Medical Negligence: Legal Definition & Examples (2024)

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Medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the United States and account for more than 250,000 annual deaths, according to recent reports. Sadly, many of these errors are the result of medical negligence that occurs when medical providers fall short of fulfilling their professional obligation.

If a medical provider harms you, you have a legal right to pursue a claim for compensation. But you need to know the medical negligence definition and how malpractice claims work.

This guide will explain all you should know if you or a loved one was hurt by a healthcare worker who failed to do their job correctly.

What is Medical Negligence?

Medical negligence occurs when medical care providers fail to fulfill their professional obligations. Every medical provider has a duty of care they owe to patients. If they don’t fulfill that duty it may be considered medical negligence. In some cases, this will give rise to a malpractice claim — but not in all circ*mstances.

It’s important to know the medical negligence definition in order to determine if a healthcare provider did not meet the duty of care that was owed and to determine if you have a legal right to compensation as a result.

Medical Negligence Definition

In most personal injury claims, negligence is defined as a failure to behave with the same level of caution a reasonably prudent person would have exhibited. But, a different standard of care applies to certain professionals, including healthcare workers.

Medical care providers are expected to provide care that is on par with what a similarly trained professional would have offered under the same circ*mstances. If a caregiver’s actions deviate from the accepted medical standard, this is considered medical negligence.

Omissions can also be considered medical negligence as well. If a similarly trained physician would have acted under the circ*mstances and the provider in question failed to act, that could constitute medical negligence.

Medical Negligence Examples

There are many different medical negligence examples, including the following:

  • Misdiagnosis, such as diagnosing a person with irritable bowel syndrome when they really have ovarian cancer
  • Failure to diagnose, such as missing the symptoms of serious heart disease
  • Failure to perform or order appropriate medical testing
  • Failure to adequately monitor a patient
  • Anesthesia mistakes
  • Improper administration of medication
  • Improper prescribing of medication
  • Failure to obtain informed consent
  • Improper use of medical devices
  • Incorrect treatment
  • Botched surgical procedures
  • Leaving a surgical instrument inside of a patient

These are just a few of many medical negligence examples. Whenever a healthcare provider’s acts or omissions fall below the level of care a similarly trained professional would have offered, this failure fits within the medical negligence definition.

When Does Medical Negligence Become Medical Malpractice?

Medical negligence can give rise to a malpractice claim if the negligence was the direct cause of harm that the patient should be compensated for. There are four elements of a medical malpractice claim including the following:

  • The provider owes a duty of care to a patient
  • The provider falls below the standard of care and thus commits medical negligence
  • The medical negligence is the direct cause of harm
  • The patient suffers damages that they can be compensated for

If a doctor misdiagnosed the flu, this could be medical negligence. But, if the patient recovered in a week with no lasting harm, this would not give rise to a medical malpractice claim. There would be no resulting harm caused by the medical negligence that the patient could be compensated for.

Who Can be Medically Negligent?

Any trained healthcare provider who provides care that is below the appropriate standard could potentially be liable for medical negligence. Examples of providers against whom victims could potentially make a claim against include:

  • Doctors
  • Nurses
  • Lab technicians
  • Dentists
  • Chiropractors
  • Hospitals

Who Can You Sue for Medical Negligence?

If you are pursuing a malpractice claim for behavior that meets the medical negligence definition, you can obviously file a claim against the doctor, nurse, or other healthcare provider themselves.

You may also be able to pursue a case against others, including the hospital or healthcare institution that employs the negligent caregiver.

Under the law, healthcare facilities are vicariously liable for harm their employees commit while on-the-job. This means a hospital, clinic or other healthcare facility can be held accountable for injuries and made to pay damages even if the facility itself was not negligent. The facility is held liable simply because the law says they are responsible for actions their employees take.

Proving Medical Negligence

In order to prove medical negligence, you must show:

  • The healthcare provider had a duty or obligation to you
  • The healthcare provider fell short due to medical negligence
  • You were harmed as a direct result of the medical negligence
  • You suffered damages you should be compensated for, such as higher medical bills or lost wages

Often, you will need expert witnesses to help you establish what the standard of care was and to show why the care you received meets the medical negligence definition. An experienced medical malpractice attorney can assist you in obtaining your medical records and other evidence, finding experts, and proving your case.

In some cases, the mistake is so clear that no additional evidence of negligence is required beyond showing that it occurred. For example, if a surgeon left a surgical instrument inside of you, this is obviously medical negligence. No competent surgeon would have done the same.

In this case, a legal doctrine called res ipsa loquitor applies. This is Latin for the thing speaks for itself. It essentially means the incident alone is enough to prove medical negligence happened.

Damages Caused by Medical Negligence

Medical negligence can cause very serious harm. You may need much more invasive treatment if you were misdiagnosed or you might undergo treatment you did not require. Additionally, the anxiety and stress you suffered can also be considered as one of the damages and you can be compensated for that as well. In a worst case scenario, a condition that might have been treatable, such as cancer, could result in death due to medical negligence.

When you are harmed, you can recover compensation for all the losses you endured. If your loved one has passed away due to medical negligence, you can also pursue a wrongful death claim on their behalf.

Compensation for Medical Negligence

Compensation for medical negligence can include payment for:

  • Treatment that was paid for that was not necessary
  • Medical bills you incur as a result of the medical negligence
  • Loss of wages
  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional distress
  • Wrongful death damages including loss of the deceased’s income and companionship

In some states, tort reform laws have limited the total amount of compensation you can receive for non-economic damages such as pain and suffering and emotional distress.

An experienced medical malpractice attorney can provide you with assistance in understanding what compensation you should be entitled to. Your attorney can also help you either negotiate a settlement to obtain compensation without a lawsuit or file a civil case in court to get the money you deserve.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is the difference between medical negligence and malpractice?

Medical negligence occurs whenever a doctor’s actions (or omissions) fall below the standard of care. If no reasonably competent physician with similar training and expertise would have made the errors the doctor made, this is medical negligence. Medical negligence becomes medical malpractice when the negligence is the direct cause of harm you can be compensated for.

What does negligence mean in healthcare?

Negligence occurs when a care provider’s actions or inactions are below the level of care that a similarly trained professional would have provided under the circ*mstances. For example, if a reasonably competent cardiologist would have diagnosed heart disease and a cardiologist missed the condition, this would be an example of medical negligence.

What is an example of medical negligence?

There are many medical negligence examples including:

  • Misdiagnosing patients or failing to diagnose them
  • Botched anesthesia or botched surgery, including leaving surgical instruments inside a patient
  • Delayed diagnosis
  • Improper administration of treatment

If you suspect you may have been the victim of medical negligence that caused you harm, you should speak with an experienced medical malpractice attorney. If the care you received meets the medical negligence definition, you may be entitled to compensation.

Medical Negligence: Legal Definition & Examples (2024)
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