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Under normal circumstances, the law does not specify that a person has a duty to act. For instance, if a person discovered someone who was hurt and needed help, the person who discovered the injured person would not necessarily be required to help him or her, except under special circumstances.

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Duty to Assist

There is a different rule, however, if one owes a duty to the person in need. This would transpire with a parent helping a child because of the legal parental duty to do so. Likewise, if one hurts someone in an accident, he or she has a duty to assist the person that was injured. Along those lines, a doctor is under obligation to help his or her patients by providing the level of medical care that a doctor should provide under normal circumstances. Failure to do so can result in a medical malpractice suit.

Omissions and Medical Malpractice

Doctors are required not only to provide reasonable medical care to their patients. They are also required to correctly diagnose illnesses and to conduct research and locate the cause of any medical problems, if possible. A person who presents with chest pains might reasonably expect his or her doctor to investigate the possibility of an impending heart attack.

If the physician pronounces that person well and sends him or her home, only to find that the person later has a heart attack, the doctor may be liable for a medical malpractice suit.

In order for a medical malpractice suit to be effective, the plaintiff is obligated to prove two things:

  • He or she must prove that the doctor was negligent by illustrating that a reasonable doctor would have handled the situation differently.
  • He or she must prove that an injury resulted from the doctor’s negligence.

The second point can prove to be difficult when omission is concerned. It can be challenging to prove that a doctor’s misdiagnosis or failure to take action led directly to the injury. In the case of a heart attack, the doctor might offer the defense that the patient had suffered heart damage regardless of what the doctor did or did not do.

This is the point at which expert testimony is frequently used to prove that the injury did occur due to the doctor’s omission.