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Comment and Controversy

A clarification for the defendant physician

May 2003 · Vol. 15, No. 5

Dr. Richard Soderstrom’s article, “Chicken soup for the defendant physician” [February], has some good tips for the physician who is facing a lawsuit and trial. I write to point out 1 small but significant error.

The article states, “The plaintiff also must demonstrate that the defendant’s alleged error was the proximate cause of an injury.” The correct term is “a proximate cause.” Although the law varies somewhat from state to state, all jurisdictions—to my knowledge—require only that the negligence constitute a proximate cause or a substantial factor in causing the injury. Thus, there can be more than 1 cause of injury—for example, the underlying illness of the patient plus negligence or a violation of the standard of care.

The distinction is important because if it were required that the medical error be the proximate cause of an injury, it would be almost impossible for a plaintiff to ever prevail in a malpractice suit.


Dr. Soderstrom responds:

I appreciate Mr. Olender’s correction; it is an important distinction for all to understand. This was an error on my part and I know the editors will publish our correspondence so my error does not become “a proximate cause.”

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