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Establishing causation in medical malpractice claims

On Behalf of | Aug 16, 2023 | Regulatory & Other Items

When pursuing a medical malpractice claim in Illinois, one of the most challenging aspects for victims is establishing causation. Proving that a healthcare provider’s actions are directly responsible for a patient’s injuries or worsening condition requires carefully examining the medical evidence and thoroughly understanding the legal process.


Causation, in the medical malpractice context, refers to the link between a healthcare professional’s negligence and the harm suffered by the patient. It is not enough to simply show that a mistake occurred; plaintiffs must demonstrate that this error was the direct cause of the harm. This task often involves a complex interplay of medical knowledge and legal strategy.

To establish causation, plaintiffs typically rely on expert medical witnesses. These experts, ideally specialists in the relevant field, analyze medical records, procedures and other pertinent details to determine whether the healthcare provider’s actions deviated from accepted standards of care and directly caused the harm. Their testimony can help bridge the gap between medical intricacies and legal requirements.

Pre-existing conditions

Medical malpractice cases often involve pre-existing conditions, unforeseen complications or multiple contributing factors, which can complicate the causation argument. Defendants may argue that the patient’s underlying health issues, rather than the healthcare provider’s actions, were the main cause of harm. This is where plaintiffs must prove that without the healthcare provider’s negligence, the harm would not have occurred.

Inherent risks associated with healthcare

In some cases, causation can be especially challenging to prove due to the inherent risks that come with medical procedures or treatments. Establishing that a certain outcome was the result of negligence and not an inherent risk requires a thorough understanding of both medicine and law. This often necessitates a careful medical record review, consultations with specialists and expert witness assistance who can testify to the outcome’s likelihood under different circumstances.

Chance vs. negligence

Proving causation in a medical malpractice claim is a complex undertaking where the plaintiff must prove their medical condition is due to negligence rather than chance. Successfully navigating the intricacies of causation can significantly impact a medical malpractice case’s outcome, making it essential for plaintiffs to meticulously build their arguments based on sound medical and legal foundations.