Some states treat medical malpractice and negligence differently. New Mexico is not one of them.
Our New Mexico medical malpractice attorneys will explain what you should know about negligence and malpractice.
Malpractice vs. Negligence
In New Mexico, there is no difference between malpractice and negligence.
Rather, medical malpractice is simply a variation of negligence.
When someone who is expected to meet a certain standard of care fails to do so either because of actions they took or failed to take, they are negligent.
The 4 factors of negligence are duty, breach, causation, and damages.
Someone does not have to intend to do harm to be negligent, but that may nevertheless come into play when requesting punitive damages.
Medical malpractice is a more specific type of negligence and arises out of negligent actions or inactions by health providers.
Medical negligence requires proof of all of the same factors, but in the context of healthcare and medical situations.
How Do I Prove Medical Negligence?
Medical malpractice requires proof of all of the same factors as negligence, duty, breach, causation, and damages, but only in healthcare and medical situations.
Duty of Care
Duty of care is what a reasonable, prudent medical provider in the same or similar situation would do.
A doctor owes an obligation to treat their patients with the same standard of care acceptable for other doctors in their specific type of practice and under similar circumstances.
For example, Ann receives regular checkups with her cardiologist due to her pre-existing coronary artery disease.
Her cardiologist knows of her pre-existing co-morbidities and further knows that it is his duty, as her treating cardiologist, to mitigate any risk that her coronary artery disease may present.
At one check-up, Ann reports increasing chest pain, constant shortness of breath, and swelling in her feet and ankles.
At that point, it is the cardiologist’s duty of care to send Ann for additional testing, because that is what a reasonable cardiologist in the same or similar circumstances would do.
Breach of a Duty of Care
A medical provider breaches their duty of care when they fail to meet the applicable standard of care for a doctor or provider in the same or similar situation.
Going back to Ann, it was noted above that a reasonable cardiologist in the same or similar circumstances would have referred Ann for additional testing. Why?
Because Ann was showing signs and symptoms of a progression of her coronary artery disease, such as congestive heart failure.
However, in this particular situation, rather than send Ann for additional testing, Ann’s cardiologist tells her “everything will be fine” and sends her home.
This constitutes a breach of the duty of care owed to Ann.
There must be a causal connection between the breach of the duty of care and the injury that someone sustained.
The victim has to show that their injury would not have happened but for the medical provider breaching their duty of care.
For the next six months, Ann continues to experience worsening shortness of breath, swelling in her ankles, and chest pains.
She visits her cardiologist several times to report her worsening symptoms, and he repeatedly tells her that everything is fine.
Then, one night Ann wakes up gasping for breath and experiencing intense pains in her chest. Worried, she goes to the emergency room, where she is diagnosed with late-stage congestive heart failure.
Ann now needs a heart transplant, which could have been avoided if she had been sent for additional testing and been properly treated six months earlier when she first reported these things to her cardiologist.
Ann sues her cardiologist, claiming that he breached his duty of care by not running the appropriate tests and treating her properly, which causally led to her need for a heart transplant, and in all likelihood, a substantial shortening of her expected life.
A medical malpractice victim must show that their injury caused damages, whether temporary or permanent.
These damages could be economic, such as past or future medical bills or lost wages.
They could also be non-economic, such as emotional trauma, pain, and suffering, or a loss of your enjoyment of life.
Punitive damages are also possible if the behavior causing the damage was particularly egregious, but they are rare in negligence cases.
Ann’s expert testified that a reasonable cardiologist in the same position would have ordered additional testing when she first began complaining of shortness of breath and swelling in the feet. Specifically, a reasonable cardiologist would have likely ordered an ECG, cardiac stress test, and/or doppler study.
However, as Ann’s expert states, the cardiologist did none of these things, causing her congestive heart failure to progress into a stage that requires a heart transplant and will likely cause Ann’s untimely death.
As a result, Ann is entitled to damages for her past and future medical bills and other costs she incurred as a result of the delayed diagnosis, as well as any pain and suffering, emotional trauma, or other damages.
Contact Poulos & Coates Medical Malpractice Lawyers in New Mexico
Poulos & Coates specializes in medical malpractice lawsuits. We have experience in every sort of case from emergency room malpractice to wrongful death. Contact us or call (575) 523-4444 today to speak to an expert about your options.