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Why medical malpractice may not always be based on human error

In a number of our posts, we have highlighted the notion that some physicians believe that they are not mistake prone. Essentially that there is a culture that doctors should not confront their colleagues about mistakes made in treating (or diagnosing) patients. This rigidity about making (or being accountable) for mistakes is particularly troubling, especially when the specter of human error is simply a part of life.

But what happens if human error is not the cause of an adverse medical outcome? What if such an outcome is the result of faulty equipment?

This is a question that may come up in the midst of a medical malpractice investigation (much less a lawsuit). In order for a plaintiff to prevail in a malpractice action, he or she must show that but for a doctor’s negligence, the injuries or ailments the plaintiff now suffers from would not have occurred.

Of course, proving a medical malpractice claim is not always so simple. A plaintiff must show that the physician did not act in the same manner as a doctor with similar training and experience would have acted in similar circumstances. This basically means that another doctor would have to testify about the offending physician’s mistakes (or incompetence) which is not easily obtained.

This level of difficulty increases when the specter of faulty equipment is considered. After all, a doctor should be able to rely on the equipment he or she uses to do their job. But if the misdiagnosis or injury is due to faulty equipment, the nature of the suit may change. 

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