Malpractice. Negligence. Liability. Damages. A lot of terms get thrown around in personal injury cases. Each of these terms has a specific meaning as defined by state and federal statutes. In civil law, these definitions are important, as they stipulate who has the right to seek compensation under what conditions.
If you were injured by a doctor’s mistake, for example, you need to know: What’s the difference between medical negligence and malpractice? When do you have the right to take legal action against a health care provider whose actions caused you harm? How do you know if you have a case?
Below, we’ll look at the difference between negligence and malpractice through the lens of injury cases involving medical professionals. After learning more about the definition of medical malpractice and negligence, contact Peterson Law Office to discuss your case. At no cost to you, we can advise you of how to proceed with a claim if your case warrants legal action.
What Is Negligence?
Let’s first define the concept of negligence. Negligence is the basis of most personal injury claims. This is a broader term than “malpractice,” which we will see is more specific than negligence.
Negligence is defined as “a failure to behave with the level of care that someone of ordinary prudence would have exercised under the same circumstances.” In other words, a negligent person acts differently from the way a reasonable person should have, given the circumstances. Negligence can be either a specific action, or an omission (a failure to act).
In a personal injury case, there are two main parties: the plaintiff and the defendant. The plaintiff is the party taking legal action against the defendant. The defendant is the party being accused of negligence that harmed the plaintiff.
A common example of negligence can be seen in a car accident case. A reasonable person should not speed or text behind the wheel. If a driver chooses to deviate from this accepted standard, they can be seen as engaging in negligence. If their negligence causes an accident that injures another person, that injured party has the right to file a claim against the negligent driver.
There are four elements that must be met in order to prove negligence:
- The defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care.
- The defendant breached the duty of care.
- The plaintiff suffered injuries as a result of the breach of duty.
- The plaintiff’s injuries caused them to suffer damages.
Referring to the earlier example of driver negligence, you can see how these elements are met when a driver speeds or texts while driving. All motorists owe other motorists a duty of care to not engage in reckless behaviors like drunk driving, distracted driving, or driving at unsafe speeds. When a driver commits dangerous behind-the-wheel behaviors like these, they violate this duty. When someone is hurt by this breach of duty, they are entitled to financial damages to compensate the losses they suffered as a result of negligence (such as medical bills, vehicle property damage, pain and suffering, etc.).
Other examples of negligence might include:
- A pet owner who fails to leash or fence a dangerous dog
- A property owner who leaves a broken stair unfixed in an apartment building
- Nursing home staff who fail to respond to residents’ calls for help
- Truck drivers who drive without the proper training to operate a big rig
What Is Malpractice?
Malpractice is similar to negligence but has a more specific meaning.
Malpractice is defined as “when a professional fails to properly execute their duty to a client.”
Unlike other types of negligence, malpractice is specifically between professionals and their clients. The term “malpractice” is used almost exclusively in cases involving doctors or lawyers. Medical malpractice is a more common type of case than legal malpractice, but both address situations in which a professional violated their duty to a client.
In a situation of malpractice, a professional owes their client a certain professional standard of care—a standard of care that they do not meet. For example, a surgeon who operates on a patient while intoxicated violates the standard of care their profession demands of them.
How Do You Know if You Have a Medical Malpractice Case?
Just like negligence, there are four basic elements that must be met to prove that medical malpractice occurred. Those are:
- A doctor-patient relationship existed, creating a professional duty on the part of the doctor.
- The doctor breached their duty to meet the standard of care.
- The breach of duty resulted in injury to the patient.
- The patient suffered damages as a result of the injury.
A doctor is not the only medical professional who can be named as a defendant in a medical malpractice case. Health care providers of all types can be found to have committed malpractice, including:
- Nursing homes
- And other medical professionals and organizations
There are many actions and omissions in the medical field that can be considered malpractice. Just a few examples of medical malpractice include:
- Prescribing or administering the wrong medication
- Failing to order testing and medical imaging when needed to make a diagnosis
- Performing surgery on the wrong patient or wrong body part
- Leaving surgical instruments or other objects inside a patient
- Missing a diagnosis that could have been made by another doctor in the same situation
- Administering the wrong dosage of anesthesia for the patient
- Neglecting to check a patient’s medical history
- Failing to obtain a patient’s consent for a medical intervention or procedure
Legal Help in the Aftermath of Medical Malpractice
Medical malpractice cases are well-known to be highly complicated. Proving malpractice is not something that is easily done and certainly not something that can be accomplished without the help of medical experts and an experienced legal team.
If you believe that medical professional malpractice was the cause of your injuries, it is best to get in touch with an experienced attorney to discuss your case. If you have grounds for a malpractice lawsuit, your legal representative can help you file a claim to recover damages.
At Peterson Law Office, we can do more than answer your questions about the difference between medical negligence and malpractice. During a free consultation, we’ll go over your rights and legal options based on the circumstances of your case. There is no cost to explore what recourse is available to you after a personal injury or wrongful death of a loved one.
Contact our law office today to learn how we can represent you in your legal matter.
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