What Constitutes Medical Malpractice in California?

Medical professionals can make mistakes. These mistakes can significantly affect the health and well-being of a patient, and they can even result in the loss of life. However, the medical profession deals with the human body, and complications do arise. What exactly constitutes a medical mistake revolves around not whether a person gets better or worse but rather whether or not the medical professional upheld the standard of medical care when providing treatment.

What is the Standard of Medical Care?

Before we delve into the four elements of negligence that must be present in order for a medical malpractice claim to be successful, we want to specifically examine the medical standard of care. Defining this term can be confusing, particularly when it comes to medical malpractice.

The medical standard of care looks at the total level of care that must be provided in a particular situation. This medical standard of care will examine the actions of the provider in question and work to determine whether or not a reasonably competent medical provider with the same or similar level of training would have done the same thing under similar circumstances. 

For example, suppose there is a medical malpractice claim against a cardiac surgeon in San Francisco. When determining whether or not the surgeon upheld the standard of medical care, their actions would be compared to what a similarly trained cardiac surgeon in the US would have done in a similar situation. 

In order to determine whether or not the standard of care was upheld, there will likely need to be multiple medical experts giving their opinion to the insurance carrier or during a medical malpractice trial.

The Four Elements of Negligence

In order to understand what constitutes medical malpractice, we need to look at the four elements of negligence. We want to explain this in a simple way, but please understand how complex these cases are and speak to your medical malpractice attorney before making any decisions about your particular situation.

  1. Duty of Care: The healthcare professional, such as a doctor or nurse, has a responsibility to provide a certain standard of care to the patient (the medical standard of care mentioned above). They should act reasonably and skillfully, just like any competent medical professional would in a similar situation.
  2. Breach of Duty: The healthcare professional fails to meet the expected standard of care. They do something or fail to do something that a reasonably careful medical professional would have done in similar circumstances. This could include errors in diagnosis, treatment, surgery, or providing proper follow-up care.
  3. Causation: The breach of duty by the healthcare professional directly causes harm or injury to the patient. It must be shown that the negligent action (or inaction) of the healthcare professional directly led to the patient’s injury and that injury wouldn’t have occurred otherwise.
  4. Damages: The patient suffers physical, emotional, or financial harm as a result of the healthcare professional’s breach of duty. This harm can include pain and suffering, medical expenses, loss of income, or other measurable damages.

Medical mistakes can occur in a wide variety of ways. This can include failing to take precautions to prevent patient falls, giving the wrong medication, operating on the wrong patient or wrong body part, failing to obtain patient consent, failing to obtain diagnostic testing, misdiagnosis, and more.