While some medical errors are unavoidable, and things go wrong even when the utmost skill and care is used, doctors and other health care providers can be held legally responsible for any injuries that result from the provision of negligent or sub-standard care to patients. If you decide to file a personal injury lawsuit against a doctor, it will most likely be under a legal theory known as medical malpractice.
Compared with other personal injury lawsuits, medical malpractice lawsuits are fairly complex in terms of what you’ll need to prove. That includes from a liability standpoint (showing exactly what the doctor did wrong in providing medical treatment) and in terms of how you were harmed.
In most medical malpractice cases, your attorney will consult and retain an expert medical witness who usually has some level of expertise in the same medical field in which your doctor practices. This expert is usually counted on to offer an opinion on three main issues (among others):
1) the kind of care that the doctor should have provided under the circumstances -- taking into consideration all relevant factors including your health condition and the generally accepted treatment practices and standards in the medical field
2) exactly how your doctor’s conduct fell short of meeting the standard of care that a reasonably skilled physician would have provided under similar circumstances, and
3) the harm you suffered as a result of the provision of sub-standard care (damages).
Proving medical negligence in these cases is inherently difficult and technical work. Furthermore, juries tend to favor the doctor in medical malpractice trials, making winning a lawsuit – or even a settlement -- against a doctor tricky. This is why these types of personal injury cases are often referred to lawyers whose regular caseload includes a good portion of medical malpractice cases. You’ll need an experienced attorney to successfully sue a doctor.
To learn more about the obstacles that must be overcome to win a medical malpractice lawsuit, see The Challenges in Winning a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit.
It may not be so easy to file a personal injury lawsuit against a hospital or other health care facility, if what went wrong was limited to the quality of medical treatment you received from a doctor. That’s because in many cases, a physician is not an employee of the hospital, but an independent contractor. So, the hospital may not bear the kind of vicarious liability that typically exists in an employer-employee relationship.
For more on what you'll need to prove in a personal injury lawsuit against a hospital, see this page.