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Medical Negligence (Legal Definition And Overview: You Must Know)

What is Medical Negligence?

What are the elements that you need to prove?

Is it different from medical malpractice?

Keep reading as we have gathered exactly the information that you need!

Let’s dig into our negligence, tort, and medical tort laws!

Are you ready?

Let’s get started!

What Is Medical Negligence

Medical negligence is a legal phrase used to refer to instances when a doctor, physician, or health care professional fails at providing medical care in accordance with medical standards causing another harm or injury.

Any “act” or “omission” on the part of the health practitioner failing to observe recognized medical standards can be qualified as “medical” negligence.

A doctor owes certain duties of care to his or her patients.

Patients expect doctors and medical professionals to carry out their duties, provide medical treatments, and assess their condition with knowledge and skill.

Breaching such duties can cause harm to the patients leading to financial, emotional, and psychological harm.

Let’s break down the phrase to understand better what medical negligence means.

“Negligence” is a legal theory used to assess fault in a civil lawsuit.

When a person commits a fault (an act, omission, behavior, conduct), they will be legally held liable to compensate for damages caused to others.

“Medical” is a term used to qualify the type of negligence claim or lawsuit.

To say it’s a “medical” negligence claim, it’s to indicate that the negligent act or the “fault” was committed by a medical practitioner (like a doctor, surgeon, physician, dentist, nurse, or other medical professionals).

In other words, if a doctor or health practitioner provides you with treatment, operation, or advice deviating from the accepted medical standard of care, the healthcare professional may be considered as being negligent.


How do you define medical negligence?

‘Medical negligence can be defined as follows:

Medical negligence refers to a medical or healthcare professional’s act or omission failing to respect medical standards or resulting from incompetence causing harm or injury to a patient.


What are the elements needed to prove medical negligence?

To prove a medical negligence case, the plaintiff must prove whether a “prudent” physician, in the same circumstances, would have done the same thing or something similar.

There are four elements to prove:

  • The doctor owed a duty of care (this requires a doctor-patient relationship)
  • The doctor failed or breached the duty of care 
  • The patient suffered injuries or developed an illness
  • The injuries or illness is caused by the doctor’s breach of duty 

We call these requirements the “four Ds”: Duty, Deviation, Direct Causation, and Damages!

A medical negligence claim falls under the same category as personal injury lawsuits.

A medical negligence claim is not an easy type of case to try in court.

Generally, to prove that the doctor did not follow the medical standard of care, the plaintiff will need to bring experts in the healthcare industry to assess the facts of the case and provide a medical opinion.


What are the common types of medical negligence?

Although there may be a wide range of situations and scenarios that may lead to a physician’s conduct, treatment, or actions to be considered a violation of medical negligence laws, let’s look at some common examples.

We can classify what constitutes medical negligence in three categories:

  • Failure to properly diagnose the patient’s condition
  • Failure to provide the proper treatment 
  • Failure to provide the patient sufficient information as to the known risks

When a doctor fails to diagnose the patient’s illness properly or makes an incorrect diagnosis causing harm to the patient, the physician may be exposed to a medical claim for damages.

In this case, the negligent act was perhaps due to an error of judgment.

The second type of medical negligence is for a doctor to provide improper treatment.

A doctor must not only provide the proper treatment but administer it properly.

Any failure in this duty can lead to a medical negligence lawsuit.

The third type of negligence claim against a medical practitioner can be classified as the practitioner’s failure to properly inform the patient about the risks of a certain treatment or operation.

The medical professional has a duty to inform the patients of the risks associated with the medical procedures or treatment (this is the duty of informed consent).


What should you know about filing a medical negligence claim?

If you or a loved one have suffered injuries or harm due to a medical practitioner’s negligence, it’s important that you quickly consult with a medical negligence lawyer or personal injury lawyer to understand your legal rights and recourses.

Many states have specific medical negligence laws and statutes governing medical malpractice claims.

Quite often, a claim must be asserted within six months to two years depending on your jurisdiction.

Otherwise, your claim may be barred due to the statute of limitations imposed by law.

To ensure you do not lose the right to seek compensation, you must have an attorney explain the applicable medical negligence law to you, advise you what you need to lodge a successful claim, how long you have, and as of when the statute of limitations “clock” starts ticking.


What should you know about filing a medical negligence lawsuit?

Filing a medical negligence lawsuit can get quite complex.

In essence, the plaintiff has to prove that the doctor had a duty of care, breached such duty, suffered damages, and suffered injuries caused by the breach of such duty.

Proving a doctor, physician, surgeon, or medical practitioner did not follow medical standards and was negligent can get technical.

As a result, anyone looking to file such a suit should retain the services of an experienced medical negligence attorney who understands the medical terminology and masters “medical” tort.

In many states, before a lawsuit is filed in court, the patient must first submit a claim to the relevant medical malpractice panel.

Then a notice must be given to the medical professional about the malpractice claim before a lawsuit is filed.

