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Proving medical malpractice in Washington

Washington residents who have suffered an injury or become sicker as the result of their health care provider’s negligence often sue their doctor and/or hospital for medical malpractice. Section 4.16.350 of the Revised Code of Washington says that such a suit must be brought within three years after the alleged negligent act occurred or within one year after the date the injured patient knew or should have known that his or her health care provider’s act or omission caused the injury, whichever occurs later. However, all medical malpractice lawsuits must be brought within eight years of the alleged act or omission, although some specific exceptions apply to this rule.

While doctors are the most common defendants in medical malpractice suits, other negligent people may be sued as well, including the following:

  • Nurses and nurse practitioners
  • Dentists
  • Chiropractors
  • Psychologists
  • Pharmacists
  • Physical therapists

In addition, the hospital or other health care facility where the plaintiff was a patient also can be a defendant in a medical malpractice lawsuit.

Elements and burden of proof

Chapter 7.70 of the Revised Code of Washington sets forth the specifics applicable to medical malpractice suits. For instance, Section 7.70.100 provides that all medical malpractice claims for damages must be mediated before going to trial. The only exceptions are those claims that must instead go through mandatory arbitration or those in which the plaintiff(s) and defendant(s) have agreed to arbitration.

Once the case goes to trial, Sections 7.70.030 and 7.70.040 provide that the plaintiff must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant did at least one of the following three things:

  1. Failed to adhere to the standard of care that a prudent and similarly situated health care professional would be expected to provide
  2. Promised that the injury would not occur
  3. Failed to obtain the patient’s informed consent

In addition, the plaintiff must prove that the negligent care he or she received was the proximate cause of his or her injury.