The Difference Between Medical Negligence and Malpractice
At Shrager & Sachs, we understand that there is a good deal of legalese in any type of personal injury case. Nowhere is this truer than in a case involving medical malpractice.
Words like “malpractice” and “negligence” may be used interchangeably in conversation, but they actually have very specific definitions in personal injury law. Below, we’ll examine the difference between medical negligence and malpractice.
Shrager & Sachs is a Philadelphia personal injury law firm specializing in the practice of medical malpractice law in Pennsylvania. If you or a loved one suffered what you believe to be an instance of medical malpractice, please contact our office to schedule a free question and answer session with an attorney.
What Is Negligence?
Negligence can be thought of as a much broader term than malpractice. Negligence is an important legal concept that forms the basis of most types of personal injury cases, including car accidents, premises liability accidents, and nursing home abuse and neglect cases.
The definition of negligence is a failure to behave in a way that another reasonable person would have under the same circumstances. This behavior may be a specific action, or a failure to act when action is required. There are four elements to proving negligence in a personal injury case:
- That the defendant (the party accused of negligence) owed the plaintiff (the party taking legal action) a duty of care
- That the defendant breached this duty of care
- That the plaintiff suffered injuries
- That the plaintiff’s injuries were caused by the defendant’s behavior
The legal definition of negligence can be hard to correlate to a real-life scenario. Let’s look at a common example of negligence in a personal injury lawsuit: speeding.
When a driver takes a motor vehicle out on the road, they have a duty to act in a way that does not put lives at risk. Speeding, a known cause of accidents, is a risky behavior that violates the duty of care owed to those sharing the road, including other motorists, pedestrians, and bicyclists. A reasonable person under the same circumstances would not break speed limit laws, especially if traveling through an area with high pedestrian traffic. Therefore, if a speeding driver strikes and injures a person on foot, causing that person to suffer damages, the driver can be held liable for negligence.
What Is Malpractice?
Malpractice is a term with a more specific use. In civil law, malpractice is defined as a tort (wrongful act) committed when a professional fails in their duty to a client. That is, a professional does not meet the standards of care that are generally accepted in their field.
The relationship between the wrongdoer and victim differentiates malpractice from other types of negligence. The key point is that someone who commits malpractice is a professional who has a duty to meet the standards of their profession—yet fails to live up to those standards. The victim is then a patient or client who trusts the professional standing of the practitioner—and thus suffers harm when the professional delivers substandard care.
The term “malpractice” is used almost exclusively when referring to torts committed by a doctor or lawyer.
Medical malpractice is a relatively common practice area of personal injury law. Medical malpractice lawsuits allow injured patients to take legal action against a doctor, nurse, or other medical professional who violated a duty of care and caused injuries.
Although less common, legal malpractice law similarly seeks to hold professional attorneys accountable for wrongdoing that causes harm. If a lawyer handles a case inappropriately, in a way that results in damages to a client, they may be held liable through a legal malpractice lawsuit.
What Constitutes Medical Malpractice?
Medical malpractice is an act (or omission) by a health care provider when treating a patient that deviates from accepted standards of care and causes injury to the patient. Medical malpractice is thus a specific area of civil law that handles negligence committed by medical professionals.
Each state has its own system of laws regarding medical malpractice cases. These laws dictate things like how long a victim has to take legal action after injury and what documentation must be submitted when filing a lawsuit against a doctor, hospital, or other medical provider. But every state requires that a medical malpractice case prove the four basic legal elements:
- There was a doctor-patient relationship, and the patient was owed a professional duty by the doctor (or other medical professional).
- The professional health care provider breached this duty.
- The breach of duty resulted in injury to the patient.
- The patient incurred damages as a result of the injury.
If these four elements can be proven and the case is successful, monetary damages will be awarded to the plaintiff. This financial award will serve to compensate losses suffered by the victim in the form of medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and more.
There are many types of negligence that can be committed by a health care professional. Below are just a few of the most common types of medical negligence addressed through medical malpractice lawsuits:
- Failing to conduct the examinations or tests needed to make a diagnosis
- Dismissing a patient from the ER without addressing a critical health issue
- Operating on the wrong patient or wrong body part
- Treating patients while under the influence of drugs or alcohol
- Staffing a hospital with underqualified employees
- Misusing tools during the labor and delivery process
- Neglecting to review a patient’s medical history for allergies or potential drug interactions
Contact a Top-Rated Medical Malpractice Lawyer Trusted by Philadelphia
Medical malpractice cases are among the most complicated in civil law. While some minor personal injury cases (like a fender bender that causes no serious injuries) can be handled without legal representation, it’s never advisable for an injured patient to attempt to file a medical malpractice lawsuit without the help of a qualified attorney.
At Shrager & Sachs, we have over 80 years of combined experience working with victims of medical malpractice in Philadelphia. Questions about the difference between medical negligence and malpractice and other related matters are common among clients seeking legal options for recovery after injury. Our attorneys value the relationships we build with our clients, and we encourage potential clients to bring any questions they have to us. We always seek to provide answers in a way that addresses your concerns and speaks to your individual situation.
The best professional relationships begin by sitting down and having an honest and meaningful conversation. We invite you to fill out our online contact form or call our office to learn more about how Shrager & Sachs can help you recover from an injury caused by medical negligence.
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