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Doctors may be liable to patients for harmful medical mistakes

It happens thousands of times a day in California: A patient goes to the doctor, is treated in a competent manner and goes about their business. People expect physicians, surgeons and other medical professionals to be helpful or at least to do no harm. It so happens, unfortunately, that sometimes things don't go so well. The patient is left in a worsened condition due to the fault of the doctor. Does the patient or their family have any recourse?

Doctors in the Golden State owe a duty of care to their patients. The doctor is expected to treat patients at or above a generally accepted standard of care. If they do not adhere to this standard - and the patient is harmed by this failure - the doctor may be liable to the patient for medical malpractice.

The plaintiff has the burden of proving that the doctor failed to provide acceptable care and that this failure caused personal injury. Sometimes it is obvious when this happens, for example, when a surgeon operates on the wrong knee. More commonly, it will not be obvious to a non-medically trained judge or jury that this has happened. The plaintiff must then provide expert testimony to explain why the care in question was substandard and how the harm resulted.

Medical mistakes can be made by even the best doctors, but this doesn't mean patients have no legal remedy. It is reasonable for negligent doctors to bear at least some of the financial costs of their errors. Our legal system has mechanisms for patients to be heard in court and to press their claims.

Source: FindLaw, "Proving Fault in Medical Malpractice Cases," accessed on Jan. 6, 2017

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