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Medical Malpractice Lawsuits: Understanding the Lingo

Medical malpractice lawsuits can seem overwhelming. In addition to managing the emotional and physical injuries, victims and their families often have to contend with a dizzying mix of medical and legal jargon. With this in mind, it can be helpful to understand some key legal terms used in medical malpractice lawsuits and their definitions.

Filing the lawsuit

When consulting with a California medical malpractice attorney, the following terms may be used to explain the process of filing suit:

  • Plaintiff and defendant: The plaintiff is the person pursing the lawsuit, while the defendant is the negligent party against whom the lawsuit is brought. It may be a medical professional (nurse, doctor, etc.) or medical facility (hospital, outpatient facility, etc.).
  • Complaint: Filing a complaint with the court initiates the medical malpractice lawsuit. It sets forth the facts surrounding the patient’s injury as well as the legal theories that support liability and damages.
  • Wrongful death lawsuit: When medical negligence results in a patient’s death, certain close family members (spouse, children, parents, etc.) can seek compensation through a wrongful death lawsuit.
  • Statute of limitations: State laws establish the time period in which patients (or their families) must pursue a lawsuit. Under California law, adult plaintiffs must generally pursue a claim within one year from the date of discovering the negligent act, but no more than three years from the date of injury. Other statutes of limitations apply to minors and birth injury cases.

Establishing liability

In order to be successful, the plaintiff must establish that the defendant should be held liable for the patient’s harm. San Diego medical malpractice lawyers may reference the following terms when discussing elements of the medical malpractice lawsuit:

  • Medical negligence: While this is a complicated legal term, the basic definition is action or inaction by a medical professional that deviates from the accepted standard of care.
  • Standard of care: Medical professionals are required to provide patients the level of care, skill and knowledge that is recognized as reasonable by similar medical professionals under similar circumstances. The failure to follow the standard of care is called a “breach.”
  • Informed consent: Doctors are obligated to explain the risks, benefits and alternatives of a medical procedure or treatment plan before a patient agrees to it.
  • Causation: In order to establish liability, the plaintiff must establish a relationship between the patient’s injuries and the health care provider’s negligence.