MedMalMonthly: Legal Primer

Civil Law:

  • A dispute between two parties.
  • Burden of proof is based on a "preponderance of evidence".
  • Punishment is monetary without threat for incarceration. 

Criminal Law:

  • Government or state brings action against an individual/ entity accused of wrongdoing.
  • Burdern of proof is "beyond a reasonable doubt".
  • Punishment is incarceration or fines. 

Negligence - There are 4 elements. 

  • Duty: The physician had a duty to act. Easily established in most cases in the ED via EMTALA. Some less clear cut cases are below:
    • Telephone advice establishes a duty to patient as well. 
    • Physician advice given in an informal setting like at a party. 
    • Duty to known third party (Tarasoff Case)
    • Duty to unknown thirdy party (know your mandatory reporting rules for your state)
  • Breach: The physician breached the duty toward the patient by falling below the standard of care. 
    • Standard of care is what a doctor of like or similar training would do in like or similar circumstances. 
    • Does not require perfect care or even high quality care. 
  • Proximate Cause: Plaintiff must prove that physician's actions led to damages. 
  • Damages: The negligence of the defendant was a proximate cause of the injury and damages to the plaintiff. 
    • Economic: objective and measurable - medical bills, lost earnings and wages. 
    • Non-economic: subjective - pain and suffering.