Medical Malpractice Definition

Medical Malpractice Definition

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 82 percent of adults and 91 percent of children sought services from a healthcare professional in the past year, resulting in more than 860 million visits to the doctor’s office or other healthcare facilities.

Americans place a high degree of trust in healthcare professionals, and that trust is generally well-placed. Most doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and other medical providers are diligent and conscientious and work hard to provide quality care. Unfortunately, errors still occur in healthcare settings, whether through negligence or recklessness by a provider. When these errors injure or kill a patient, the healthcare provider can face liability through a medical malpractice claim.

Here is a look at medical malpractice and the process of seeking compensation through medical malpractice lawyer if a doctor injured you or you lost a loved one due to a healthcare provider’s negligence.

What Is Medical Malpractice?

Healthcare providers must provide care that meets certain standards, including making decisions and taking actions similar to what other reasonable providers would do in the same circumstances and avoiding harming a patient.

Healthcare providers who may be liable for medical malpractice include:

  • A healthcare facility, such as a hospital, doctor’s office, outpatient surgery facility, therapy office, rehabilitation center, and more; these facilities are held liable for negligent actions by their employees
  • Physicians
  • Nurses
  • Nurse practitioners
  • Physician assistants
  • Dentists
  • Chiropractors
  • Optometrists
  • Mental health therapists
  • And any other licensed professionals involved in providing health care to patients

Not all bad outcomes constitute medical malpractice. Some medical procedures have known risks that cannot be eliminated even with great care. Medical malpractice only happens if a patient suffers serious physical injury or death because a provider makes an error or takes an action that violates the standards expected for their profession.

Common Types of Medical Malpractice

Medical Malpractice Definition

As noted by Johns Hopkins Medicine, medical errors are far more common than many realize, accounting for around 250,000 deaths a year and more than 35.4 million hospitalizations. Here are some of the most common errors in a healthcare setting that can give rise to a medical malpractice claim.

Diagnosis Errors

Diagnosis errors account for the most significant portion of medical malpractice claims in the United States, plus the most severe patient harm.

Diagnosis errors include:

  • Missed diagnosis occurs when the health care provider fails to consider the patient’s history, lab results, diagnostic imaging reports, and other evidence to assist the provider in making an accurate and timely diagnosis.
  • Misdiagnosis occurs when the health care provider diagnoses and treats the patient for a condition other than the one they truly have. A misdiagnosis can result in the patient receiving treatments for an illness they don’t have and a delay in receiving the proper treatment.
  • Delayed diagnosis occurs when the doctor takes longer than they should diagnose the condition. Delayed diagnosis can kill patients with conditions such as progressive cancer, which response best to early treatment.


Surgical Errors

Surgical errors occur due to negligence in the operating room and can include:

  • Administering too much or too little anesthesia to the patient.
  • Causing injuries to nearby organs during the procedure.
  • Leaving a surgical tool, towel, or sponge inside the patient’s body after the surgery.
  • Operating on the wrong patient or wrong body part or performing the wrong procedure.

The most common cause of wrong patient, wrong procedure, or wrong body part surgical errors is a lack of communication between medical staff and the failure of staff to discuss the procedure in detail before making the first cut.

Premature Discharges

Overcrowding and understaffing in U.S. medical facilities have been major culprits in patient injuries and deaths resulting from premature discharge from the facility after a procedure.

Premature discharge occurs when:

  • A patient is released from the hospital before their condition has stabilized;
  • A patient is released before completing the proper tests to diagnose their condition; or
  • A patient is released before they have received the treatment necessary for the condition.

Failure to Follow Up

Like premature discharge, a patient’s condition can worsen as a result of a healthcare provider’s failure to follow up with the patient to:

  • Diagnose them with an illness and discuss the treatment options that are available for them.
  • Check-in to see how the patient is responding to the prescribed treatment.
  • Make sure the patient completes all the tests necessary to diagnose and determine the severity of their condition.
  • Ensure that the patient knows the treatment options that are available to them.

Medication Errors

Errors can occur at every step in prescribing a patient medication to treat a medical condition, including prescribing the wrong medication or dose, dispensing the wrong medication or dose, or even failing to provide the patient with instructions on how to take the medication properly.

Medication errors can also occur in hospitals and nursing homes, where staff can give the patient too much or too little medication or medication intended for another patient.

Failing to Prevent Hospital-Acquired Infection

Seven percent of the patients in high-income economies such as the United States suffer infections while in a healthcare setting. Of the patients who acquire these infections, about 10 percent will die.

Some of the errors that result in a patient acquiring an infection include:

  • Poor hygiene by medical staff.
  • Failure to maintain a safe, clean, and hygienic environment at the facility.
  • Failing to screen patients and avoid contact between infected patients and others in the facility.
  • Failing to properly treat outbreaks of infection and monitor patients for signs of infection.
  • Improper use of antibiotics to treat infections, as underuse may not treat the infection but overuse can result in infections resistant to antibiotics.
  • Failing to follow patient safety guidelines.

