mistake and your injuries. Medical mistakes happen all the time, and they may inconvenience or frustrate patients a lot — but not all of those mistakes lead to actual injuries.
You suffered damages (losses) as a result of your injuries
Your losses may be calculated in different ways. In some cases, patients may have their health permanently damaged. In others, they may lose their last chance to get effective treatment for a condition that quickly becomes terminal.
Medical malpractice claims are always complicated. Knowing the basics of how the law works can help you understand how the court may see your case, but it’s always best to seek legal guidance.