red stethoscope next to judges gavel symbolizing a medical malpractice lawsuit

The Difference Between Medical Negligence And Medical Malpractice

We put our trust in doctors, nurses, surgeons, pharmacists, and other healthcare workers to protect and promote our health. Their mistakes and failures are not only financially costly but sometimes mean the difference between life and death or between living a healthy life and suffering from a permanent disability.

Sometimes, workers in a healthcare setting make careless mistakes or fail to perform their jobs with reasonable care, resulting in harm to patients. Sometimes, licensed medical experts fail to provide their patients with the required medical standard of care, resulting in harm.

These two examples of patient injury reflect the subtle difference between medical negligence and medical malpractice

Let’s take a closer look.

Overview of Medical Negligence

doctor wrapping a patients hand and wrist with a bandage

The term “medical negligence” is often used interchangeably with the term “medical malpractice.” While they are similar concepts in personal injury cases, they are also distinct. The distinction between these two terms can make a big difference in your personal injury claim.

Broadly speaking, negligence is when one fails to fulfill a reasonable duty of care not to harm others. For example, a driver is negligent if he speeds or blows through stop lights. Negligence happens when someone does or does not do something that puts someone else in danger.

In a medical setting, negligence claims can include many careless or reckless actions that harm patients. 

Here are some examples:

  • Mistakes in performing basic procedures, such as inserting an IV line or moving a patient from one bed to another;
  • Careless medical errors in taking or transcribing patient health histories; or
  • Failing to address potentially dangerous conditions in a medical facility that could harm patients.

So, medical negligence is anything a healthcare worker, provider, or institution does that puts a patient at an unreasonable risk of harm.

Overview of Medical Malpractice

Doctor pouring pills out of a bottle into the palm of their hand.

Medical malpractice is a type of negligence. In other words, virtually all acts of malpractice involve negligence, but not all instances of negligence amount to malpractice.

Malpractice refers to the wrongful actions of a licensed professional. For example, there is legal malpractice, accounting malpractice, architectural malpractice, and medical malpractice. However, there is no restaurant server malpractice, motivational speaker malpractice, or grocery clerk malpractice.

Professionals have special duties to uphold and follow the standards of their professions. The duty owed by doctors and other licensed healthcare providers includes the standard of care, which stands for the quality of medical care that a reasonable, qualified provider would deliver in a health setting.

The standard of care can vary from location to location and specialty to specialty. For example, the standard of care that a patient experiencing a heart attack needs may be different for a cardiac surgeon than for a family medicine practitioner.

In a nutshell, medical malpractice is a licensed medical professional’s failure to meet the standard of care required to treat a patient.

The vast majority of malpractice cases constitute negligence because, in general, licensed medical providers aim to deliver standard-of-care-level treatment to their patients. In other words, they do not intend to harm their patients. Instead, they make careless or reckless mistakes that result in the patient receiving below-standard care.

Some examples of medical malpractice may include:

  • A surgical team skipping steps in the sterilization process resulting in infection or death;
  • A nurse failing to review a patient’s medical records before administering a medication that leads to a dangerous allergic reaction;
  • A doctor fails to perform obvious diagnostic tests, resulting in the misdiagnosis of a deadly disease;
  • A surgeon committing surgical errors like performing an unnecessary surgery or operating on the wrong body party; or
  • A doctor prematurely discharges a sick patient from a hospital.

In short, for medical negligence to amount to medical malpractice, the wrongful act must have been committed by a licensed healthcare provider in the context of providing medical care and must reflect a failure to live up to the medical standard of care for the doctor’s and patient’s particular circumstances.

‘Never Events’ in Medical Settings

Empty operating room with bed and surgical machines.

As we said, it’s a subtle difference, and even lawyers and judges may sometimes struggle to differentiate these terms. However, some incidents that happen in a healthcare setting, known as “never events,” almost always include medical misconduct and constitute grounds for a medical malpractice suit, no matter what you call it.

The concept of a never event has been floating around hospitals since 2001 after a notable physician used the term to describe horrifying practices that should NEVER happen in a medical setting.

The definition of a never event has evolved over the years. Today these types of cases generally comprise 29 serious events, split into seven groups, that lead to serious injury or death in patients:

  • Surgical events include the wrong person, wrong site, or wrong procedure surgeries, leaving foreign objects in the body, and improper anesthesia.
  • Product and device events include contaminated medical devices or drugs or the improper use of medical equipment.
  • Patient protection events include the release of a patient too early, patient suicides, and other self-harm in a medical facility.
  • Care management events are the most common never events and include medication errors, improper blood transfusions, artificial insemination of the wrong egg or sperm, and bedsores.
  • Environmental never events include patient harm from electric shocks, mix-ups in oxygen and gas lines, toxic chemical exposure, chemical burns from medical treatment, and injury from the improper use of bed restraints or bed rails.
  • Radiologic events refer to the rare occasion that a doctor, patient, or other medical professional brings metal into an MRI area.
  • Criminal events might be the most egregious of all malpractice and include the intentional harm or neglect of a patient. Examples include impersonating a doctor, abducting a patient, patient abuse, and assault and battery in a medical setting.

Never events got their name as they are not supposed to happen in a medical facility. When they occur, chances are a medical provider made a serious mistake that entitles the patient to compensation.

Never events happen more often than you might expect. One study estimates every hospital in the United States performs an improper surgery or procedure on a patient approximately once every five to ten years. Another study estimates that more than 4,000 surgical never events occur each year in hospitals across the United States.

When to Take Action on a Medical Malpractice Claim

Patient left behind in hospital hallway on a bed.

If you’ve suffered injury or harm at the hands of a medical professional, you may be
eligible for compensation through a settlement or a medical malpractice lawsuit. You do not deserve to deal with insurance companies, expensive medical bills, and the pain and suffering from your injuries on your own.

Whether a law firm would classify the medical mistakes and breach of duty that led to your injury as negligence or malpractice, you have a potential claim for damages. Medical negligence cases and medical malpractice cases both call for the help of a personal injury lawyer.

To obtain the compensation you deserve, seek the services and legal advice of an experienced medical malpractice attorney.

A skilled medical malpractice lawyer at Miley Legal  can help you prove medical malpractice and hold the medical professionals who harmed you liable for their actions.

Call us today to schedule a free consultation.

Author Bio

Tim Miley is the Founder of Miley Legal Accident Injury Lawyers, a West Virginia personal injury law firm he formed in 2006. With more than 30 years of experience in personal injury law, he is dedicated to representing clients in a wide range of personal injury cases, including car accidents, trucking accidents, motorcycle accidents, brain injuries, wrongful death, and other personal injury matters.

Tim received his Juris Doctor from Duquesne University and is a member of the West Virginia State Bar and the Harrison County Bar Association. He has helped his clients win more than $10 million in personal injury verdicts and settlements and has further served the people of West Virginia by filling legislative roles in the state’s government since 2004.

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