Birth injury cases are a type of medical malpractice case. A medical malpractice case may be a civil lawsuit, in which the patients sue the doctor or other medical care providers for money. In extreme cases, the state may also decide to bring a criminal suit, which can lead to fines or jail time. In this guide, we’ll talk only about civil cases.
Medical malpractice cases may be filed against doctors, nurses, hospitals, clinics, and other care providers. In this guide, we’ll use “doctors” to refer to all possible defendants.
In order to win a civil medical malpractice case, you must prove four major elements.
The Four Prongs Of Medical Malpractice Cases
The law is designed to try to make medical malpractice cases as fair as possible. Injured patients should be compensated for their losses and doctors should be protected from fake or malicious cases. The need for a balance between the interests of patients and doctors has led to the current framework for medical malpractice cases.
To win a medical malpractice case, you must prove the existence of an injury, the existence of a duty, negligence on the part of the doctor, and causation.
It may seem obvious, but you’ll need to provide proof of an injury in order to win a medical malpractice case. Without an injury, you can’t claim compensation even if your doctor did act recklessly or negligently (although the state may still bring a criminal case). This is true of any civil case – you have to have a “claim for which relief can be granted.” If there was no injury, you don’t need any relief.
The injury doesn’t have to be permanent in order to meet this requirement. An injury that eventually healed still caused medical bills, pain and suffering, and other costs.
The Duty Of Care
Doctors take the Hippocratic Oath when they start practice. They swear to treat patients ethically and to the best of their ability. Of course, the Hippocratic Oath is not a law. It would be very difficult to enforce a law based on doctors’ ethical obligations. Instead, the law holds that doctors have a “duty of care” to their patients.
The duty of care requires doctors to treat their patients with the care and skill that a reasonable doctor would use under the same circumstances. Doctors are free to go above and beyond that level but can’t do less.
The duty of care only applies to patients. Imagine you’re at a football game with a famous heart surgeon sitting a few rows away when you have a heart attack. The surgeon is not required by law to do anything to help you. If the surgeon voluntarily starts to help you, you become a patient. From that point on, the surgeon is bound by the duty of care. By treating you, the surgeon has created a “doctor-patient relationship” and is now liable for medical malpractice if she fails to uphold the duty of care while she treats you.
In birth injury cases, the existence of a duty of care is usually easy to prove. If your OBGYN examined you at your prenatal visits, ran tests on you or the baby, or was involved in your delivery, that creates a doctor-patient relationship and she owes you a duty of care.
“Negligence” is a technical legal term. In general, it refers to failure to take reasonable care to avoid hurting someone or damaging property. In the context of a medical malpractice case, it refers to a doctor’s failure to meet the duty of care to a patient. The duty of care, as described above, requires doing what a hypothetical reasonable doctor would do under the same circumstances. The actions of the hypothetical reasonable doctor make up the “standard of care.” Essentially, the standard of care is what your doctor should be doing.
There is no list of actions required by the standard of care. Instead, it comes from a general consensus in the medical field about the best practices for treating a given condition. In a birth injury lawsuit, a doctor in the same field as the doctor you’re suing will act as an expert witness to explain the standard of care. The expert witness may be an OBGYN, a neonatologist (doctor for babies), or a doctor with a similar specialty. She’ll talk about the safety and treatment standards that are accepted within the field.
The court will compare evidence of the standard of care from your expert witness with evidence of your doctor’s actions (from medical records, witnesses, and other sources) to determine if your doctor failed to meet her duty of care to you and your baby.
The final element of a medical malpractice case is “causation.” You must show that your doctor’s negligence caused your child’s injury. The link may be more or less direct, depending on the circumstances, but there must be a link. If your doctor negligently cut your baby’s cord too early but that didn’t cause your baby’s injuries, that doesn’t meet the requirement of causation. If your doctor negligently twisted your baby’s neck too hard during delivery and caused a spinal cord injury, that does meet the requirement of causation. The injury must be caused by the doctor’s failure to uphold the duty of care.
In addition to these elements, a medical malpractice case must have all the trappings of any civil lawsuit. The case must be filed in the proper manner with the proper evidence. You’ll need to appear in court when it’s required. You’ll need to comply with any orders the court gives over the course of the case. Your lawyer will take care of most of these details for you, but remember that mistakes can cost you your case even when the evidence is clear.
Statute Of Limitations
The statute of limitations is a crucial consideration for a birth injury case. The statute of limitations is a law that limits the amount of time you have to file a particular kind of case. After the statute of limitations has run, you lose the right to sue.
Statutes of limitations for birth injury cases are determined on a state level. Most states give you a couple of years after you discover the injury to file the case. If the injury was apparent when your baby was born, the countdown starts on that day. If you didn’t learn about the injury until your child started school and was diagnosed with a learning disability, the countdown starts when you learn of the injury.
Why File A Birth Injury Case?
As you can see, birth injury cases are complicated. They require a lot of evidence and often a lot of complex legal arguments. However, a birth injury lawsuit can give you the compensation you need to make sure your child gets needed medical care, therapy, and support. No lawsuit can undo your child’s injury, but the money you win can ease the financial burden and let you focus on being a parent.