Massachusetts Court Explains Causation in a Medical Malpractice Case

People typically rely on their health care providers to be competent and provide them with adequate care. Sadly, though, many doctors fail to exercise sound judgment when treating their patients, and their negligence causes considerable harm. People injured by medical malpractice can recover damages, though, if they can prove that their physicians deviated from the standard of care and that the departure ultimately caused their harm. What a plaintiff must prove to establish causation in a medical malpractice case was the topic of a recent Massachusetts opinion, in a case in which the plaintiff alleged the defendant’s shortcomings led to his wife’s death. If you or a loved one suffered harm because of inadequate medical care, it is smart to meet with a seasoned Massachusetts personal injury lawyer to assess your possible claims.

The Decedent’s Care

Reportedly, the decedent treated with the defendants for symptoms of perimenopause. She was prescribed a progesterone cream but was not advised of the risks associated with using it. The defendant admitted she did not advise the decedent that the cream increased the likelihood of developing blood clots because she did not believe that to be a risk. The decedent used the cream for three years and then began complaining of shortness of breath. She was ultimately diagnosed with a pulmonary embolism and chronic pulmonary hypertension.

Allegedly, she underwent surgery to remove the blood clots from her lungs, but it was unsuccessful. She was then prescribed medication to address the clots, but that did not work either. She died four years later from complications of the disease when she was forty-three years old. Prior to her death, she instituted a lawsuit against the defendants, alleging their negligence caused her harm. The case proceeded to trial, and while the jury found that the defendants were negligent in certain respects, it did not believe the negligence was the proximate cause of the decedent’s harm. Following a verdict in favor of the defendant, the plaintiff appealed.

Proximate Cause in Medical Malpractice Cases

The primary issue on appeal was what evidence a plaintiff must produce to demonstrate causation in a case alleging negligence. The court explained that it is clear that a defendant cannot be held liable for harm unless it caused the harm. Traditionally, causation had two parts: cause in fact, or but for causation, and a legal or proximate cause. A defendant’s behavior will be a cause in fact of an injury if the injury would not have occurred, but for the defendant’s acts or omissions. The behavior will be deemed the proximate cause if the harm suffered is a foreseeable risk of the defendant’s actions.

The court explained that numerous courts employed the substantial factor test in place of the but for test, allowing a finding of negligence in cases in which the defendant’s behavior was one of the significant factors in bringing about the plaintiff’s harm. In the subject case, the court rejected the plaintiff’s assertion that the substantial factor test should be employed, noting that in cases in which there are multiple potential causes of harm, as opposed to numerous sufficient causes of harm, the test is not appropriate. As the but for test was applied by the jury, the verdict was affirmed.

Speak to a Seasoned Personal Injury Attorney

Incompetent medical care can cause grave harm, and sadly many people injured by medical malpractice never recover. If you were hurt by the carelessness of your doctor, seasoned personal injury attorney James K. Meehan can advise you of your potential claims and help you to seek the best legal outcome available under the facts of your case. You can reach us through our online form or at 508-822-6600 to set up a meeting.