Elements of a Medical Malpractice Claim – Causation


In a medical malpractice case, the injured party (the plaintiff) has the burden of proof on the issue of causation.  This means that the plaintiff must prove that a healthcare provider’s (a defendant’s) negligence caused an injury or death which likely would not have occurred if the defendant was not negligent.  If a defendant was negligent, but the outcome would have been the same anyway, the plaintiff can’t prove causation and the defendant wins.

The parties in a lawsuit generally will have one or more competing expert witnesses testify about causation.  A plaintiff’s experts will generally explain why they believe an injury or death was caused by the negligence.  The defendant’s experts will say the injury or death was not caused by negligence, or that the injury or death would have occurred even of the defendant was not negligent.

Causation can be difficult to prove because it frequently involves subjective assessments by an expert about how a medical condition would have evolved if a defendant took different approach to treating it.  Jurors often perceive this uncertainty as something less than proof.

In addition, the more causation experts there are, the more complicated a case is likely to be.  The more complicated the case, the more likely a jury is to become confused and the more difficult it is for a plaintiff to prove causation.  If the jury can’t decide whether the negligence made a difference, the defendant wins.

Experts testifying about causation can rely on a variety of sources of information to support their opinions, most frequently medical literature.  Those opinions, however, must be based on the application of reliable medical principles.  Causation can be especially difficult to establish in cases involving medical conditions which are not well understood because it is difficult to make scientific predictions about the outcome, regardless of the treatment rendered.

Lawyers handling medical negligence cases must have access to the very best medical professionals to testify about causation.  The credentials of the causation expert witness, including his or her educational background, publishing history, experience, teaching, and recognition in the medical community plays an important role in juror perceptions.  Perhaps even more important is the appearance of the expert.  Is the expert likeable?  Is he or she able to communicate well with a jury?  Can the expert explain difficult medical concepts in simple terms that jurors can understand?  Highly-regarded, well-credentialed medical experts who meet all of these criteria are to win any medical negligence case.  Our firm has relationships with many such experts and the ability to identify and retain the very best on any particular subject.

Here is a detailed explanation of the other two basic elements of a medical malpractice claim:

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