Four elements for a medical malpractice case in New York

Victims of medical malpractice must establish their case by proving these legal elements.

Everyone makes mistakes. Although some level of mistake is acceptable, there are breaches of trust that are so extreme the person responsible should be held accountable. This is especially true when the breach involves a medical professional that is tasked with providing care to a patient. When the doctor makes a mistake that leads to injury to the patient, that medical professional should be held responsible.

Injured patients can hold negligent or reckless medical providers accountable through a medical malpractice claim.

There are certain rules that go along with these claims. For example, in order to move forward with a claim, basic elements must be established. Having an understanding of the foundational elements to a medical malpractice claim can help patients decide if they should move forward with the claim.

What are the basic elements of a medical malpractice claim?

Medical malpractice is defined within a publication with the United States National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health as "any act or omission by a physician during treatment of a patient that deviates from accepted norms of practice in the medical community and causes an injury to the patient." This definition is broken down into four essential elements:

  • Duty. The patient needs to establish that the medical professional accused of medical malpractice had a duty of care to the patient. This is generally the easiest element to establish; it can be met by showing that a doctor/patient relationship was present.
  • Breach. Next, it must be shown that the physician failed to meet this duty. This requires a review of the accepted standard of care. This is generally defined as the care a reasonable professional in a similar situation with similar training would provide. Expert testimony is often needed to meet this element.
  • Causation. The patient must also show that the failure to fulfill this duty was the cause of the injury.
  • Damage. Finally, it must be established that the medical malpractice resulted in an injury. The court will then use various calculations to determine a monetary award that is designed to help make the patient whole again.

As noted with the second element, most med mal cases require expert testimony. This generally involves the use of someone knowledgeable within the medical community to explain if the physician failed to meet the expected standard of care when working with the patient. This expert is often another physician that practices the same type of medicine.

Are there restrictions to filing a med mal case in New York?

Claims for medical malpractice must be filed in a timely manner. The time limit guiding these claims is referred to as the statute of limitations. Current law requires that lawsuits are filed within 2 ½ years after the alleged malpractice occurred.

It is important to note that this area of law is often changing. A bill is currently under consideration that would extend this time period. The law would result in the statute of limitations time period beginning when the patient realizes that he or she may have been harmed by a physician and extends the deadline to 10 years after the act of malpractice. Those in favor of reform use the example of a cancer patient who was misdiagnosed to support the proposal. They contend that these patients may not be aware that they were victims of med mal until after the 2 ½ time period has expired.

Although the fate of this proposal is not yet known, it provides an example of the evolving nature of this area of law. As such, victims of medical malpractice are often wise to seek the legal counsel of an experienced personal injury attorney. Your attorney will provide rigorous analysis of your situation and build a case to help better ensure your legal rights are protected.