Medical Malpractice & the Doctor-Patient Relationship

Medical malpractice is how it sounds: It occurs when a doctor harms a patient as a direct result of substandard care, recklessness, or even a mistake. In other words, the doctor fails to perform their medical duties and as a result, the patient is wrongfully harmed.

Doctors are meant to help, not harm patients, so when their negligence does cause an injury, they can be sued by the injured patient through a medical malpractice lawsuit.

There are basic requirements that must be met before a patient can successfully sue a doctor for medical malpractice. For starters, a doctor-patient relationship must have existed. This means you went to the doctor’s office or the hospital, filled out the necessary paperwork to receive treatment and the doctor treated you. A doctor-patient relationship does not exist in these scenarios:

  • You had a heart attack at a restaurant and a doctor sitting three tables over runs over and performs CPR on you. The doctor may have “treated” you, but you were not his patient.
  • At a cocktail party, you chat up an oncologist. You complain about the lump on your abdomen. She looks at it and says it looks benign, but you later find out that it is in fact malignant. You cannot sue the doctor for medical malpractice because you do not have a doctor-patient relationship.
  • You take your child to a new family doctor, who is not your doctor. While your child is having her physical, you ask the doctor about your headaches. He advises you to take ibuprofen, but you later find out you have a brain tumor. You cannot sue the doctor for misdiagnoses because he was not technically your doctor.
  • Your next-door neighbor is a reputable physician. One Saturday, while talking about the new flowers you planted, you ask him about your shortness of breath. He shrugs it off and says it’s because you’re out of shape, but later you find out you have heart disease. Can you sue him for medical malpractice? You cannot because there was no doctor-patient relationship.

If you were harmed by negligent medical care at the hands of a doctor, nurse, surgeon, dentist, plastic surgeon, or other healthcare professional and a doctor-patient relationship definitely existed; for example, you or your medical insurance was billed for their services, contact our firm to discuss filing a medical malpractice claim!

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