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Medical malpractice and the standard of negligence

There has been a long-standing attempt by big business and politicians to discredit medical malpractice claims in the public arena. To do this, these corporate cronies suggest that all accusations of medical negligence and serious personal injuries stemming from doctors errors and hospital negligence are nothing more than scams perpetrated by greedy patients to bleed good-hearted health care professionals.

Despite the mostly anecdotal evidence, Maryland readers may be interested to learn that the Journal of the American Medical Association recently reported that medical negligence falls right behind heart disease and cancer as the third leading cause of death in the United States. This includes everything from infections and drug errors to wrong-site surgeries and unexpected complications.

In addition to the heavy human costs patients pay for doctor errors and hospital negligence, these “accidents” cost hospitals more than $3 billion annually, and this does not account for how much the U.S. loses each year in productivity. To provide some perspective concerning the size of this epidemic, there is one medical malpractice payout every 43 minutes in the U.S.

In the U.S., injuries are torts that are either intentional or unintentional. One area of tort law governing unintentional injuries is negligence. Negligence, generally speaking, is a careless act that results in injury. To prove negligence, a plaintiff must establish a standard of care that a reasonable person would be expected to follow and then show that the person deviated from those standards.

In a medical malpractice lawsuit, however, the standard of care is not the reasonable person standard, but what a reasonably prudent medical provider would do under the same or similar circumstances. If medical negligence did in fact occur, the plaintiff must then prove that the negligent act caused the injury.

Source: Forbes, “10 Things You Want To Know About Medical Malpractice,” Demetrius Cheeks, May 16, 2013

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