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What do I have to prove in a medical malpractice case?

Medical errors occur all the time, but those who are familiar with the area of medical malpractice know that it is only a fraction of medical errors which ultimately provide the basis for successful medical malpractice lawsuits. There are a variety of reasons for this, but one of the basic reasons is that not every case of medical error involves a fact pattern which is able to satisfy the basic elements of medical malpractice.

Michigan law, like other states, requires that a plaintiff provide evidence to support several elements in a medical malpractice action. The first of these elements is duty, which refers to some sort of legal obligation. In a medical malpractice case, duty is a particularly important element which goes by the name “standard of care.” This refers to the level or course of care that would be provided by a reasonably prudent physician under the same circumstances and who has comparable training.

The second element that must be proved is that there was a breach of duty, meaning that the physician failed to abide by the standard of care. Both the standard of care and breach of that standard must generally be proven by the testimony of an expert witness. This is an important point, because there are specific requirements for the qualifications of expert witnesses and plaintiffs must carefully select them.

A third element that must be proven is that there was a sufficient connection between the physician’s breach of a standard of care and the harm suffered by the patient. Michigan law requires that the causation not be left to speculation or conjecture, but rather be firmly established. This is not always easy to do.

The damages aspect of medical malpractice is, of course, also very important, and we’ll be taking a closer look at this issue in a future post.

Source:, “Michigan Law and Practice; Chapter 6: Health Care Malpractice,” Heidi L. Salter-Ferris, Accessed Dec. 5, 2014.

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