Birth Injuries

While mild birth injuries can occur simply due to the physically stressful birth process, many infants suffer debilitating or even fatal injuries due to medical negligence during labor and delivery.

The type of negligence that can result in a birth injury includes:

  • Failing to diagnose and treat a condition in the mother or fetus.
  • Failing to perform a cesarean section procedure when laboratory tests and the mother or infant’s vitals indicate medical necessity.
  • Performing an unnecessary C-section to suit the doctor’s schedule.
  • Failing to monitor the infant’s vital signs during the natural birth process or a C-section.
  • Failing to ensure that the infant is physically ready to leave the hospital when discharged.
  • Improper use of birthing tools such as vacuum suction or forceps during delivery.

Failure to Obtain Medical History or Consent

A patient’s medical history is a powerful tool when diagnosing and providing treatment for a medical condition. A full history can provide information such as genetic conditions that the patient or their family members are known to suffer from, the patient’s allergies to medications, and whether medications that the patient is currently taking may interact poorly with a new medication that the doctor will prescribe.

When a doctor recommends a course of treatment to a patient, they must inform the patient of all known risks and complications with the procedure and if possible other forms of treatment that can manage the condition.

If a doctor fails to warn you of a treatment’s potential harm, you can hold them liable for the bad outcome, mainly if knowing the procedure’s risks would have resulted in you requesting an alternative treatment.

Seeking Compensation for Injuries Incurred as a Result of Medical Malpractice

When a healthcare provider’s negligent actions injure or kill a patient, the patient or their family can seek compensation. This process generally involves filing a claim against the provider’s medical malpractice insurance policy. You can also file a medical malpractice lawsuit.

What Is Medical Malpractice Insurance?

Medical malpractice insurance is a form of professional liability insurance obtained by health care providers. A medical facility usually has a policy that covers liability incurred by the medical facility itself or due to errors committed by nursing, administrative, and other medical staff.

Doctors are often independent contractors who maintain their own medical malpractice policy to cover errors they make in treatment or errors committed by staff members under the doctor’s guidance.

Most states do not have a set amount of medical malpractice insurance that a provider must maintain. However, most facilities require physicians with privileges to practice medicine there to have a medical malpractice policy.

Filing a Claim

When medical negligence injures a patient, the patient or a family member needs to speak with an experienced medical malpractice attorney about the claim.

If the attorney and the patient decide to work together on the claim, they enter into a contingent fee agreement. This allows the patient to wait until they have received compensation for their claim to pay the attorney. The attorney will investigate the claim and determine who was at fault, often with the help of a medical expert who will explain how the standard of care was violated. The lawyer will then establish a value to the claim based on the expenses and psychological impacts the client has incurred or will incur in the future due to the injuries they sustained.

The claimant’s attorney will submit this information to the insurer who services the at-fault provider’s medical malpractice policy. The provider will evaluate the claim and can respond to it either by paying the claim as submitted, denying the claim and informing the claimant of the reason for the denial, or offering to settle the claim out-of-court for less than its established value.

Insurance providers typically prefer to resolve the claim through a settlement rather than payment of the full amount of submitted damages, as they will generally look for reasons to reduce the compensation owed to the claimant.

The initial settlement offer made by the insurer is typically only a fraction of the claim’s stated value. The claimant’s attorney will need to negotiate to get the insurer to increase their offer to a fair amount the claimant can accept.

Filing a Lawsuit

You can also file a medical malpractice lawsuit. The court, either through the judge or a jury, will decide liability and how much compensation the claimant deserves.

All states have a statute of limitations on medical malpractice claims, which is the ultimate deadline for filing the lawsuit. Claimants who were minors when the injury occurred or did not discover their injury right away may receive additional time to file the claim. Your attorney will advise you if you have additional time to file your claim.

For a successful outcome, the plaintiff must file the lawsuit within the statute of limitations. Failing to do so will end the claimant’s right to seek compensation through the court. Medical malpractice insurers also will not compensate claims after the statute of limitations has expired.

An Experienced Medical Malpractice Attorney’s Role in Your Case

Scott R. Melton is a Medical Malpractice Lawyer
Scott R. Melton, Medical Malpractice Lawyer

A successful malpractice claim requires knowledge of the highly complex legal process, medical documentation, and other evidence needed to prove the allegations. A medical malpractice attorney can provide the vital knowledge, experience, and guidance their clients need to make crucial decisions, such as accepting a settlement or filing a lawsuit.

If a negligent medical provider injures you, contact the experienced and compassionate medical malpractice legal team at Gruel Mills to tell you more about how you may be able to recover compensation for your losses.