To prove a medical battery claim, it would be best to look at the elements of a traditional battery case. Battery is the harmful or offensive touching of another person. Medical battery is precisely this, but in a medical setting, where a doctor or medical professional causes a harmful or offensive touching to their patients.
The key to proving a medical battery is proving intent. The doctor must have acted intentionally to cause harm or offensive contact with the patient. With traditional battery, courts are split as to whether the plaintiff has to prove the intent to harm. There is no need to prove the doctor wanted to cause harm in a medical battery, only that the touching was intentional.
The elements of proof for a medical battery claim are:
- Actual cause;
- Proximate cause;
- Harmful or offensive;
- By a medical professional
The most common example of medical battery occurs when a doctor performs a non-emergency medical procedure without getting the patient’s consent first. For example, Dr. X gained consent from a patient to undergo heart surgery. While in surgery, Dr. X removes the kidney. This is a medical battery because Dr. X did not gain consent to remove the patient’s kidney.
However, if Dr. X removed the kidney because, while performing heart surgery, Dr. X realized there were complications. The patient’s best chance for survival would be to remove the kidney. There would most likely be no medical battery claim. Medical battery does not apply when it is an emergency.
Actual injury is not necessary in a medical battery case. This is because harmful does not necessarily mean that harm was caused. If the patient’s kidney is removed without an emergency, and the patient is better off because it was removed, there is still a case of medical battery. Removing a person’s organ without permission is a battery.
What Are the Legal Consequences of Medical Battery?
Legal consequences of medical battery typically include compensation from the medical professional for any loss the victim endured. Legal consequences include recovery for all past, present, and future injuries. This may involve compensation for any physical damages, including:
- Illnesses; or
- physical pains
Even though the actual injury is not required for medical battery in healthcare situations, some damages need to be apparent to recover a battery claim. Even if, as stated above, the touching ends up being beneficial, the victim may still recover damages.
Patients suffering from a medical battery can also prove mental consequences for a chance of recovery. For example, if Dr. X removed the patient’s kidney without their consent, the patient may be better off physically, but suffer from emotional pain. The doctor may be responsible for any treatments the patient went through because of the battery. It could also include damages like pain and suffering, non-economic damages because they cannot be directly measured in dollars.
Non-economic damages include mental and emotional distress, such as:
- Loss of peace of mind;
- Anxiety about the future;
- Shock endured during the battery;
- Loss of the ability to enjoy life;
- Inconvenience performing day to day activities.
While a medical battery is usually grouped into intentional tort claims, it can lead to criminal prosecution. If a doctor, or medical professional, acts with criminal intent, they are subjected to harsher punishments.
For example, if Dr. X removed the patient’s kidney, not because the patient was endangered but because Dr. X wanted to sell the kidney on the black market, Dr. X will be prosecuted in a criminal court. Criminal medical battery is very rare, but consequences can include:
- Loss of medical license;
- Severe fines; or
- Jail sentence;
Lastly, while the medical battery is different from medical malpractice, a single incident may involve both. Medical malpractice is the negligence of a healthcare professional, which leads to the patient’s injury.
The difference is, medical malpractice is a negligent act, which does not require intent, and a medical battery is an intentional act. If both medical malpractice and medical battery occur, the court will determine damages and awards based on the facts of the case. An example of when they both exist would be:
Dr. X is performing heart surgery on a patient. While the patient is in surgery, Dr. X realized a complication with the patient’s kidney. There is no emergency, but in the doctor’s opinion, it will need to be removed eventually, so he removes it. This is a medical battery. Once the surgery is complete, the doctor sews up the incisions and sends the patient to recover. While in recovery, the patient is experiencing some pains in their abdominal area. An x-ray shows that a medical tool was left in place of the kidney. This is medical malpractice because Dr. X did not intend to leave the tool.
Are There Any Defenses to Medical Battery?
The number one defense to a medical battery claim is proof the patient consented to the contact or touching. This can be proven using medical documents the patient may have signed or witness testimony stating the patient consented to the treatment.
What’s more, the patient must have been fully informed to have the ability to consent. For a patient to be fully informed, the doctor or medical professional must inform the patient of all treatment options and procedures’ possible outcomes. For example, if a doctor does not intentionally tell the patient the chance of survival because they feel it would discourage the patient from obtaining the procedure, there is a medical battery. But if the doctor outlines the chance of survival and all treatment options, they are protected from claims.
Incapacitation of a patient is another common defense for medical battery. That is to say, if a patient lacks the mental capacity to render a decision of treatment, the court would question their post-procedural refusal. This is most common in emergencies. If Dr. X is performing heart surgery on a patient incapacitated because of anesthesia, the patient lacks the mental capacity to consent. Thus, if Dr. X removes the kidney for the patient’s best chance of survival, the court would most likely find this a valid defense.
Also, the defense that consent was rendered by someone other than the patient when the patient was incapacitated. For example, if the patients are incautious or intoxicated, but it is necessary to continue with medical treatment, the medical professional may look to another for consent. This includes parents or guardians, for patients under the age of 18.
A power of attorney can make decisions for adults who have delegated all medical making powers to another competent adult. This typically involves a contract or documentation of the incapacitated person’s wishes. Additionally, the medical professional may look to medical documentation, for example, if the patient filled out a do-not-resuscitate form.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Medical Battery Claims?
Medical battery claims vary from state to state, and because these claims are becoming more common, many states have passed regulations that protect the patient’s right to informed consent. If you feel you have a medical battery claim, you may want to speak to a personal injury lawyer. Working with a lawyer specializing in medical battery cases can help you understand your state laws and options for recovery.