Also, the courts will generally expect to see experts and will rely on expert opinions to determine if a medical standard was breached or not.

State rules must be respected to determine who is a qualified “medical expert”.

Medical malpractice rules differ from one state to another.

Your best bet is to consult a legal professional as soon as possible.


What compensation can you get in medical negligence claims?

Typically, when a person is considered legally negligent, the law will require that they compensate the plaintiff for the damages caused.

The damages may be financial (economic damages) or for pain and suffering (noneconomic damages).

Direct financial damages include:

  • Medical expenses
  • Medical equipment 
  • Additional treatment 
  • Therapy 
  • Loss of wages
  • Transportation costs
  • Emergency costs 

Noneconomic damages can include:

  • Pain and suffering
  • Anxiety
  • Loss of enjoyment of life
  • Mental anguish 

What’s important to note is that many states have established a legal cap or limit on how much money a patient may claim from a medical practitioner.

Most of these states have established a “cap” on noneconomic damages only as a means to limit excessive and exaggerated jury awards.

A few states have adopted medical negligence acts to cap all forms of damages.


What are some examples of medical negligence?

To better illustrate the concept, let’s look at a few examples:

  • Failure to properly diagnose an illness 
  • A misdiagnosis of an illness
  • The misreading of a test result
  • Surgical errors
  • Unnecessary surgery 
  • Administering of improper drug dosage
  • Unnecessary treatment 
  • Lack of follow up after treatment 
  • Failure to perform needed tests 
  • Premature discharging of patient
  • Delayed diagnosis 

Medical Negligence vs Negligence 

What is the difference between “medical negligence” and “negligence” in law?

What is the definition of medical neglect versus standard neglect?

The definition of medical negligence and negligence are close but can be nuanced slightly.

Negligence is a broad term used for any type of conduct, behavior, or action considered “negligent” in law.

In tort law, a negligent act or behavior of “any” person deviating from the standards expected of an “ordinary” person.

For example, if a person does not stop at the red light (violating traffic laws), they can be considered negligent from a legal perspective.

“Medical negligence” also refers to an act, conduct, or behavior that deviates from the standard of care but the standards applicable to a medical practitioner.

You can consider medical negligence to be a subset of negligence.

A medical practitioner is expected to provide medical treatment and carry out procedures with skill, knowledge, and care.

Any failure to respect the medical field’s standards can result in the act or conduct being qualified as medical negligence in law.

Medical Negligence vs Malpractice 

What is the difference between medical negligence and medical malpractice?

Even though they may sound similar, being able to nuance medical negligence from malpractice is important as they may each lead to a different burden of proof depending on the applicable laws.

Medical negligence is a legal notion used to refer to when a doctor, physician, or health care provider acted in a careless manner failing to observe the standard duty of care.

In other words, the doctor did not intend to hurt the patient but his or her actions (or negligence) caused injuries to the patient.

For instance, failing to provide medical care or health care services based on the medical industry’s standards can result in medical negligence.

On the other hand, medical malpractice is similar to medical negligence but has an additional element of intent.

In essence, for a medical practitioner to be found responsible for medical “malpractice”, the practitioner knew that their actions might lead to injuries or cause harm to the patient but did it anyway.

A typical example is when a doctor knows that further tests are required to fully assess a patient’s condition but deliberately decide not to do the tests.

A negligence case can become a malpractice case when the doctor’s negligent treatment or conduct leads to the deterioration of the patient’s health, worsening of the patient’s health condition, unexpected complications, or leads to further medical treatment.

Medical Negligence: Takeaways 

So, what is Medical Negligence?

What is the definition of medical negligence?

Let’s look at a summary of our findings.

Definition Medical Negligence

  • Medical negligence refers to a medical professional’s act of carelessness causing harm to a patient 
  • You can consider “medical negligence” to be a subset of “negligence” in tort law
  • You need to prove the healthcare professional owed a duty of care, breached the duty, damages were suffered, and the injuries were caused by the breach of duty 
  • Filing a medical malpractice lawsuit should be done with the support of a qualified attorney as there are rules and laws to respect (medical review panel, notice to doctor, statute of limitations, liability caps, and more)
  • Medical malpractice can be nuanced with medical negligence as “malpractice” has a stronger element of intention by the doctor (he or she knew it was risky but did it anyhow)
Medical malpractice 
Negligence definition 
Medical negligence lawyers 
Workers compensation 
Legal fault 
Error of judgment
Prior informed consent 
Negligence per se 
Tortious liability
Civil lawsuit
Compensatory damages
Punitive damages
General damages

Editorial Staffhttps://lawyer.zone
Hello Nation! I'm a lawyer and passionate about law. I've practiced law in a boutique law firm, worked in a multi-national organization and as in-house counsel. I've been around the block! On this blog, I provide you with golden nuggets of information about lawyers, attorneys, the law and legal theories. Enjoy!


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