Massachusetts Court Discusses Causation in Medical Malpractice Cases

People anticipate that doctors, nurses, and other health care providers will provide competent treatment. Unfortunately, not all medical professionals employ sound reasoninn when caring for patients, and their inattentiveness can lead to substantial injuries. People who have been harmed by medical negligence may be able to obtain damages if they can prove their providers departed from the standard of care and that this deviation resulted in their harm. Recently, a Massachusetts court issued an opinion in which it explained what evidence a plaintiff in a medical malpractice case must produce to prove causation. If you were injured by negligent medical care, it is smart to speak to a knowledgeable Cape Cod medical malpractice attorney about your potential claims.

The Alleged Harm

Allegedly, the defendants treated the decedent for perimenopause symptoms. She was given a topical hormone gel, but she was not told about the dangers of using it. The defendant nurse admitted that she did not inform the decedent that the gel increased the danger of blood clots because she did not feel it was a significant risk. Three years after she began using the gel, the decedent began to experience shortness of breath, and she was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension and pulmonary embolisms. She underwent surgery and took medication to address her embolisms, but neither treatment was successful.

It is reported that four years later, at the age of 43, the decedent died due to blood clots in her lungs. Prior to her death, she filed a medical malpractice claim against the defendants, which the plaintiff, her husband, pursued after her death. The matter ultimately went to trial, and the jury found in favor of the defendants on the grounds that there was inadequate evidence that the defendants’ negligence caused the decedent’s harm. The plaintiff then appealed.

Proving Causation in Medical Malpractice Cases

The salient issue on appeal was what evidence a plaintiff must present to prove causation in a negligence lawsuit. The court stated that a defendant could not be held accountable for injury unless the defendant actually caused the alleged harm. Causation used to be divided into two categories: cause in fact, or but for causation, and legal or proximate cause. A defendant’s actions or omissions will be a cause in fact of an injury if the injury would not have happened without them. If the injury suffered was a foreseeable possibility of the defendant’s activities, the behavior will be deemed the proximate cause.

The court explained that many courts used the substantial factor test, which allows a finding of negligence in circumstances where the defendant’s actions had a significant part causing the plaintiff’s injury, instead of the but-for test.  The court rejected the plaintiff’s claim that the substantial factor test applied in the subject case, however, stating that the approach is inappropriate in circumstances when there are various potential causes of injury rather than numerous sufficient causes of harm. Thus, the court upheld the jury’s verdict, which relied on the but-for test.

Speak to a Trusted Cape Cod Attorney

Medical negligence can cause significant injuries, and in some cases, the harm is fatal. If you lost a loved one because of careless medical treatment, you should speak to an attorney about your options. The trusted Cape Cod medical malpractice attorneys of The Law Offices of John C. Manoog, III, are mindful of the devastation an unnecessary death of a loved one can cause, and we will fight tirelessly on your behalf. You can reach us through the form online or at 888-262-6664 to set up a meeting.


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