Generally, most medical malpractice cases are tort actions based on the existence of a physician’s duty to a patient, a breach of that duty, and injury to the patient as a result of the breach. Most healthcare providers do not promise a cure nor guarantee the best possible result. However, an individual physician may open him or herself up to a breach of contract action based on the provision of medical services resulting from a bad medical result if the physician has bound himself to cure the patient or to obtain specific results.
Some courts refuse to interpret a physician’s general statements about the quality of service to be performed as a guarantee or promise of a certain result. On the other hand, other courts have interpreted a doctor’s statement on the conduct, outcome, or safety of a particular medical procedure as a definite guarantee, making the physician potentially liable for the breach of an express warranty.
In order to find the existence of a breach of contract action, some courts require proof of a patient’s payment of separate consideration in addition to the amount paid for the physician’s normal duty to use reasonable care and skill. Other courts have not required separate consideration if the warranty was made before the treatment and was given in order to induce the patient to consent to treatment.
Damages resulting from a breach of contract based on the provision of medical services usually do not provide for an award of pain and suffering, but damages may be given to place the patient back in the financial position tht he or she would have been in had the physician performed the agreement.
In addition to a breach of contract action based on the provision of medical services, a patient may have a claim against a physician for breach of a financial contract. Whether or not a contract exists relating to the success of medical services, a financial contract exists because the relationship involves fees. The financial contract usually provides that the physician will render a specific amount of services, based on either time or therapeutic objectives, in exchange for a certain amount of money. Any breach of this financial contract will be governed by the usual rules of contract law.