What is Medical Negligence?

What is Medical Negligence – Overview

While medical errors are a serious issue in healthcare, claims about their ranking as a cause of death and specific mortality numbers should be approached with caution, as methodologies for such estimates can vary. Many medical errors may result from systemic issues and individual negligence, and attributing them directly to healthcare professionals’ negligence oversimplifies the complexity of healthcare delivery.

If you are harmed by a medical provider’s decision or advice, you have the legal right to pursue a compensation claim. However, for your malpractice claim to be successful, you need to know the definition of medical negligence and the laws governing it.

In this article, we will take a closer look at what medical negligence/malpractice is and the law related to it.

What is Medical Negligence?

Medical negligence occurs when healthcare professionals do not adhere to the standard of care expected in their professional duties, potentially leading to harm. Every medical and healthcare provider is obligated to provide optimal patient recovery care. Failure to meet the standard of care in medical practice is considered medical negligence. In some cases, medical negligence can be a basis for a medical malpractice claim, but not in all scenarios.

Medical negligence is defined as a healthcare provider’s failure to exercise the degree of care and skill that a reasonably competent practitioner would under similar circumstances. However, a different standard of care applies to certain professions, including healthcare providers.

Medical providers are expected to offer care that maintains the standards a similarly trained professional would have offered in the same circumstances. Medical negligence is called if a healthcare provider’s actions deviate from the accepted medical standard.

Omissions or failures to act can also constitute medical negligence if they deviate from the standard of care. If a similarly trained doctor had acted differently under the same circumstances, then the doctor in question violates medical negligence laws.

Some common examples of medical negligence include:

What is Medical Negligence

What is Medical Negligence – Common examples of medical negligence

  • Misdiagnosis, such as diagnosing a person with a completely different health problem than the one they are suffering from
  • Incorrect diagnosis, such as being unable to detect symptoms of severe heart problems
  • Failure to order or perform, appropriate medical testing resulting in an incorrect diagnosis
  • Mistakes in anesthesia administration
  • Failing to monitor patients adequately
  • Incorrect medication administration
  • Incorrect medication prescription
  • Not getting informed consent from patients
  • Incorrect treatment method, technique, etc.
  • Mistakes during surgical procedures
  • Leaving a surgical instrument inside the patient

These are only the most common examples/scenarios of medical negligence. Whenever a healthcare provider’s actions or omissions are below the conventional standard of medical care, this failure is termed medical negligence.

Is There a Difference Between Medical Negligence and Medical Malpractice?

Medical negligence does not always qualify for medical malpractice claims. Only when it results in direct harm to the patient does it become a medical malpractice case.

Four important elements are considered for an act to be termed medical malpractice, which are:

  1. Healthcare provider owes a duty of care to the patient
  2. Healthcare provider offers below-standard care, resulting in medical negligence
  3. The patient gets directly harmed by medical negligence
  4. The patient suffers injury/harm that can be compensated

So, for instance, if a physician fails to diagnose a common flu, this is termed medical negligence. The absence of harm or injury resulting from medical negligence may not constitute grounds for a medical malpractice claim. On the other hand, if the misdiagnosis results in causing direct harm to the patient, then these are grounds for a medical malpractice case against the healthcare professional.

Who can be Medically Negligent?

Healthcare providers may be liable for medical negligence if their care falls below the accepted standards of practice in their field.

These are the healthcare professionals who could potentially perform a medically negligent act:

  • Doctors
  • Nurses
  • Lab technicians
  • Dentists
  • Chiropractors
  • Hospitals/healthcare facilities

Who Can Be Sued for Medical Negligence?

You can file a claim for compensation against medical negligence against any doctor, nurse or another healthcare provider whose actions meet the definition of medical negligence (see also NSO Insurance). You may even be able to successfully file a medical negligence claim against the hospital or healthcare facility that employs the negligent medical professional.

In many jurisdictions, healthcare facilities can be held vicariously liable for the negligent acts of their employees committed within the scope of their employment. So, a hospital, clinic, or any other healthcare facility can be held accountable for injuries or damage and made to pay compensation. This is effective even when the healthcare facility is not directly responsible for causing the harm/damage.

What Does it Take to Prove Medical Negligence?

To prove you are a victim of medical negligence, you must be able to show that:

    • The healthcare provider had a defined duty/obligation to you (the patient)
  • The healthcare provider failed to fulfill the said obligation and caused medical negligence
  • You suffered harm as a direct result of the medical negligence
  • You suffered damages that can be compensated for (ex. Lost wages, higher medical bills, etc.)

Usually, you will need expert witnesses to help prove that the standard of healthcare was below par and thus meets the definition of medical negligence.

To do this, an experienced medical malpractice attorney can help you obtain relevant medical records and other important evidence, find expert witnesses, and prove your case successfully.

In some scenarios, the negligent act may be very clear and may not require additional evidence. For instance, if a surgeon left a surgical instrument inside you after a surgical procedure, this is a clear medical negligence case. No competent surgeon would have made such a glaring oversight.

What Kind of Damage Can Medical Negligence Cause?

Medical negligence can result in serious harm in many cases. You may end up needing extensive and invasive treatment if the doctor fails to diagnose properly, or you may even need to undergo treatment that you do not need.

In addition, the stress and anxiety caused by medical negligence are also considered part of the harm/damage that can be compensated with a medical malpractice claim.

How to Seek Compensation for Medical Negligence?

You can effectively seek compensation for medical negligence with payment when:

  • The treatment paid for was not necessary
  • Medical bills you incurred were a result of medical negligence
  • You suffer the loss of wages
  • You endure pain or suffering due to a medically negligent act
  • You experience emotional distress due to a negligent medical act
  • Wrongful death occurs and causes damage, such as loss of the deceased’s income/companionship


In several states, tort reform laws have restricted the compensation amount that patients can receive for non-economic damages (such as emotional distress, pain, suffering, etc.). However, an experienced medical malpractice attorney can assist you in understanding the kind of compensation you are entitled to if you are a victim of medical negligence.

See Also

Malpractice Insurance Law

Insurance for Physicians

Cost of Malpractice Insurance for Physicians

Best Medical Malpractice Law Firms in the US

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