The plaintiff is the person who complains. This can be the patient, a legally designated person who acts on the patient’s behalf, or if the patient died, the executor or administrator of the patient’s estate. In legal terms, the plaintiff is the person who brings a case against another in a court of law, the person who initiates the suit, the one who is suing.
The defendant is the party who is being sued. In a medical malpractice suit it is the health care provider. This could be a doctor, a nurse, a therapist, or any medical provider. Even those who were “following orders” may be liable for negligent acts.
The prevailing party is the party who wins the case, whether the plaintiff or the defendant. If the defendant wins the case, the plaintiff has lost and will receive no compensation.
The losing party is the party who loses the case.
The fact-finder is the judge or the jury
Essential elements for a case
The plaintiff has to prove that four elements existed in order to succeed in a medical malpractice claim:
- A duty was owed by the health care provider or hospital
- A duty was breached, because the health care provider or hospital did not conform to the expected standard of care
- The breach resulted in an injury, and it was closely linked to the injury
- Considerable damage resulted for the patient, whether physical, emotional, or financial
First, the plaintiff or their legal representative must file a lawsuit in a court of law. Before the trial begins, the plaintiff and the defendant have to share information through discovery. This may include requests for documents, depositions, and interrogatories. The parties can settle out of court, if they come to an agreement. In this case, the case will not go to trial. If they do not agree, the case will proceed to trial.
The plaintiff has to prove compellingly that the defendant was negligent. In most trials, both the defendant and plaintiff will present experts to explain what standard of care was required. The fact-finder must then consider all the evidence and decide which party is the most credible. A verdict will be given by the fact-finder for the prevailing party. In other words, the judge will decide who wins. If it is the plaintiff, the judge will then decide on damages.
The losing party may ask for a new trial. In some courts, if the plaintiff wants a larger settlement, they may move for additur, which means asking for an assessment of the damages and awarding a larger amount. If the defendant is dissatisfied with a large judgment, they may move for remittitur, which means they ask the court to reduce the amount of damages. Either party may take an appeal from the judgment.
What kind of damages can the plaintiff get?
Compensatory damages may include economic damages, including lost earning capacity, life care expenses, and medical expenses. Usually, past and future losses are assessed. Compensatory damages may also include non-economic damages, which assesses the injury itself, psychological and physical harm, such as losing one’s vision or legs, extreme pain, and emotional distress.
Punitive damages are only awarded if the defendant is found guilty of malicious or willful misconduct. Punitive damages is a form of punishment. It is compensation in addition to actual damages. Lawsuits tend to be costly, time consuming, and stressful. Anyone who is considering starting a lawsuit should weigh up the possible pros and cons before taking action. If the injury is minor, the patient may spend more on the lawsuit than the eventual money they will recover.