We have written many posts on the different types of damages an injured patient may seek in a medical malpractice case. However, we have not touched upon the different elements in such cases that lead to successful claims. Before a medical malpractice suit may be commenced, a physician (or hospital staff member) must owe a duty to a patient.
What exactly is a duty? Essentially a doctor must carry an affirmative responsibility to care for a patient before his actions (and competency) may be judged in a medical malpractice case. This comes by a patient either being assigned to doctor or by a patient seeking out a physician for a particular procedure or an examination.
Keep in mind that this is different from a doctor who sees a stranger in distress in a restaurant. In these situations, a doctor is under no legal duty to act (even though it would be a good and kind gesture to do so). Conversely, once a doctor decides to examine or advise a patient (whether assigned or sought out) a duty attaches.
After a duty attaches, a doctor is charged with using reasonable care in treating his or her patient. This means that the physician must act with the care and diligence of a reasonably competent physician in the same or similar circumstances. For example, a surgeon must act as reasonably skilled surgeon who regularly performs a particular procedure. A general physician may not likely be held to the same standards and skill set.
If you have additional questions about a physician’s duty, an experienced medical malpractice attorney can help.