Massachusetts Medical Malpractice Law
Medical malpractice describes a specialized tort (negligence suit) in which a medical professional fails to act with the appropriate standard of care towards a patient in the provision of medical care and treatment. As a result of this failure, the patient incurs injuries for which the medical professional must compensate the injured party. A plaintiff in a medical malpractice case must establish that the defendant doctor owed a duty towards the plaintiff, that the doctor breached that duty, and thereby caused an injury for which the plaintiff can receive compensation.
In Massachusetts medical malpractice cases a plaintiff establishes duty by showing that a doctor-patient relationship existed between the defendant doctor and the plaintiff. A doctor-patient relationship arises when the doctor participates in the treatment and care of the patient. The plaintiff must establish that the doctor-patient relationship existed at the time the plaintiff suffered the injury central to the case.
The breach of a doctor's duty, otherwise known as negligence, consists of a failure of the defendant doctor to exercise the skill and care of the average qualified physician. The degree of skill and care depends upon the doctor's specialty as well as the contemporaneous advances in the profession and resources available to the physician.
In Massachusetts, as in many other states, a plaintiff who wishes to pursue a medical malpractice suit must appear before a Medical Malpractice Tribunal, which determines the viability of the claim. If the tribunal finds insufficient evidence to warrant a trial, then the plaintiff must post a six thousand dollar bond prior to pursuing the claim through the ordinary judicial process. If the tribunal finds sufficient evidence to raise triable issues concerning liability then the state does not require a six thousand dollar bond before proceeding to court.
ELEMENTS OF A MALPRACTICE SUIT
To recover in a medical malpractice suit, the law requires the plaintiff to establish the four elements of the claim. In some cases, the defendant may stipulate or admit the existence of certain elements, while still denying that malpractice occurred. For instance, in many cases the parties do not dispute the existence of the doctor-patient relationship the defendant doctor stipulates, or admits, that the doctor treated the plaintiff. The defendant may argue, however, that no injury resulted from the doctor's treatment, or that the doctor acted in a manner commensurate with the degree of skill and care of the average qualified physician.
In general, a plaintiff must prove: 1) the existence of a doctor-patient relationship; 2) the standard of medical care the defendant doctor owed the plaintiff in the particular circumstances; 3) the defendant doctor breached that standard of medical care or, in other words, acted negligently; 4) the plaintiff suffered injuries; and 5) the defendant doctor's negligence contributed or caused the plaintiff's injuries. If the plaintiff proves each of these elements by a preponderance of the evidence, then the plaintiff is entitled to recover.
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Other common forms of medical negligence include: failure to diagnose stroke and heart attack, other forms of cancer, improper medication, and foreign objects left behind during surgery.
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