The 4 Element That Must Be Proven in Medical Malpractice Cases

Medical malpractice cases are some of the most complex and heart wrenching cases. They involve an injury or death caused by the negligence of someone in a position of trust. The consequences of this action may be catastrophic for the victim.

In order to prevail in a medical malpractice case in court, there are 4 elements to the case: duty, breach, causation and damages. These elements are the same as in other personal injury cases, but medical malpractice cases tend to be more complex.


It is necessary to establish that the defendant had a legal duty of care to the victim. Normally, this is easy to prove as it derives from the doctor-patient relationship. The definition of duty of care is that the care should be the same as would be provided by any prudent doctor in the same or similar circumstance.


If the doctor does not provide the same level of care as another prudent doctor would, then a breach of duty has occurred. If a sponge or surgical tool is left inside the patient, it is pretty clear that this is a breach of duty. However, in some cases, proving that there was a breach of care can be considerably more difficult. In many states, laws require that a medical expert witness must testify that in this case, the care was below the accepted medical standard. Even if not required by law, expert witnesses are normally required in cases of medical malpractice.


This element can be best explained by the “but..for” test. In other words, would the injury have occurred but for the physician’s actions? If the answer is, “No,” causation will likely be proven. If the answer is, “Yes,” the case is in trouble.


This is the last element that must be proven. The harm that was caused can be financial, physical or psychological. In some cases, this is very obvious (if the wrong foot was amputated, for example). Sometimes, however, it may be years before the extent of the damage is known. There may also be caps limiting how much can be recovered.

Diane M. Sternlieb is uniquely advantaged in medical malpractice cases because of her dual experience in both the legal and medical fields. Anyone in the Carrollton, GA, region who believes they have a medical malpractice case should contact her to discuss their legal options. To contact the office, visit the website at

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