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What Is Duty of Care, and What Are Its Implications?

By Norman Younker on March 03, 2015


A doctor smiling in his office When entering a doctor’s office or hospital, it’s common for patients to have a number of concerns or worries. They may wonder if their treatment will work or whether other ailments may be brought to light. One concern that patients should not ever have to face, however, is whether a medical mistake will leave them with even greater damage and distress. Surgical errors can be some of the most devastating mistakes in medical malpractice, potentially causing irreversible damage or even death.

Before seeking compensation for medical negligence, it must be determined whether a duty of care was breached. In medicine, this is a general term for the doctor-patient relationship and the reasonable expectations that accompany it. Take a moment to familiarize yourself with duty of care and the damage that may arise from medical negligence, as provided by our Utah legal office.

What Is Duty of Care?

Duty of care pertains to the legal obligation one has to act within reason and responsibility when performing any acts that may foreseeably harm others. For manufacturers of goods, this means ensuring their products are reasonably safe for use. In the workplace, this involves creating and maintaining a safe work environment. In the medical profession, duty of care has some of the highest stakes, as even the smallest oversights may have devastating consequences on patients. Thus, doctors and medical professionals must establish a duty of care that meets or exceeds reasonable expectations for the average professional in their field.

If a patient suffers the consequences of a medical mistake or oversight, and wishes to pursue a lawsuit for medical malpractice, it must first be established that the doctor did not meet his or her duty of care. 

The Four Elements of Medical Malpractice

In examining a potential case of medical malpractice, four elements must be determined:

  • Duty of care: If the healthcare practitioner in question was charged with caring for the patient, a duty of care was almost certainly established. Doctor-patient relationships that are ongoing or include medical records are especially provable in regard to an established duty. 
  • Whether that duty was breached: In order for duty of care to be breached, the court must decide that the medical professional exhibited a lack of care or skill that one should reasonably expect from someone in his or her position.
  • The resultant damage: Patients may be entitled to compensation if they suffer any physical and/or emotional damage as a result of the negligence. This damage includes exacerbation of previous injuries.
  • Causality: It must be clear that the damage is a direct result of the medical professional’s negligence.

Common Surgical Errors

Surgical errors are among some of the most obvious and egregious instances of medical malpractice. Although all surgeries involve some level of risk, an error is a preventable mistake that should not be reasonably foreseen by the patient or even other medical practitioners. Some examples of surgical negligence include:

  • Major nerve injuries
  • Errors in the administration of anesthesia
  • Incisions or surgeries performed at the wrong site
  • Surgeries performed on the wrong patient
  • The use of unsanitary surgical instruments
  • Internal organ damage
  • Excessive tissue damage
  • Surgical tools or materials left inside a patient
  • Ignoring signs of fetal distress during childbirth
  • Excessive force during childbirth

Other Medical Errors

Not all medical mistakes happen on the operating table. Malpractice can also involve failure to recognize symptoms of preventable problems, prescription of the wrong medication or a harmful combination of medications, prescribing too high a dosage of medication, delayed treatment, and misdiagnosis. In some cases, these mistakes are ongoing, leading to worsening problems that could have been prevented or treated at any point in the process.

Even the most experienced doctors are susceptible to life-altering mistakes. If you suspect you are the victim of medical negligence, do not hesitate to seek legal advice from a knowledgeable attorney.

Learn More about Medical Malpractice

If you have been the victim of medical malpractice, speak with a lawyer who specializes solely in patient injuries. Contact our office to learn more about how we may help you gain the compensation you deserve.

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