Understanding How Contributory Negligence Affects Your Malpractice Case

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It may seem that a doctor bears sole responsibility for medical malpractice, but patients also have a duty to participate in their healthcare in a way that reduces the risk of illness or injury. When a patient's own actions contribute to a poor outcome, this can affect his eligibility for medical malpractice compensation. How contributory negligence affects medical malpractice cases

Proving a Malpractice Claim

A poor outcome from medical treatment isn't necessarily medical malpractice. For a doctor's conduct to rise to the level of malpractice, you must be able to provide proof of the following four key elements:

  • Duty. The defendant was acting as your healthcare provider and owed you a professional duty of care at the time your injury or illness occurred.
  • Breach of duty. The defendant failed to meet the required duty of care by ignoring accepted medical standards for diagnosing and treating your condition.
  • Damages. You suffered illness or injury.
  • Causation. Your illness or injury would not have occurred if you had been able to receive care that met the accepted medical standard for your condition.

About Contributory Negligence

Contributory negligence in a medical malpractice case refers to actions the patient may have taken to contribute to his injuries. The patient is not expected to have the full medical knowledge a doctor possesses, but he is expected to follow treatment recommendations that are consistent with the recognized standard of care for a specific condition.

Some examples of behavior that may constitute contributory negligence include:

  • Lying about your medical history or omitting information that is necessary for a correct diagnosis
  • Taking more of a medication than what was prescribed
  • Taking medication that you were not prescribed
  • Drinking with a medication that interacts negatively with alcohol
  • Ignoring instructions for post-surgical care to prevent infection
  • Ignoring restrictions regarding lifting after a back injury or abdominal surgery
  • Failing to use crutches to avoid placing stress on a broken leg, causing it to set incorrectly
  • Canceling follow-up appointments such as screenings to check to make sure cancer has not returned after chemotherapy

How Contributory Negligence Affects Your Right to Compensation

A malpractice claim allows you to seek compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering. Rules regarding how contributory negligence affects a malpractice settlement vary from state to state. However, Louisiana uses what is known as a pure comparative negligence approach. Under this system, you are assigned a percentage of fault based on how your actions contributed to your injuries. Your compensation is then reduced accordingly.

For example, consider a case where you have a malpractice claim that would normally entitle you to $200,000 in damages. If you've been determined to be 30% at fault, you would only collect $140,000—or 70% of the total you otherwise would have received.

The Value of Expert Testimony

Expert testimony is essential in any malpractice case but is particularly important when contributory negligence is an issue. Your actions are not considered negligent if they did not affect the treatment you received or result in your illness or injury. For example, omitting information from your medical history about a prior adverse drug reaction is only contributory negligence if this information would have caused the doctor to provide you with a different medication instead of the drug that caused your injury. Expert testimony helps establish how your actions affected the outcome of your medical treatment.

How Neblett, Beard & Arsenault Can Help

Medical malpractice cases that involve contributory negligence can be difficult to settle. Retaining an experienced medical malpractice attorney who can advocate for your needs throughout the settlement process is the best way to protect your right to compensation if you believe you may be partially at fault for your illness or injury.

The experienced attorneys at Neblett, Beard & Arsenault are committed to helping Louisiana residents receive the malpractice compensation they need to move forward with their lives after being harmed by a healthcare provider's negligence. Contact us onlilne or call us directly at 318.541.8188 to schedule a free, no-obligation initial consultation.


Richard J. Arsenault
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Recognized by several legal associations, Richard Arsenault has vast experience in complex litigation cases.