Posted On February 28, 2023

Which Element of Malpractice Is Hardest to Prove?

Medical malpractice cases are generally difficult to prove, but the element of malpractice that is hardest to prove is usually causation. Causation is the aspect of a malpractice claim that shows the medical provider’s action was a direct cause of the patient’s injury. Medical malpractice cases are often complex due to the nature of patient injuries and patient harm caused by those injuries. 

Elements of Negligence in Malpractice Claims

All types of personal injury claims can be difficult to prove based on the nature of the victim’s injuries and who is responsible for those injuries. While the exact cause of car accidents, slip and falls, and physical attacks can be difficult to prove without video evidence or eyewitnesses, visible damages can clearly be established. 

Tort law is a body of law that creates and provides remedies for civil wrongs that are distinct from contractual duties or criminal wrongs. This law is what provides the grounds for financial recovery when a victim sustains damages. In a typical personal injury claim, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant’s actions were negligent, the defendant’s negligence caused the plaintiff’s injuries, and the defendant’s negligence led to the plaintiff’s damages.

Medical malpractice claims differ from personal injury claims because medical professionals automatically have a duty of care to their patients. This duty of care is held to a much higher standard than the duty of care owed by individuals in personal injury cases. Medical professionals, including doctors, nurses, surgeons, dentists, EMTs, and even hospitals and clinics, are expected to protect their patients from harm while those patients are under their care.

Similar to personal injury cases, there are four basic requirements for a medical malpractice claim:

  1. The existence of a legal duty on the part of the medical professional to provide medical care or treatment to the patient that meets reasonable standards
  2. The breach of this duty by a failure of the treating medical professional to adhere to the standards of the medical profession
  3. The existence of an injury or illness caused by the medical professional’s breach of duty
  4. Damages resulting directly from the injuries or illness sustained by the patient

Medical malpractice is defined as any act or omission by a physician during the treatment of a patient that deviates from accepted norms of practice in the medical community. To amount to malpractice, such an act or omission must cause an injury to the patient.

In the United States, medical malpractice claims are quite common. However, they may not be successful unless the injured patient can prove that the medical professional’s actions were negligent and that the negligence was a cause of the patient’s injury. 

Negligence is generally defined as conduct that falls short of a standard. The most commonly used standard in tort law is that of a so-called reasonable person. The reasonable person standard was created, so the law has a reference point for reasonable conduct that a person in similar circumstances would act with to protect another person from a foreseeable risk of harm. 

Which Element of Malpractice Is Hardest to Prove?

In medical malpractice cases, causation is usually the most difficult element to prove. To prove causation in any type of negligence action, you must prove two things: 1)The negligent action was the actual cause of harm, and 2)The negligent action was the proximate cause of harm. Additionally, it is important to remember that there can be more than one responsible cause of an injury. 

Actual cause is a necessary element for both liability in civil cases and criminal cases. In both types of cases, the actual cause is determined by the but-for-cause test, which asks this question: “But for the existence of X, would Y have occurred?” This question addresses causation, explaining which element of malpractice is hardest to prove and why.

You can think of the actual cause as the cause in fact of the injury. In other words, did the negligent action actually cause harm? Although this fact may seem obvious, courts do not assume actual cause, it must be established through proof. 

Courts use the but-for cause test in a medical malpractice claim by asking, “But for the defendant’s actions, would the injury have occurred?” In other words, if the medical professional had not acted as he or she did, would the patient’s injury have occurred? If the answer is yes, then the defendant’s action is not responsible for harm caused to the patient.

Proximate Cause

Proximate cause deals with the foreseeable aspect of causation. Essentially, the law states that it is not fair or correct to hold a person responsible or liable for harm that is not foreseeable. In medical malpractice cases, the harm must be a foreseeable result of an act to fulfill the requirement of proximate cause.

For medical malpractice cases that fall under tort law, proof of both actual cause and proximate cause is required. In the absence of either of these, a party cannot be held liable for injuries or damages. This is a significant factor in the element of malpractice that is hardest to prove.

The issue of causation often becomes complicated because numerous factors may contribute to a patient’s injuries. In some cases, medical professionals claim that patient injuries are directly related to the patient’s underlying health condition or illness, rather than any negligent act on their behalf.  

Medical malpractice claims often rely on the testimony of experts who conduct careful examinations of the facts that help to establish the actual cause and proximate cause of the patient’s injury. Both judges and juries in court trials rely on expert conclusions to decide medical malpractice cases.

Filing a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit in Indiana

If you suffer injuries caused by a medical procedure or treatment, you may be entitled to file a lawsuit against the responsible party or parties and collect compensation for your injuries. Your first question will likely be, “How do I know if I have a medical malpractice case?” 

In Indiana, medical malpractice is defined as an action or omission that is committed by a healthcare professional that causes harm to a patient. Generally, a medical malpractice case arises from procedures or treatments diagnosed and administered by a medical professional that result in patient injuries. Whether injuries are caused by medical errors, omissions, or negligence, the end result is some type of patient harm.

Indiana features some of the country’s most restrictive medical malpractice laws. Indiana uses the Indiana Medical Malpractice Act to govern all related incidents, which often creates challenges for many types of claims. 

If you need to file a claim, make sure you are following all state guidelines. It is best to talk to an Indiana medical malpractice lawyer who can provide answers to your questions and help you file a successful medical malpractice lawsuit against the responsible party.

How Long Do I Have to File a Lawsuit?

If you believe you were harmed as a patient by medical negligence or medical malpractice in Indiana, you must file a lawsuit within two years after the alleged incident occurred. In cases where the injured patient is a child younger than six years of age, the lawsuit may be filed any time before the child’s eighth birthday. If this timeline is missed, Indiana will not extend the deadline unless exceptions apply.

The two-year statute of limitations also applies to filing proposed complaints for a Medical Panel Review, which Indiana requires before most medical malpractice cases can move forward. However, the lawsuit filing deadline is suspended during the Medical Panel Review process.

Medical Review Panel

In Indiana, a Medical Review Panel process is required, unless the following conditions apply:

  • The plaintiff and the defendant both agree to bypass the Medical Panel Review
  • The plaintiff attaches a copy of a written agreement between both parties to the initial documents, beginning the lawsuit
  • The plaintiff’s complaint includes a declaration that he or she is not seeking more than $15,000 in damages

If you agree to the above requirements and file a medical malpractice lawsuit without a Medical Review Panel, you agree to the findings, unless you discover later that your injuries were more serious than originally thought. In such cases, you may ask to have your case dismissed without prejudice, then start over with the Medical Review Panel process within the original two-year filing deadline.