Understanding a Hospital or Doctor’s Duty of Care Requirements

A patient visiting Lake Charles Hospital, located in Calcasieu Parish, filed a lawsuit against his treating physician alleging the doctor was negligent while diagnosing his symptoms. After the patient was hospitalized, the doctor ordered a stress test. Just minutes after the start of the test, the patient began to suffer from an abnormally rapid heart rhythm. In the lawsuit, the patient argued the doctor should not have ordered the test in light of the patient’s medical history.
All doctors owe their patients a certain level of care. When a physician breaches that level of care, they can be sued for medical malpractice. The Louisiana Revised Statute 9:2794(A) requires patients who believe they are victims of medical malpractice to establish three main elements. First, a patient must establish the standard of care of the doctor. Second, he/she must show that the defendant breached this standard of care. Lastly, a patient must prove “causation.” Specifically, he/she must be able to show that there was a connection between the doctor’s breach of his duty and the patient’s resulting injury.

Establishing a Physician’s Duty to His Patient
All physicians owe a duty to their patients. Each doctor is required to act as a reasonably prudent health care provider would act under the given circumstances. A Louisiana statute, La. R.S. 9:2794, specifies a doctor must possess and exercise knowledge or skill akin to that of doctors who practice in comparable Louisiana communities under similar circumstances. This is known as the ìsimilar locality rule.î
Proving the Doctor Breached the Duty Owed to His Patient

A patient can successfully show that that his/her doctor breached this duty if the doctor’s actions fell below the standard of care. For example, if a patient goes to the hospital with all of the signs and symptoms of a broken leg but the doctor tells the patient to go home and “walk it off,” the doctor’s actions would be a breach of care if most doctors would have ordered an X-ray instead of sending the patient home. A breach of standard of care is often shown through medical testimony. Therefore, a patient may establish a breach of care by having another doctor testify that a majority doctors would have ordered an X-ray under the circumstances.

Showing Causation

The last element that a plaintiff must establish in a medical malpractice claim is causation. This means that a patient must show that the doctorís actions in breaching his duty caused the plaintiff’s injury. In the hypothetical example mentioned above, a patient would likely be able to establish causation if the patient returns home and suffers further injury because he has been walking on a broken leg.

While the claimant in the above case was unsuccessful in court, the law favors those who have received negligent or improper care that comes about because of the failure of a doctor or hospital to execute its legal duty. If you have felt that your doctor has not been providing you with the quality treatment, you may be able to establish a medical malpractice claim.


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