A significant part of your role as a medical professional is providing your patients with advice on how they can take care of themselves. Once a person leaves the hospital and, in turn, your care, there are often steps you ask them to take to make sure their recovery continues successfully.
Seeing a patient return to you with preventable injuries or infection due to a failure to follow your advice can be incredibly frustrating. This frustration is magnified when that person then brings a claim against you for medical malpractice. Where negligence on the part of the patient to follow your advice had contributed to their illness, this can be used in your defense.
Contributory negligence: what is it and what does it mean?
Contributory negligence applies where a patient’s actions or omission has contributed to their own harm.
You can only do so much as a medical professional and there is an onus on the patient to take responsibility for their own healthcare. A big part of this is following the directions given by you and the hospital for after their discharge.
Examples of actions that can be contributory negligence
While this will largely depend on the nature of a patient’s injury or illness, it generally comes down to not doing something you’ve been advised to do.
For example, contributory evidence may look like this:
- Not following the orders given by a doctor
- Not taking medication that has been prescribed (or failing to even collect it)
- Missing follow-up appointments
It can also involve carrying out activities that a doctor has advised a patient not to do as this could exacerbate the injury.
In practice, an example of contributory negligence may be when a patient is claiming they are having significant pain following surgery that they shouldn’t have. If that patient failed to attend follow-up appointments or did not complete physical therapy as directed, this is likely to have a serious impact on their claim if it can be shown they are, at least in part, to blame.
Facing a medical malpractice lawsuit can be a worrying time both professionally and personally. Evidence of contributory negligence can have a significant impact on the claim against you and should be investigated.