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4 Essential Elements of a Medical Malpractice Claim

Most people tend to trust healthcare professionals wholeheartedly when they’re injured or ill. After all, it’s their job to give you quality medical care and help you regain good health. 

However, like any human, healthcare providers occasionally fail to uphold the standard of care required of them. Medical malpractice occurs when a patient is harmed by doctors or other healthcare professionals who fail to perform their medical duties.

A patient affected by medical malpractice will want to hold the healthcare provider accountable for falling short. If you need help in filing a medical malpractice lawsuit, you need an experienced attorney to take your case. For instance, if you’re in New York, visit to find professional help during this difficult time. 

However, not every error will constitute medical negligence. In order to prove medical negligence, these four essential elements, also known as the Four Ds of Negligence, should be present in the case.

  1. Duty of Care

Duty of care means that there’s a relationship between a patient and a healthcare provider with respect to the medical care of the patient. 

It’s important to note that not all healthcare providers owe a duty of care to everyone. For the patient to reasonably expect a doctor to diagnose and provide medical care, there should be an established doctor-patient relationship. This is established when a healthcare provider consents to provide medical assistance to the patient. This signifies that the doctor now has a duty of care. 

For instance, a healthcare provider has no duty of care if they’re out eating at a restaurant and another diner suddenly passes out or chokes since the doctor-patient relationship isn’t established. 

Due to their level of training and skill set, a doctor or any medical professional is responsible for providing a high standard of care. In a doctor-patient relationship, the doctor owes a duty of care to the degree of skill and diligence that’s expected of or possessed by a reasonably competent physician. 

It’s also worth noting that the acceptable duty of care varies even among medical professionals. For instance, if you have heart disease, the duty of care expected of the general practitioner is more lenient than those expected of a cardiologist. As a result, it’s important for a doctor who’s unable to provide the expected standard care to refer a patient to the professionals who can. If they fail to do so, this is considered medical negligence. 

  1. Dereliction From Standard Care

The next element is the failure of a healthcare provider to maintain an agreed-upon duty of care with a patient. In simpler terms, the doctor didn’t provide the patient with the treatment and care expected and needed of a physician. This dereliction, deviation, or failure is commonly known as ‘breach of duty.’ Dereliction from the expected standard care could fall into any of the following:

  • Birth injury
  • Missed or delayed diagnosis or misdiagnosis
  • Medication error
  • Post-operative negligence
  • Surgical error

This is the grounds for most medical malpractice lawsuits and is the most complex element to prove. This is because most medical professionals are reluctant to criticize their peer’s performance and even testify against them. 

Expert witnesses and well-trained full-time or retired medical professionals are usually paid to provide a professional and honest opinion regarding the case. 

  1. Damages

The third element of a medical malpractice claim is damage. This refers to the quantifiable amount that the patient has lost because of medical negligence, either mentally, physically, or both. Damages may cover your lost earnings and medical bills, as well as the pain, emotional distress, and suffering you experienced as a result of the negligent act. Evidence of damages often include the following:

  • Prescription records
  • Tests
  • Medical bills
  • Medical records
  • Expert witness and personal testimony
  1. Direct Causation

A patient should establish that the healthcare provider’s breach of duty of care was the direct cause of the damages the patient experienced. While establishing this element can be straightforward, it’s another area where the arguments can become heated. 

You won’t be able to call it a medical error unless you can prove it, and the causation should be direct to hold the healthcare provider liable. For instance, if a doctor administers the wrong dosage of a drug to a patient and the patient dies, direct causation should be established before a medical malpractice claim can be made. Was the outcome caused by the wrong dose, the patient’s reaction, or the symptom they’re trying to treat? 

Further investigation will be required to determine the cause of death and if it’s directly tied to the actions of the doctor.


Proving the four elements of medical malpractice will depend on the facts of your case, the skillful negotiation strategy of a lawyer, and the outcome of a professional comprehensive investigation. 

Regardless, providing these elements is important if you want to be able to file for a medical malpractice claim and receive the proper compensation for the suffering you’ve experienced.

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