Is There a Difference Between Medical Malpractice and Medical Negligence?

The terms medical malpractice and medical negligence describe wrongdoing by physicians and other health care providers. However, there is a difference between medical malpractice and medical negligence. 

Medical malpractice is the term used to describe intentional wrongdoing. 

A physician or health care provider commits medical malpractice when a patient sustains harm and damages because of intentional conduct, such as choosing not to order a diagnostic test. The doctor knew that his conduct could cause harm or injuries, but the doctor decided to proceed regardless of the outcome for the patient. 

Medical negligence refers to medical errors and mistakes that cause harm and damages to a patient. The doctor or medical provider did not intend to injure the patient. However, the patient is harmed or injured because of the conduct of the medical provider. 

Medical negligence and medical malpractice are closely related. Therefore, it can be difficult to determine which cause of action applies in a patient’s case without the assistance of an experienced medical malpractice lawyer.

Proving a Doctor is Responsible for Your Injuries and Damages

If a medical provider causes a patient harm, the patient could be entitled to compensation for damages—regardless of whether the harm was caused by negligence or malpractice. However, the patient must prove the legal requirements for a medical malpractice or medical negligence claim.

The legal elements of a negligence or malpractice claim are:

Duty of Care 

For a doctor to be financially responsible for damages, the doctor must have owed a duty of care to the patient. A duty of care exists when there is a patient-doctor relationship. For example, signing an authorization for treatment or agreeing to a treatment plan is usually sufficient to establish a patient-doctor relationship. 

Breach of the Duty of Care

A doctor must breach the duty of care through intentional actions or negligence. 

Medical experts will analyze the facts and circumstances of your case. First, they decide the accepted standard of care based on what doctors with similar experience and knowledge would have done under similar circumstances. Then, the medical experts determine how the doctor’s conduct failed to meet the acceptable standard of care for the situation. 

Causation 

The breach of duty must have been a direct and proximate cause of the patient’s injuries or harm. There must be a link between the doctor’s conduct and the harm to the patient for negligence or malpractice to exist. 

For example, a patient might show that their permanent brain damage resulted from a physician failing to monitor the patient’s vital signs while under anesthesia.

Damages

The patient must have sustained damages because of the medical negligence or medical malpractice; the patient cannot recover compensation unless the patient can prove the doctor’s actions resulted in damages.

Damages in a medical malpractice or medical negligence case may include:

  • The cost of medical care and personal care related to injuries caused by negligence and malpractice
  • Permanent impairments and disabilities caused by the doctor’s wrongdoing or errors
  • Loss of income and benefits, including future lost wages and decreased earning potential
  • Emotional and mental trauma and distress
  • Physical pain and suffering
  • Loss of enjoyment of life and decreased quality of life

The amount of money a patient may receive for a malpractice case depends on numerous factors. Permanent impairments or disabilities can increase how much a medical malpractice case is worth. 

Do not accept a settlement offer without discussing your case with a St. Petersburg personal injury attorney. Signing a settlement agreement closes your case, meaning you cannot seek more money if you discover additional damages. Therefore, make sure you know how much your medical malpractice case is worth before agreeing to a settlement. 

How Do I Know if I Have a Medical Negligence or Medical Malpractice Case?

It is important to remember that bad outcomes in a medical case do not mean that the doctor is guilty of medical malpractice or medical negligence. Doctors cannot control all factors that could result in a poor outcome. 

In some cases, a defective medical device could have caused the patient’s injuries. Or, a dangerous drug or genetic disorder could have caused a patient’s paralysis or brain damage. An experienced medical malpractice lawyer can review your case and advise you of your legal options. However, the Florida statute of limitations sets a two-year deadline for filing most medical malpractice lawsuits. It takes time to obtain opinions from medical experts and gather evidence supporting a malpractice or negligence claim. Consequently, it is best to seek legal advice as soon as possible.