What a Career in Medical Malpractice Law Entails

Written by
Rebecca Smith

Published
Aug 17, 2020

Aug 17, 2020 • by Rebecca Smith

Doctors and health specialists are entrusted with people's lives. From minor afflictions such as the simple flu to life-endangering conditions like heart failure, we trust these individuals to help us. However, there are times when our treatment and care at these medical professionals' hands go very wrong. 

Whether it is due to negligence or error, it has a long-term impact on our lives. Patients have been left worse off than before they got treatment and wonder what recourse they have. 

A Medical Malpractice lawyer helps victims present their case and get the compensation they deserve. If assisting people in getting justice is something, you are passionate about, then take a look at what the career entails.

What Is Malpractice 

Malpractice is medical negligence by a healthcare professional that causes injury, harm, or even death. It affects thousands of people annually. It occurs when a patient is harmed by a doctor or other specialist who fails to perform their duties competently. 

John Hopkins Medicine claims that medical negligence is the third leading cause of death in the US. The most common malpractice claims are:

  • Misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis
  • Medication errors
  • Surgery errors
  • Childbirth injuries
  • Anesthesia errors

If a person has sustained an injury and isn't sure whether their situation qualifies to lay a claim, they will contact a medical malpractice attorney for advice.

What Does a Malpractice Lawyer Do?

The malpractice lawyer seeks justice and compensation on behalf of plaintiffs injured by medical professionals. These types of lawsuits usually arise from the misconduct or negligence displayed by the medical profession. 

The lawyer needs to decide if the client has grounds to lay a claim. If the patient's injuries were caused directly by the wrongdoing and damages were incurred, then a medical malpractice claim could be appropriate. 

If the lawyer determines that there’s a case, they will litigate lawsuits based on the doctor's negligent conduct. This pertains to specialists such as nurses, surgeons, dentists, and anesthesiologists. It can also include institutions such as hospitals and health care clinics. 

How to Become a Malpractice Lawyer

Most law degrees usually require a 4-year undergraduate degree. It will be followed by three years of law school and an application to the bar. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, all states require students to pass a written bar exam. Individual states could require students to write an additional test on ethics.

Successful malpractice lawyers should enjoy working closely with people. Be aware that medical cases are a lot of responsibility in representing the client. Generally, a lawyer should have strong research and writing skills. They also need to have an aptitude for complex logic and reasoning. Often legal advice is the first stop for most victims. 

Some cases can be emotional and traumatic, especially if death or disability was the result of negligence. To give your client the best possible representation, you need to be able to put aside emotions and focus on the facts. It's not something that can be taught at law school, but it's a soft skill essential in medical malpractice law. 

How Does the Malpractice Lawyer Prove Negligence?

A medical malpractice claim is challenging, and negligence is difficult to prove. The attorney will need to determine the following four elements to win the case:

  • Establish that the doctor or specialist had a "duty of care" to the patient. This is usually proven by showing that the plaintiff was a patient of the doctor when the injury occurred. They should act within set medical standards, and in a way that their peers would respond the same within a similar situation. 
  • Must prove that "breach of duty" occurred. The lawyer needs to show that the practitioner breached this duty to the patient when they treated the patient with negligence. 
  •  A causal connection needs to be established between the breach of the standard of care and the victim's injury.
  • The malpractice lawyer must demonstrate that the plaintiff incurred actual severe damages or injuries due to the healthcare provider's breach of duty. 

How Is a Medical Malpractice Case Built?

Building a successful case requires a lot of research and dedication. Lawyers need to prove four critical points during the trial, to get the information they need to take several steps.

  • Gather information from medical experts, the plaintiff, and other people relevant to the case.
  • Obtain and analyze medical records.
  • Do research that’s relevant to the victim's injuries.
  • Collaborate with medical experts to develop theories, review expert reports, and find specialized medical witnesses who’ll support the case in court.
  • Arrange and accompany the complainant to independent medical examinations to obtain an unbiased evaluation of the injuries sustained. 

Some states require the claim to first go before a malpractice review panel. The malpractice lawyer will prepare the plaintiff for this process as well. The board will hear all the evidence and allegations and decide whether this is what has occurred. 

This panel doesn't replace the actual lawsuit, and it can't award damages. It's just something that patients must go through before getting to the courts. The findings of the panel can be presented in court. Many malpractice lawyers don't charge a fee to file a personal injury case and work on a no-win-no-pay basis. 

Final Thoughts

It's worrying to think that there are such a high number of malpractice claims. Fortunately, certain people are willing to take up the fight for justice. A medical malpractice lawyer is one such occupation. Helping people get compensation for what sometimes may be life-changing and debilitating injuries is a noble cause. 

To become a lawyer, you need to get a degree and apply to the bar. Building a successful case takes time and persistence with a lot of research work. The biggest challenge is proving that there was an instance of negligence. 

Even though the medical malpractice cases are complicated, winning compensation for someone who genuinely suffered damages is very rewarding.