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What Is Medical Malpractice?

Malpractice Defined

Medical malpractice is when a hospital, doctor or other health care professional, does not follow the accepted medical standards and through this act or omission causes an injury to a patient. This includes improperly performing a procedure, misdiagnosis, improperly reading a study, prescribing or failing to prescribe medication, etc.

To be considered medical malpractice under the law, the claim must have the following characteristics:

Deviation: A Violation of the Standard of Care

The law acknowledges that there are certain medical standards that are recognized by the profession as being acceptable medical treatment by reasonably prudent health care professionals under like or similar circumstances. This is known as the standard of care. A patient has the right to expect that health care professionals will deliver care that is consistent with these standards. If it is determined that the standard of care has not been met, then negligence may be established.

For a medical malpractice claim to be valid, it is not sufficient that a health care professional simply violated the standard of care. Rather, the wrongful act must be the cause of the injury. For example, if a doctor failed to diagnose cancer, but the cancer was diagnosed immediately thereafter by another doctor, there is no case for medical malpractice because the delay in diagnosis did not cause any injury. Simply put, even if the first doctor had properly diagnosed the cancer just prior to when the diagnosis was made, the patient’s cancer treatment would have been the same. If, on the other hand, a doctor fails to diagnose cancer and a long period of time goes by before the proper diagnosis is made, then there may be a case for medical malpractice because if the proper diagnosis was made earlier, the cancer may have been more at an earlier stage and/or more treatable. 

Causation: The Injury Was Cased by Negligence

Damages: The Injury Resulted in Significant Damages

Medical malpractice lawsuits are expensive to litigate, frequently requiring testimony of numerous medical experts and countless hours of deposition testimony. For a case to be viable, the patient must show that significant damages resulted from the medical malpractice. If the damages are small, the cost of pursuing the case might be greater than the eventual recovery. Roads to recovery include past pain and suffering, wrongful death, future pain and suffering, loss of income, loss of services, loss of consortium (if married), and special damages for costs incurred as a result.

Leg Injury

Common Types of Medical Malpractice Cases

  • Mismanagement of labor and delivery of a newborn

  • Improper surgical performance

  • Improperly discharging a patient from the hospital

  • Failure to follow up on a complaint

  • Failure to timely diagnose

  • Misdiagnosis

  • Failure to order proper testing

  • Failure to prescribe medication

  • Failure to refer to an appropriate specialist

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