What is Medical Malpractice?

Medical malpractice involves negligence by a professional, licensed healthcare provider who took an action or failed to take an action that resulted in a patient being harmed. The critical point in this idea and legal concept is that the harm was avoidable and didn’t need to occur if the professional had done something differently.

General Components of Medical Malpractice

There are important elements that have to exist for a medical malpractice case to be viable. First, there needs to be a bona-fide relationship between a person as a patient and a doctor. Doctors who provide advice about how to deal with a bad stomach in a passing conversation do not meet this requirement.

Second, the person who is the victim in the case needs to have received medical care from the licensed provider and suffered harm due to the care or lack of it. There has to be an actual injury suffered by the patient to determine the harm as well as the damages suffered. However, harm doesn’t always have to be a physical damage to the body. It can include:

  • Physical harm
  • Mental harm
  • Medical bills that are far more than what should have been charged
  • Lost time at work
  • Lost ability to earn an income

Third, the medical provider also needs to have been under some specific set of duties and obligations providing the given medical care and been aware of those duties. Generally, these treatment duties have to be the same that any doctor in the same situation would have had to follow. The medical provider also needs to have known ahead of time that providing the care the wrong way or failing to provide it would result in harm, i.e. the doctor basically should have known better.

The likelihood of how responsible a doctor’s actions were for a patient’s harm is also a major issue. A doctor very well may have caused an injury, but a patient was already going to die regardless because of the extent of the injury suffered or the advanced progress of a medical condition. Cases where a doctor’s responsibility was clearly the cause of the harm and could have been prevented completely but for the doctor’s actions have the strongest chance of winning.

The specific requirements for a medical malpractice case will vary from state to state, as each state has crafted its own legal idea of medical malpractice and what doesn’t apply. So a case in California may require different details and elements versus a case in Maryland or New York.

Types of Medical Malpractice Frequently Seen

Medical malpractice can happen in hundreds of ways. Given how many different ways there are to treat a person for an injury or a condition, there are also thousands of variations of treatment as well. However, most malpractice cases that involve physician error tend to fall into a few specific categories which include:

  • Failure to diagnose – In these situations a doctor missed a condition or injury that the average doctor in the same discipline would have been expected to see, find or identify in every case.
  • Incorrect treatment – Similar to a bad diagnosis, a doctor who fails to provide or perform a treatment in a way that the average doctor would in the same discipline triggers malpractice as well. This can also apply where the treatment type may have been correct but the actual application was done wrong or insufficiently. A common situation involves a surgery that was the appropriate cure but bandages or tools were left inside the patient or incorrect steps caused a major infection like sepsis.
  • Failure to warn about predictable risks – Doctors have to follow a process of informed consent which makes sure patients understand the risks of a treatment, process, medicine or approach before it is applied. If the patient should have known about something that would have prevented his agreement to the treatment but wasn’t told or informed, then the doctor can be held responsible for the subsequent harm.

Birth injuries can be the most traumatic and emotional because they involve injuries to a newborn that will have to live with the results for the rest of his or her life. In some cases the injuries can require ongoing medical treatment that can be expensive and long-term as the baby grows and needs assistance. As a result, the medical malpractice cases often involve damages to address what the child would have had in a normal life absent the injury occurring due to lack of proper doctor’s care during the birth process.

Spinal injuries frequently involve trauma care where a patient has suffered an immediate physical injury. Because the spine is so sensitive to harm, especially with a broken vertebrae situation, the wrong immediate care can often dictate a lifetime of disability that might have been avoidable, depending on the specific case. Not surprisingly, how doctors handle such situations can often come under subsequent review to determine if mistakes occurred in care.

Similar to the above, wrongful death often involves a doctor’s diagnosis and treatment provided to a patient that make have ended up contributing or killing the person.

Equipment error is a bit of a different approach. These cases involve the use of specific medical equipment that a doctor needs to handle when performing a treatment or procedure. If the equipment is used incorrectly, it can result in serious injury. An example would be laser surgery equipment being misused and causing an unintended laser burn on a patient’s body part or organ. The malpractice then involves how the doctor managed the equipment versus how it should have been used.


Medical malpractice essentially involves proving that a doctor didn’t do his job correctly. Case parties regularly hire medical experts who are doctors themselves, re-examining what was performed or not performed on a patient. The process then takes testimony, expert opinions, and documentation from both sides to build the case in court for a decision.

Further, medical malpractices often involve doctors’ insurance companies as well as hospitals and clinic or treatment organizations. Because of this fact, cases can take a while to process and reach a resolution as these entities often use the legal system to delay or lower recoveries demanded by injured parties. As a result, parties can’t expect a medical malpractice claim to be resolved in just a few days or weeks. Sometimes, such cases involving complex injury issues can take years to settle or reach a trial.

Given all of the above, hiring the right legal representation with experience and skill in medical malpractice can make a significant difference in the success of a claim or its failure in terms of needed recovery. So harmed patients shouldn’t just jump into a case with the first attorney available. Representation should be chosen carefully to ensure the best legal representation is hired.