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Medical Battery

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What Is "Medical Battery"?

Medical battery is the intentional violation of a patient’s right to direct their own medical treatments. Doctors must obtain a patient’s informed consent when rendering non-emergency treatment. If medical treatment is performed without the patient’s consent or against their will, the patient may have a claim for medical battery, even if the doctor did not intend to cause any harm.

In a medical battery claim, there is generally no need to prove injury or negligence. However, as in all battery cases, it is necessary to prove that the medical personnel engaged in unauthorized touching, contact or handling of the victim.   

The main point of dispute in most medical battery claims is whether the patient agreed to the treatment or whether they refused it. The patient may refuse treatment directly, through advanced directives, or by way of a health care proxy. Most states have laws governing medical battery, though they may vary by jurisdiction.

What Are the Legal Consequences of Medical Battery?

Although it is not necessary to prove actual injury in a medical battery case, the victim does need to prove some damage that resulted from the unauthorized medical procedures. Therefore the legal consequences of medical battery usually involve compensation for the victim’s losses. The amount of recovery available for the victim may sometimes be limited according to statute.

Medical battery is not the same as medical malpractice, which has to do with negligent acts performed by medical personnel. However, a single incident may involve both medical battery and medical malpractice. If this is the case, the court will thoroughly analyze all relevant factors when calculating a damages award.

Additionally, medical battery may lead to criminal punishments if the defendant acted with criminal intent. Although it is somewhat rare, criminal punishments in connection with medical battery may involve such consequences as fines or jail time. 

Are There Any Defenses to Medical Battery?

The most important issue in most medical battery cases is whether the patient accepted the treatment through informed consent. That is, the patient must be informed of all the potential outcomes of the treatment, and they must willingly consent to the procedure.

Thus, a common defense is to prove that the patient actually consented to the medical treatment. This may be proven using medical documents or witness testimony establishing that the patient consented to the treatment.

Another common defense to medical battery is that of incapacity. If the patient lacked the mental capacity to render their own intelligent decisions, their decision to refuse treatment may come under question. 

For example, if the patient was unconscious or intoxicated prior to treatment, it may have been necessary to proceed with the medical treatment. This is common in emergency situations, for example, if an operation is needed to save the patient’s life.  However, even in emergency situations, doctors and medical professionals are held to strict standards of care regarding the patient’s wishes. 

Do I Need a Lawyer for Medical Battery Claims?

Medical battery claims are becoming increasingly more common. Many states have passed statutes that protect the patient’s rights regarding informed consent. If you are involved in a medical battery claim, you may wish to speak with a personal injury lawyer. Your attorney will be able to explain the medical battery laws of your state and can assist you in court if trial becomes necessary. 

Photo of page author Ken LaMance

, LegalMatch Law Library Managing Editor and Attorney at Law

Last Modified: 02-13-2018 11:56 PM PST

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