The Element of Causation in Washington, D.C. Medical Malpractice Cases

In a Washington, D.C. medical malpractice case, a plaintiff must be able to establish that the care provided by the named defendants fell below the applicable standard of care. In addition, a plaintiff must show that a defendant’s act or omission was the cause of their injuries. This is referred to as causation. A recent case issued by a state appellate court discusses causation in the medical malpractice context.

The Facts

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff noticed a large mass on the back of her head. She went to the doctor, who diagnosed the mass as a tumor, and was referred to a neurosurgeon. The neurosurgeon determined the mass was an osteosarcoma that was dangerously close to the plaintiff’s brain. He recommended surgery to remove some of the tumor’s mass, to be followed by radiation or chemotherapy. The plaintiff agreed to the surgery.

The neurosurgeon ordered several tests to be conducted by the plaintiff’s primary care doctor to ensure that her body was in good enough condition for the surgery. Evidently, the test results were abnormal. When the plaintiff went in on the day of surgery, the anesthesiologist reviewed the plaintiff’s chart and noticed the abnormal results; however, upon further review, he determined the plaintiff was fine to proceed with the surgery. The anesthesiologist did not inform the surgeons of the abnormal test results.

Apparently, during the surgery, the plaintiff went into cardiac arrest and died. It was later determined that the tumor was not an osteosarcoma, but a myeloma. The plaintiff filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against all the doctors involved, including the anesthesiologist. The plaintiff’s case was premised on the theory that, had she been properly diagnosed, she would never have undergone surgery and would have opted for a different course of treatment.

The anesthesiologist argued that, even if he was negligent in failing to tell the surgeons about the plaintiff’s abnormal test results, his actions were not the legal cause of the plaintiff’s death. The trial court agreed with the defendant anesthesiologist and granted his motion for a directed verdict.

The Court’s Opinion

The court began its analysis by noting that proximate cause is established when the plaintiff’s injuries are shown to be the “foreseeable consequence of the danger created by the defendant’s negligent act or omission.” The court explained that to satisfy the proximate cause requirement, a plaintiff does not need to prove that a defendant’s conduct was the primary cause of the injury, only that it was a “substantial” cause.

Here, the court held that the lower court improperly granted the motion for directed verdict and that the plaintiff presented sufficient evidence to legally establish the anesthesiologist’s actions were the primary cause of her death, at least at the directed-verdict stage. The court explained that the lower court incorrectly equated primary cause and proximate cause when it granted the defendant’s motion. The court reiterated that the plaintiff only needed to show that the defendant’s actions or omissions were a substantial cause of her death. Because the lower court based its decision on improper legal analysis, the case was reversed.

Do You Need a Washington, D.C. Medical Malpractice Attorney?

If you or someone you care about has recently been the victim of what you believe to have been medical malpractice, you may be entitled to monetary compensation through a Washington, D.C. medical malpractice lawsuit. At the law firm of Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC we have decades of collective experience assisting injury victims and their families in recovering the compensation they deserve. To learn more about how we can help you pursue a claim for compensation based on the injuries you or your family member has endured, call 410-654-3600 to schedule a free consultation today.

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