Within the doctor-patient relationship, there’s an inherent power imbalance at play that all medical students learn about during their training. You, the patient, are naturally in an extremely vulnerable position, as your health and even your life are in their hands. That’s why it can be highly shocking when a medical professional is abusive. How could someone who spent so much time, money, energy, and dedication to helping others be so cruel?
The fact of the matter is that some doctors use this inherent power imbalance to mistreat patients and attempt to get away with it. If you’re ready to hold your abuser accountable, let’s take an in-depth look into the legal aspects of medical abuse and how to gather evidence for a doctor-patient abuse case.
We can define patient abuse as intentional negligence and or a failure to act that causes suffering or harm to a patient. While the term “doctor-patient” abuse is the most popular phrasing, it isn’t only doctors who can commit acts of patient abuse. Any caregiver or medical professional caring for a patient can commit patient abuse. But this doesn’t always look like overt violence or physical harm. It can be purposefully withholding pain medication, verbal abuse, purposeful isolation, ridicule, and coercion. Regardless of the action, the result is the same—a distressed patient in mental and or physical anguish.
Doctor-patient sexual assault is a kind of patient abuse, but sexual assault can take on many different forms on its own. Sexual assault can be either verbal, physical, written, or visual, and the legal definition doesn’t limit sexual assault to rape. It can be molestation, inappropriate sexual comments or advances, showing or taking inappropriate pictures, and so on.
However, doctor-patient sexual assault can look different and take on various forms. A medical professional may inappropriately touch a patient under anesthesia or perform unnecessary, invasive tests or procedures. If your specific experience doesn’t fall under these scenarios, that doesn’t mean what happened wasn’t sexual assault. If it was sexual in nature and unwanted, then it’s sexual assault. If a medical professional performed the action, then it falls under patient sexual assault.
When you take a doctor or other health-care practitioner to court, the first thing you must prove is that they had a duty to care for you. All medical professionals have a certain standard of care they must abide by. To prove that they owed you that standard of care, you have to show that there was a patient-provider relationship at the time, which you can easily establish with medical records.
Once you prove that you had a patient-provider relationship, this is where things can get a little tricky. You must prove that your health-care provider breached that duty and standard of care. This means that you would have to prove that a “reasonable or prudent” health-care professional wouldn’t act in such a way. To do so, a health-care practitioner in the same or similar field would need to act as an expert witness.
After establishing a breach of duty, you then have to prove that you have an injury or illness. This doesn’t have to be a physical or visible injury. Additionally, there are many cases where the resulting injury is long-lasting mental anguish, such as depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. However, you will need medical proof of these injuries or illnesses from a separate health-care provider.
The last and most difficult thing you need to prove to win your case is that the health-care provider caused your illness and or injury. Most often, the opposing side will argue that you or other outside factors caused the damage. For example, say a doctor sexually assaulted a patient during a physical exam, and they argue that this resulted in depression and mental suffering. The defendant may argue back that the patient already had mental health issues and that the doctor didn’t cause it. This is where you will need the help of an experienced attorney to link the abuse to your injuries.
When looking over what you have to prove, one of the first and most important things you need is a compilation of all of your medical records. This will help you prove a patient-provider relationship and gather evidence of your other injuries. To access your medical records, you’ll typically have to fill out a request form, but not every practice has the same procedures. Be sure to inquire as to what their procedures are and keep strict records of who you interact with and when.
While you don’t always need physical evidence to prove an abuse or sexual abuse case, it’s helpful to have it. In cases of abuse, you may want to take pictures of any resulting bruises or injuries. Your expert medical witness can attest to whether your injuries are abnormal for the procedure your doctor administered. If you have experienced sexual assault, you should consider going through the process of a sexual assault forensic exam to gather DNA evidence.
As mentioned, you’ll need a medical expert to testify throughout different portions of the court proceedings. However, if there were other medical staff present during the abuse or you had a trusted family member or friend with you, they could act as a witness. If there was a member of the medical staff present, it may be difficult to get them to act as a witness, as the medical professional may have pressured them to stay silent. Remember that it’s not up to you to contact, question, or gather witness testimony. Your lawyer will be able to do that for you, and all you have to do is provide them with a list of names and contact information.
Now that you know how to gather evidence for a doctor-patient abuse case, let the professionals at the Law Firm of Tamara N Holder help you receive justice. Our doctor sexual abuse lawyers have years of experience handling delicate cases like yours and will go to whatever legal lengths necessary to get you the compensation you deserve.