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Medical Malpractice And Proximate Cause

By Expert Author: R. Klettke

“It wasn’t my fault!” That sentiment may be the familiar response of a school-age child when something goes awry. But it is also the essential point that a defendant may try to make while facing a medical malpractice lawsuit, particularly when a number of people and institutions have some connection to the injury. The legal principle is “proximate fault”, meaning the responsible party had some role in causing a medical injury. While it sounds and is a complex affair to sort out, personal injury attorneys who specialize in medical malpractice cases (also called a “medical malpractice lawyer”) are very good at sorting out and assigning blame.

Sometimes the protestation holds true, and sometimes it does not. Proximate cause is about a chain reaction, where Party A does something that affects Party B that in turn adversely affects Party C. A case in point might be when a hospital, in a cost-cutting move, reduces the size of its nursing and other allied health professional staff. A patient receives inadequate attention because of this reduced staff, and then suffers brain damage because a respirator was improperly monitored. The principle of proximate cause lays blame on the hospital itself for failing to provide services required by the standard of care.

Proximate cause can also prove innocence. This happens when a mistake is made but which had no bearing on the injury. For example, if a doctor prescribed a medication to that patient, but due to an error at the hospital pharmacy (perhaps misreading the doctor’s handwritten prescription) the wrong medication was administered – and yet the wrong medication had no ill effect on the patient. Through testimony of an expert medical witness, the disconnection between the doctor and patient, and pharmacy and patient, can be made. The accident might still attributed to understaffing by the hospital.

Note that if, instead, the incorrect medication is found by the court (through expert testimony) to have contributed to the patient’s injury, the principle of contributory negligence could lay partial blame on the doctor and perhaps the pharmacy, along with the hospital.

How proximate cause affects a malpractice settlement

Under medical malpractice laws in California, as in most states, the originator of the medical error bears full or partial responsibility for compensating the victim.

When a qualified medical malpractice attorney is hired, a proper investigation to determine where to place blame will be conducted. Experienced attorneys know what to investigate, which party or parties are responsible and how they might construction their defense. This experience is crucial to achieving the best settlement. Due to a one-year statute of limitations, it is important to contact a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible after the injury occurs or is discovered.

R. Klettke is a freelance writer. He writes about personal injury and medical malpractice law and other matters of jurisprudence.

Important Advisory: This article is not intended to provide legal advice upon which you or anyone else should rely in making any decisions regarding the instituting or prosecuting of a legal claim. Laws and rules relating to the bringing of a claim vary widely from state to state. You should always contact a personal injury attorney to obtain information as to the rules and the laws pertaining to any claim you might have.

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