“Comparative Negligence” In Tennessee Medical Malpractice: Can A Patient Be Partly At Fault In A Health Care Negligence Claim?
You may already be familiar with the concept of medical malpractice, and when a doctor or other healthcare provider may be responsible – professionally and financially – for an injury caused by negligence. The trickier issues in these cases typically include how a medical injury was caused, and at times whether the patient may have been partly to blame.
Tennessee follows a “modified comparative fault rule” (see McIntyre v. Balentine , 833 S.W.2d 52 (Tenn. 1992), which reduces the amount of damages a plaintiff can recover by their degree of fault. Under this rule, as long as a plaintiff is less than 50 percent at fault in an incident, they may recover in proportion to the defendant’s degree of fault. This rule applies more traditionally in negligence cases such as vehicle crashes and other accidents, but can apply in healthcare negligence cases as well.
Before reviewing comparative fault, a plaintiff in Tennessee must first prove that an act of negligence occurred.
The elements to prove negligence in a Tennessee medical malpractice claim under the Healthcare Liability Act are:
- Duty. Healthcare professionals owe a duty to perform to the degree of care and skill expected of a reasonable healthcare provider in their profession. A physician owes a duty of care similar to another physician in their field, and a nurse owes a duty similar to that of another nurse in her position.
- Breach. The plaintiff must prove that the healthcare provider in question breached their duty of care by some act or failure to act.
- Causation. The plaintiff must prove that their injury was caused by the defendant’s breach of the standard of care.
The breach and causation elements are fought most vigorously by defendants in healthcare negligence claims. The concept of comparative negligence – or fault – comes into play when addressing causation. Was the defendant’s act or omission the cause of the plaintiff’s injury? Or did the patient act in some way that helped cause or worsen the injury?
In these situations where a patient contributed in some way to the damage, a court or jury might assign a percentage of the blame to the plaintiff. For example, if a patient was prescribed medication and fell ill partly because they did not follow instructions on the label, they may be found 40% liable, and a defendant would only be required to pay 60% of a potential jury award.
Many patients may shy away from filing a legal claim because they feel it was “their own fault” – in whole or part – or they don’t want those facts brought to light. It is important to remember, as a prospective plaintiff, that you may have important legal rights to pursue, and a negligent healthcare provider should still face responsibility for their actions.
Our Knoxville, Tennessee Firm Can Help You Recover Damages in a Medical Malpractice Even if You Were Partly Responsible
The attorneys at Brezina Law, PLLC, will diligently review all facts and circumstances of your case, including your role in what percentage of fault a jury might attribute. We will also review the healthcare provider’s standard care and what may have constituted negligence on their part. Don’t give up simply because you feel you could be blamed for what happened. Contact a Knoxville Medical Malpractice Lawyer at Brezina Law, PLLC, at 865-500-3121 for a free consultation with a skilled and experienced Knoxville medical malpractice attorney.