Basics of US Medical Malpractice Law

Medical Malpractice Law – Overview

Medical malpractice is the term used to describe an event when a healthcare professional neglects to provide appropriate treatment, does not take appropriate action, or provides substandard treatment that results in harm, injury, or death to a patient.

According to reports by the Medical Malpractice Center, around 15,000 to 19,000 patients file medical malpractice suits against doctors annually in the United States.

Negligence usually involves a medical error. This error could be in the diagnostic stage, medication dosage, treatment, health management or aftercare.

Medical malpractice laws help patients recover compensation for any harm that results from sub-standard treatment by a certified healthcare provider.

The regulations and standards governing medical malpractice differ between states and countries.

What is Medical Malpractice?

Medical Malpractice Law

Medical Malpractice Law – What is Medical Malpractice

Every physician, doctor, surgeon, healthcare provider and the hospital is expected to provide a certain standard of healthcare service. The physician is not always liable for causing harm that a patient may experience.

However, healthcare professionals are legally responsible in case the patient gets injured or harmed because the healthcare provider deviates from the standards regulating medical practice.

According to malpractice experts in the US, several factors must be considered before a case of negligence is termed medical malpractice.

The factors that determine a medical malpractice case include:

Failure to provide standard care – Medical malpractice law requires healthcare professionals to follow certain standards or potentially face an accusation of negligence.

Injury resulting from negligence – If a patient feels that their medical provider was negligent, but no injury or harm occurs, there can be no claim of medical malpractice. In such cases, the patient has to prove that the injury or harm caused would not have resulted except for the negligence on the healthcare provider’s part.

The injury should have significant consequences – The requirement for significant consequences is broader and includes any damages resulting from negligence, not only those listed. The patient must demonstrate that the negligence caused damages that may include but are not limited to, medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.

Considerable damage is defined as:

  • Enduring hardship
  • Suffering
  • Considerable loss of income
  • Constant pain
  • Disability

Are there different types of Medical Malpractice Errors and Malpractice?

Yes, there are different types of medical errors and malpractices that can be the foundation of a medical malpractice lawsuit against a healthcare provider.

The different types of error and malpractice include:

  • Incorrect surgery
  • Unnecessary surgery
  • Misdiagnosis
  • Failure to diagnose
  • Premature discharge
  • Failure to recommend/advise appropriate tests
  • Failure to act on lab results
  • Not following up on patient after-care
  • Prescribing incorrect medications
  • Prescribing the wrong dosage
  • Retained surgical items after surgery
  • Wrong-site surgery
  • The patient suffers persistent pain after surgery
  • Hospital-acquired infections
  • Bedsores
  • Pressure ulcers

Hospital fires and patient suicides can raise legal issues, but they are not automatically classified as medical malpractice. The circumstances of each case determine whether it constitutes malpractice.

Informed Consent

This is an extremely essential aspect of healthcare. Lack of informed consent can lead to a medical malpractice claim if the patient suffers harm from a procedure they were not adequately informed about, regardless of the procedure’s correctness.

For instance, if a surgeon fails to inform a patient that there is a marginal risk of losing a limb from complications of the surgery and the patient ends up losing their limb, then the doctor/surgeon is liable, even if the surgical procedure was done perfectly.

The reason is that the patient may not have agreed to proceed with the surgical procedure if they had known of the potential risk.

What does a Medical Malpractice Case Involve?

Here are some commonly-used terms that are frequently heard in a medical malpractice lawsuit:

1. Plaintiff

The plaintiff is the person who files the complaint. In legal terms, the plaintiff is the person who brings a lawsuit against another in a court of law. It is the person who initiates the suit, or the one who is suing.

This can be the patient, a legally-designated person acting on the patient’s behalf. If the patient is dead, then the administrator or executor of the patient’s estate can be the plaintiff.

2. Defendant

The defendant is the party against whom the lawsuit/complaint has been filed, or the one getting sued. In medical malpractice, it is usually the healthcare provider who is the defendant. This could be a physician, doctor, surgeon, therapist, nurse or any other medical care provider.

3. Prevailing Party

The prevailing party is the side that wins the case, either the plaintiff or the defendant. If the defendant wins the case, then the plaintiff has lost and will not receive any compensation.

4. Losing Party

This is the side that has lost the case.

5. Fact-Finder

The fact-finder in any medical malpractice lawsuit is the judge or the jury.

To prove a case of medical malpractice, the plaintiff needs to prove that four elements existed:

  • A duty was owed by the health care provider or hospital
  • A duty was breached because the healthcare provider or hospital did not conform to the expected standard of healthcare.
  • The breach causes an injury or was closely linked to causing the injury.
  • Considerable damage was caused to the patient, whether it is physical, emotional or financial.

What kind of Compensation does a Plaintiff get in a Medical Malpractice lawsuit?

The plaintiff, if they win the case, may be awarded compensation and punitive damages.

1. Compensatory damages

This may include financial damages, including life care expenses, lost earning capacity, and medical expenses. Past and future losses are assessed under this.

It may also include non-financial damage, such as physiological or psychological harm, including but not restricted to extreme pain, loss of vision or limb and emotional distress.

2. Punitive damages

These are awarded if the defendant is found guilty of willful or malicious misconduct. Punitive damages are awarded in addition to compensatory damages to punish the defendant for egregious conduct and deter similar conduct in the future, not as a form of compensation.


Medical malpractice lawsuits can be expensive, time-consuming, and stressful. If you are thinking of lodging a lawsuit, consult with expert medical malpractice lawyers to consider all the pros and cons before making the decision.

The reason is that in the case of minor injuries, patients tend to spend more money on lawsuit procedures than they can expect to receive as compensation.

nursing malpractice insurance

Reference links

See Also

Best Medical Malpractice Law Firms

Malpractice Insurance for Nurses

Cost of Malpractice Insurance for Physicians

HIPAA Medical Record Release Laws

Self-Prescribing Laws by State

Current Version
August 29, 2022
Written By
Shubham Grover

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