Most individuals are well aware of the term “medical malpractice”. However, it would be an error to ascribe the basic concept of a “doctor making a mistake” to the term and assume that such a definition will provide clear guidance. Rather, the term “medical malpractice” is a way for attorneys to apply the legal concept of negligence to the medical field.
Medical Malpractice is Negligence in New Jersey
Medical malpractice is a doctor making a mistake, but it is not just any mistake. It is a mistake that rises to the level of negligence. Negligence is generally defined in the following manner:
- One individual owes a duty of care to another individual
- The individual breaches that duty of care by his or her actions
- The other individual is injured by the actions of the first
- The injuries of the individual were caused by the breach of the duty of care by the first
A Doctor’s Duty of Care in New Jersey
Any doctor has the responsibility to his or her patient to make decisions related to care as any other similarly-situated, reasonably prudent doctor would. The goal, in setting this standard, is to ensure that all doctors approach medical situations in a similar manner in order to provide consistency in care. Generally speaking, a reasonably prudent doctor is one that exercises average skill, care, and judgment in making decisions regarding treatment and medical recommendations. It is not required that the doctor be the most skilled, or the most experienced, or the most careful – he or she need only be average.
How Does a Doctor Breach the Duty of Care
If a doctor need only be average, what sort of conduct falls below that standard and results in a breach of duty? That is, ultimately, one of the primary questions in any lawsuit: whether the doctor’s actions were those of an average doctor, or whether they were unlike those that an average doctor would make. There are many examples of actions that could be considered counter to those of an average doctor: recommending an aggressive surgery, cutting an artery or organ during an operation, or diagnosing a condition based on limited information. All of these mistakes could be considered ones that an average doctor would would not make, and could be considered a breach of the duty of care.
A Breach of the Duty of Care Alone is Not Enough
Even if the doctor has acted in a manner that breaches the duty of care, a lawsuit may not be successful. An individual must still show that the doctor’s decision caused him or her an injury – damages, in the legal sense – and those damages must be compensable. The injury could be the loss of an organ due to a wayward scalpel, unexpected complications arising from the aggressive surgery, or an incorrect diagnosis leading to prolonged illness, but there must be an injury in order for there to be a claim.
But Even With Breach of Duty and Injury, There Must Be a Connection
A patient injured by the actions of a doctor who failed to act as an average doctor would seem to have the basis for a lawsuit, but in order to be successful the patient has to prove a link between the actions of the doctor and the harm they suffered. Say the doctor cut a person’s liver by being careless during an operation, damaging the liver and reducing its function. Later, the patient had an adverse reaction to the medications administered during the operation and died. The patient’s family sues the doctor, and points to the wayward scalpel and injury to the liver as damages that should be compensated since the patient is now dead following the surgery. Even though the doctor was careless and damaged the liver, that harm is not compensable, as the person has passed away. Additionally, and most importantly, the individual’s death – the ultimate harm in medical malpractice – was completely unrelated to the doctor’s act of damaging the liver. Therefore, even though a breach of duty and injury exist, there is no connection between the patient’s death and the doctor’s action.
This concept is known as causation, and is one of the most difficult aspects of any negligence claim.
Contact a Haddonfield Medical Malpractice Attorney for a Consultation About Your Medical Malpractice Case in New Jersey
Were you or a loved one injured due to medical malpractice in New Jersey? Then you need to talk to an experienced medical malpractice lawyer as soon as possible for guidance on how to proceed. The Haddonfield medical malpractice attorneys at The Law Offices of Andres & Berger, P.C. are prepared to assist you with your legal claim. We represent victims of negligent surgeons, doctors, nurses, and pharmacists throughout NJ, including Collingswood, Haddon Township, Marlton and Cherry Hill. Call us today at 856-437-4080 or email us to schedule a free consultation. Our main office is located at 264 Kings Highway East Haddonfield, NJ 08033.
The articles on this blog are for informative purposes only and are no substitute for legal advice or an attorney-client relationship. If you are seeking legal advice, please contact our law firm directly.