August 23, 2019

Proving Causation in a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit in Michigan

Negligence cases, especially in the field of medicine, are mostly handled by lawyers specializing in medical malpractice due to its complexity and the intricacies of the law. If you have been injured in a medical treatment you have to prove duty of care, breach, causation, and damages. The most difficult to prove is causation.

Medical Negligence

As in all negligence cases, there are four determinants that need to be met for a medical malpractice case:

Duty of care – the defendant specifically must have owed a duty of care to the plaintiff.
Breach – the defendant must have breached that duty.
Causation – the defendant must have caused the harm.
Damages – the harm must have caused damages that can be monetized.

Causation

Once you get into the intricacies of Tort law (where someone suffers harm, and legal liability is created) there are several things to prove in causation:

Actual cause (cause in fact) – this is the action or omission that caused the harm; thus, if that did not happen, the harm would not have happened.

Courts will use the ‘but for’ test to determine the actual cause. They may also apply the ‘substantial factor’ test to determine if the action or omission materially contributed to the injury.

Proximate cause – once an event has been determined to be the actual cause, you also have to prove it to be the proximate cause. This is referred to as the ‘legal cause’ and relates to the damages being foreseeable. Even if the event is determined to be the cause if harm was not foreseeable, the defendant may not be held legally liable for any harm caused.

Several conditions that may contribute to the harm, but if they are non-culpable, they are ignored. For example, if you are injured during a medical procedure, you would not have been injured were it not for the procedure; however, if you did not require the procedure you would not have been harmed, but requiring the procedure (or choosing an elective procedure) is not wrongful. Having a cosmetic procedure performed to remove fat, for example, is not wrongful, even though it is elective.

Where the plaintiff has contributed to the harm, for example, not disclosing an allergy to a particular drug, the court will have to determine the extent of the plaintiff’s contribution to the injury when determining damages. Medical malpractice cases are particularly challenging to prove causation on a balance of probabilities if there is more than one possible explanation for the harm. Going blind after cataract surgery may have been caused by the surgery, or it may have happened anyway.

In some cases, injuries are more serious than normal or expected due to a latent vulnerability. These plaintiffs are called Thin Skull or Eggshell Skull victims. This rule is part of Tort Law, that states that the defendant who inflicted negligent harm takes the injured party as they find them. It means they cannot use as a defense that most people would have suffered less even when the damages they suffered were not foreseeable. For example, osteoporosis contributing to fractures would qualify here.

What may be used to prove causation?

Your personal injury lawyer at Cochran, Kroll & Associates, P.C. will request documents from the medical professionals, hospitals, or manufacturers, which may include medical records, hiring records, maintenance records as is required. Also, they will take verbal depositions and written questions to be answered. They will hire expert witnesses to give testimony during the case and call other witnesses.

If you live in Michigan and you have suffered injury, call Eileen Kroll, a Registered Nurse and Personal Injury trial attorney, at Cochran, Kroll & Associates, P.C, phone number: 1-866-MICH LAW (1-866-642- 4529) for a free case evaluation. Our law firm never charges a fee unless a recovery is made.

Nikole has a special interest in medico-legal issues and holds post-basic degrees in medical law and business. She has developed quality improvement and safety plans for many practices and facilities to prevent medico-legal issues and teaches several courses on data protection and privacy, legal, medical examinations and documentation, and professional ethics. She has been writing professionally on legal, business, ethics, patient advocacy, research and medico-legal issues in articles, white papers, business plans, and training courses for over thirty-five years.

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