What is the Difference Between Medical Malpractice and Negligence?

Posted in: Medical Malpractice | Aug 31,2022

Medical errors are one of the leading causes of death in the United States. Unfortunately, medical mistakes can happen at even the best facilities. If you or someone you love suffered because a healthcare professional failed to uphold their duty, you may have a case for medical negligence or medical malpractice. So that you may understand the two types of cases, this post will answer, “what is the difference between medical malpractice and negligence?”

How are Medical Malpractice and Negligence Similar?

They both are based on the premise that medical professionals have the same standard of care. Medical standard of care refers to the type and level of care a reasonably skilled and competent professional in a given field would administer under the same circumstances. The standard of care ensures that patients in similar cases experiencing the same health issues receive the same level and quality of care regardless of which doctor they see. 

Both medical malpractice and medical negligence breach the duty of care a healthcare professional owes to a patient. The duty of care refers to the relationship between doctor and patient. It can also apply to a nurse and a patient or any other individual responsible for administering care to a patient. The duty of care is a legal obligation doctors have to treat patients under the acceptable standard of care in their profession. The duty of care also includes the duty to warn patients about potential risks associated with a procedure or medicine and the duty to supervise other personnel to whom they delegate certain aspects of a patient’s care. 

To pursue compensation for injuries from a healthcare professional, the injured party must first prove the existence of a doctor-patient relationship. The doctor-patient relationship implies that the doctor owed a duty to the patient. 

Malpractice vs. Negligence

In broad terms, negligence is recklessness or failure to act with reasonable care. In personal injury law, one must prove that negligence contributed to injuries resulting in damages. Malpractice is a specific type of wrongdoing that applies to professionals such as doctors or lawyers when they fail to uphold the standards of their profession and the legal duty they owe to their clients or patients.

Medical Negligence

Medical negligence occurs when a doctor, nurse, or other healthcare professional fails to uphold the standard of and duty of care and causes patient harm. For example, if a surgeon punctured an organ during surgery or failed to note a patient’s allergies when prescribing medication, their actions may be considered negligent. Generally, acts of negligence are accidents born out of carelessness. In personal injury law, the elements necessary to prove negligence are:

  • Duty – The medical professional owed a duty to uphold a standard of care in treating a patient.
  • Breach – The medical professional breached that standard of care.
  • Causation – The breach resulted in injury or illness.
  • Damages – The plaintiff (patient) suffered damages due to the medical professional’s actions. 

Medical Malpractice 

Malpractice involves more than a mistake. Medical malpractice occurs when a doctor knows or should have known the potential consequences of their actions and proceeded anyway. For example, medical malpractice may exist if a doctor chooses not to order a necessary test and misdiagnoses the patient. Acts of malpractice have an element of “intent.” While the doctor did not intend to harm the patient, they made a conscious choice that deviated from the standard of care and caused a patient harm

Criminal Medical Negligence 

In some extreme cases, medical negligence can amount to a criminal offense. Criminal medical negligence involves a wanton disregard for human life resulting in severe harm or death. It is important to note that not all medical malpractice cases resulting in a patient’s death constitute a crime. Rather than committing an error or avoidable mistake, a medical provider must willfully and knowingly place a patient in harm’s way or act with intent to harm. For example, if a surgeon operated on a patient while intoxicated and the patient died, there could be a case for criminal medical negligence. 

Criminal cases against a doctor or hospital are not brought by individuals but by government prosecutors. The consequences of criminal medical negligence include revocation of the practitioner’s medical license and possible incarceration. 

Are All Medical Mistakes Malpractice?

It is important to note that not all adverse patient outcomes are malpractice. Medical errors do not always amount to a violation of the standard of care. Sometimes, doctors can do everything they are supposed to with the information they have and still fail to cure an illness or prevent loss of life. There are some cases where an illness worsens during treatment or something goes wrong despite the medical provider’s best efforts. 

The Bottom LineMedical professionals are not expected to be perfect, but they are expected to adhere to the standard of care. If you believe that a preventable medical error caused harm to you or a loved one, hire an attorney who understands the subtle nuances of medical malpractice and medical negligence. Montross Miller’s experienced attorneys will review the details of your case carefully to determine whether you have a claim for medical negligence or medical malpractice and help you find a path forward. Contact us to get help today.