A medical paralegal works on cases involving both the law and medicine. Medical paralegals commonly work in law firms that handle medical malpractice litigation, doing research on both the legal aspects and the medical aspects involved in proving such a lawsuit. These paralegals may also work on other types of personal injury cases and/or other cases in which the nature of injury is a key aspect of the law.
Paralegals in general are responsible for assisting lawyers in the preparation of legal arguments to be made in court. When a lawyer tries a case in court or files a lawsuit, he must cite various legal precedent, in the form of statutes and past cases, that support the legal arguments he is making and the position he wishes the court to take. Paralegals are responsible for using legal research databases such as Lexis Nexis or Westlaw, as well as code books and other sources of legal material, to find the relevant law that applies to a given case.
When the case that the attorney is researching involves medical facts, such as the nature of an injury or a doctor's breach of a reasonable duty of care, a medical paralegal may be required. Since the decision in such cases hangs on medical facts, such as whether the doctor's actions were reasonable in light of the circumstances, understanding both the nature of the law and the medical decisions that were made is vital. A paralegal without a medical background may not have a thorough enough understanding of the medical terminology used or the medical decisions made to be able to fully do the research an attorney needs to make a case.
Often, a medical paralegal has both a background in medicine and in the law. It is common for a former nurse to act as a medical paralegal. The nursing certificate, combined with experience working in a law firm or paralegal education or certification, can help a medical paralegal command a relatively high salary; such paralegals are also referred to as nurse paralegals. Medical paralegals can also come from other fields, such as former physicians, EMT techs, or others who have worked within the medical community and then decided to switch their focus to the law. These paralegals may work on not only medical malpractice cases, but also on Social Security disability cases in which there is a question of whether someone is sufficiently disabled, or personal injury cases in which there is a question as to whether the client sustained severe enough damages to warrant recovery.