What are the Elements of a Malpractice Case?

In a medical malpractice case, there are four essential elements that the plaintiff must prove: 1) At the time of the act or omission complained of, there existed a physician/patient relationship; 2) the standard of care required of the allegedly negligent physician practicing in his particular specialty; 3) a deviation from the standard of care governing the physician's particular specialty; and 4) harm to the plaintiff proximately caused by the deviation from the standard of care. The plaintiff must prove each and every one of these elements in order to recover damages.


What Duty Does a Doctor Owe a Patient?

Negligence is the violation of a legal duty which one person owes to another. In malpractice cases, "the plaintiff has the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that the alleged actions of the health care provider represented a breach of the prevailing professional standard of care for that health care provider. The prevailing professional standard of care for a given health care provider shall be that level of care, skill and treatment which, in light of all relevant surrounding circumstances, is recognized as acceptable and appropriate by reasonably prudent similar health care providers." The law does not expect from a doctor the highest degree of care and skill known to the profession. Rather, the test is whether the doctor exercised that level of care, skill and diligence which was exercised by physicians in the same specialty under the same circumstances at the time. See Conn. Gen. Stat. ? 52-184c.


Is a Poor Result Evidence of Negligence?

No. A doctor does not guarantee a good medical result nor does he or she impliedly promise to do work free from any and all complications that may be encountered with a particular patient. A poor medical result is not, in itself, evidence of any wrongdoing. The law does not judge the results, but rather the conduct of the doctor. If the doctor treats the patient in accordance with the standard of care then he or she has fulfilled his or her obligation to the patient. Under CT law, the plaintiff must prove what the standard is and breach of the standard of care by expert testimony. Causation must also be proven by expert testimony.


What is the Causation Requirement in a Malpractice Case?

Legal cause has two components: cause in fact and proximate cause. A cause in fact is an actual cause. The test for cause in fact is, simply, "Would the injury have occurred without the defendant's negligence?" If so, then the defendant's negligence was not a cause in fact of the plaintiff's injuries. A proximate cause is an act or failure to act which is a substantial factor in producing a result. There must be an unbroken sequence of events that ties the claimed injuries to the doctor's conduct that was negligent. A cause in fact that is a substantial factor in the resulting harm is a proximate cause of that harm.


What if Multiple Factors Result in the Injury?

Under our law, negligent conduct can be a proximate cause of an injury if it is not the only cause, or even the most significant cause of the injury, provided it contributes materially to the production of the injury, and thus is a substantial factor in bringing it about. Therefore, when a defendant's negligence combines together with one or more other causes to produce an injury, such negligence is a proximate cause of the injury if its contribution to the production of the injury, in comparison to all other causes, is material or substantial.