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What are the legal elements of a hospital negligence claim?

After an illness or injury, a person will try to get treatment from the best possible medical facility. Those people trust the hospital to take adequate care of them. However, for many patients and their families, the stay at the hospital can be a devastated experience owing to someone's negligence.

Maryland laws recognize hospital negligence as an offense and victims of such negligence can seek a legal solution. However, in order to obtain compensation for an act of negligence, the victim needs to establish certain basic elements of a negligence case. Those elements pertain to duty, breach of duty, cause in fact, proximate cause and damages. For a successful claim, knowledge of the five elements is essential.

In many negligence cases, the outcome largely depends on the first element, which is duty. This is because a compensation claim is only valid when the defendant -- such as the hospital -- has a responsibility toward the patient. That responsibility is usually determined by the judge rather than the jury.

The next element is breach of duty. In a typical hospital negligence case, it needs to be established that the actions of the doctors, nurses and other hospital staff committed a breach of duty, which led to harming the patient. In hospital negligence case, the element is usually determined by the jury.

When it comes to cause, in fact, it is the patient's responsibility to prove that the actions of the hospital staff were the reason behind the person's injury or illness. In other words, it means that if the hospital's actions did not occur, the patient would not have been harmed.

Proximate cause pertains to the hospital's scope of responsibility. In other words, the hospital is only responsible for the risks that it can foresee. For those cases in which the hospital cannot foresee risks, it is not responsible as it may not be possible for the patient to prove such responsibility.

Finally, a victim of hospital negligence must prove that the actions of the hospital led to legally recognized damages, such as aggravation of an existing condition. Here, it is important to remember that establishing the fact that the hospital was negligent is not sufficient for a successful claim unless the patient is also able to prove that the hospital's negligence actually caused the damages.

Source: FindLaw, "Elements of a Negligence Case," Accessed on Aug. 20, 2015

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