Although circumstances involving medical malpractice or medical negligence can appear very similar, each has major implications for those filing a claim. The evidentiary standards between the two are different but can involve similar sets of facts. Determining whether one or the other occurred is central to building your case and the types of damages you can receive if you successfully prove a medical provider is responsible for causing you lasting harm.
When you’ve experienced a personal injury as the result of a medical accident or error, it is important to be informed about your legal options. Experienced personal injury lawyers specializing in medical malpractice and medical negligence can determine which you should file for and how to build a successful case.
Medical Malpractice vs Medical Negligence
Both medical malpractice and medical negligence are legal terms used to describe a set of actions that led to a medical mistake. We aren’t just talking about normal, human mistakes that come from working a difficult job. Both medical negligence and medical malpractice represent a failure of professional responsibility and an unmet standard of care. Not to mention they are a betrayal of the trust patients put in care providers.
Medical malpractice: An avoidable medical mistake or omission by a medical practitioner, such as a physician, that causes harm as the result of substandard care. Malpractice involves violating or ignoring a medical practitioner’s duty of care to a patient.
Medical negligence: A decision or action by a medical practitioner that causes accidental harm to a patient. Standards of negligence are compared to what other practitioners would have done based on commonly accepted standards of care.
When Medical Negligence Becomes Malpractice
Most cases of medical negligence will involve medical practitioners that fail to meet the accepted standards of care that can be reasonably expected of medical professionals.
When determining whether you have a medical malpractice case, you need to identify when medical negligence reaches the level of malpractice. Medical malpractice is a form of negligence but not all negligence is malpractice. Non-practitioners can be liable for negligence but this does not necessarily constitute medical malpractice. Examples include lab assistants, pharmacists, and radiological technicians. Additionally, medical facilities like hospitals can also be held liable for medical negligence when they fail to address problems that contribute to individual patient harm.
Deciding when negligence reaches the legal threshold of malpractice occurs when a practitioner’s actions have caused lasting patient harm. Therefore, personally injured patients are most likely to be awarded monetary damages when they have long-term emotional and physical consequences as a result of a medical mistake. In cases of medical malpractice, patients often experience lost income, lost vocational opportunities, and diminished quality of life. In the most serious cases practitioner error can result in short- or long-term disability or wrongful death.
Examples of Negligence
Medical negligence occurs when practitioners or non-medical personnel commit acts of carelessness, recklessness, or demonstrated indifference toward a patient. Examples of negligence include:
- Failure to diagnose
- Failure to perform or order appropriate medical testing
- Improper use of medical devices
- Improper treatment
- Incorrect treatment
- Surgical mistakes
Examples of Medical Malpractice
The above list of medical negligence examples can constitute medical malpractice in certain situations, based on who is responsible for the medical error, its egregiousness, and the lasting harm it causes. The elements of medical malpractice include:
- The practitioner fails to fulfill their duty of care to the patient.
- The practitioner fails to meet reasonable professional standards.
- Bodily harm is directly caused by medical error.
- The patient is owed financial damages for harm done.
The difference between negligence and malpractice can be difficult for the layperson to discern. A lawyer can help you determine whether the negligent acts committed by a medical provider give rise to malpractice.
Medical malpractice typically involves a practitioner’s:
- Failure to treat
- Failure to diagnose
- Failure to receive “informed consent”
Common examples of medical malpractice include:
- Medication errors
- Nursing homes abuse and neglect
- Anesthesia errors
- Birth errors
A medical error’s impact on a patient plays heavily into whether there has been negligence or malpractice. If an error does not lead to harm, the courts are unlikely to determine that there’s enough evidence to rule in your favour.
For example, even misdiagnosis or mistreatment of the flu could represent a major medical error. If the proper medical protocol is not followed when addressing patient needs results in harm, it could be negligence or malpractice. Dismissing patient complaints and ignoring obvious symptoms is a big deal if the patient experiences serious consequences of the flu or a similarly common and minor illness or medical condition.