There are generally four elements that need to be proven to succeed in a medical malpractice claim.
First, the plaintiff must demonstrate the accepted and recognized standard of care that applies to the healthcare provider’s conduct. There isn’t generally a manual or guidebook that says what a doctor is supposed to do under specific circumstances. The standard of care is established by expert testimony from someone knowledgeable enough in the defendant’s field to provide an opinion as to what is expected of a provider like the defendant under similar circumstances. This is usually where the biggest “battle of the experts” takes place as experts on both sides will describe a different standard of care and the jury will have to decide which is more credible.
Second, the plaintiff must prove that the healthcare provider departed from the standard of care. This can be that the defendant did something incompatible with the standard of care or that the defendant didn’t do something that the standard of care required.
Third, the plaintiff must establish that the departure from accepted standards of care was a direct cause of injury. Minnesota law speaks of “direct cause” and “proximate cause” interchangeably. Something is a direct cause if it played a substantial part in bringing about the harm.
Fourth, the plaintiff must establish the extent of the damages. You will sometimes hear the term economic and noneconomic damages. Economic damages refer to definitive losses on paper like lost earnings and medical expenses. Noneconomic damages have more room for the jury to interpret to award for pain and suffering and similar damages going forward into the future.