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What is Medical Malpractice Litigation?

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  • Written By: Alexis W.
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 21 October 2018
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Medical malpractice litigation refers to the body of lawsuits brought against doctors and physicians resulting from a breach of a doctor's legal duty. When doctors provide care, they are required to do several things: they are required to diagnose properly, obtain informed consent from the patient, and perform all medical care with the competence of a reasonably capable doctor. If a doctor fails at any of these legal duties, he may be subject to medical malpractice litigation.

The standard applied to determine whether a doctor is guilty of medical malpractice litigation is the reasonable doctor standard. This means if a reasonably capable physician would have provided better medical care than the physician in question did, the doctor can be held legally liable for the breach. The patient who was injured and who wishes to engage in medical malpractice litigation generally also must prove that the doctor's breach of duty was the actual or proximate cause of some type of injury, and that the injury caused damages he may recover from. In other words, if a patient would have suffered the same damages or fate, even if the doctor had behaved perfectly appropriately, then medical malpractice litigation is not appropriate.

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When a plaintiff believes he was the victim of medical malpractice, he generally will hire a medical malpractice attorney. This is a form of personal injury attorney and many malpractice attorneys will work on a contingency fee basis. The plaintiff and his attorney will then build a case; often, this relies heavily on calling expert physician witnesses who can testify that the doctor in question did in fact behave below the level of a reasonable standard of care.

There is some controversy in the United States associated with medical malpractice litigation. Many physicians complain about the high costs of obtaining medical malpractice insurance. In response to widespread requests for "tort reform" — or changes to the rules — from the medical community, some states, such as California, have imposed limits on the amount of non-compensatory damages available in a medical malpractice case. According to California Civil Code § 3333.2, plaintiffs can recover a maximum of $250,000 US Dollars (USD) for non-compensatory damages; this type of damage is defined as pain and suffering, emotional distress, punitive damages or any other monetary damages not designed to specifically compensate for actual financial losses such as lost wages and medical bills. Other states have similar restrictions imposed.

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