Montague, Pittman & Varnado, P.A.

MPV Law Blog

What You Need to Know About Medical Malpractice Cases

Monday, May 19, 2014

At Montague, Pittman & Varnado, we handle a numerous cases involving medical malpractice.  However, there are also numerous medical malpractice cases we decide not to take due to the difficulty in proving that a doctor’s negligence caused substantial injury.

In a medical malpractice case a plaintiff must prove certain elements.  Those elements are:  1) the defendant had a duty to conform to a standard of care, 2) the defendant breached the standard of care, 3) the defendant's breach was the proximate cause of the plaintiff's injuries, and 4) the plaintiff was substantially injured as a result of the defendant's breach. 

Therefore, the plaintiff’s success turns on the fact of whether the defendant’s breach was a proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries.  In most cases, the plaintiff must use testimony from an expert to prove the proximate cause element.  

In Cates v Woods, the Mississippi Court of Appeals addressed the expert testimony issues in a dental malpractice case.  The plaintiff sued her dentist for injuries to her neck during a routine visit to have an impression made of her bottom teeth. During her visit, the plaintiff's head was jerked back and forth while the dentist attempted to remove the tray of the compound from her mouth.  The intense jerking back and forth caused the plaintiff to sustain various neck injuries.   During trial, the plaintiff produced medical records indicating the injuries to her neck as proof.  However, the plaintiff did not provide any expert testimony on the proximate cause of her injuries.

An expert’s testimony is required in a medical malpractice case to prove proximate cause of the injury and the other elements. (In a very few cases, the layman's exception may suffice).  In this particular case, the plaintiff failed to designate an expert witness to testify to the proximate cause of her injury.  This mistake was enough for the trial court to grant summary judgment to the defendant.

The Mississippi Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s dismissal of the case due to the absence of any expert testimony provided by the plaintiff. The appeals court stated, “Medical negligence may be established only by expert testimony, but there is an exception where a layman can observe and understand the negligence as a matter of common sense and practical experience.” 

As you can see, an expert opinion is almost always needed to prevail in a medical malpractice case.   At Montague, Pittman, and Varnado, one of our first considerations when representing you in a medical malpractice case is whether we would be able to produce an expert opinion on the proximate causes of your injury.  Our attorneys have years of experience in representing clients in medical malpractice cases.  Our experience assists us in giving you excellent advice and representation. 

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