Medical malpractice occurs when a doctor, some other medical professional, and/or healthcare organization falls below the standard duty of care required when:

  • Managing;
  • Diagnosing; and/or
  • Treating a patient, which then results in an injury to that patient.

This deviation from the standard duty of care that is required of all medical professionals is generally associated with an act of negligence.

Medical malpractice law is what allows an injured patient to bring a claim against a negligent medical professional, as well as recover damages for the harms that were caused by their substandard conduct.

Whether a medical professional can be held liable for a patient’s injuries will depend on the facts of a specific case, as well as the differing rules and requirements of medical malpractice laws that are enacted in each specific state. Under specific circumstances, these standards and regulations for medical malpractice can further vary between different jurisdictions within the same state.

What Is Medical Negligence?

Because medical malpractice and medical negligence are so closely associated with negligence, it is helpful to further discuss medical negligence as a legal concept as well as negligence in general.

Negligence is the legal theory that allows injured people to recover a monetary award for the carelessness of others. A person is considered to be negligent if they were careless, given the circumstances of the situation.

Medical negligence specifically is defined as the:

  • Negligent;
  • Improper; and/or
  • Unskilled treatment of a patient by a healthcare professional.

This can include negligent care from a:

  • Nurse;
  • Physician;
  • Surgeon;
  • Pharmacist;
  • Dentist; and/or
  • Various other healthcare workers.

Medical negligence is what forms the basis for the majority of medical malpractice claims, in which the victim is claiming injury from medical treatment. Some of the most common examples of medical negligence include:

  • The improper administration of medicines;
  • Performing the wrong or inappropriate type of surgery;
  • Giving improper medical advice; and/or
  • Leaving foreign objects in the patient’s body, such as a sponge or bandage after surgery.

The elements required for proving medical negligence are similar to most other forms of negligence. Generally speaking, the plaintiff must prove all of the following four elements:

  1. The medical personnel owed them a duty of care;
  2. That duty of care was breached or violated;
  3. The breach was the actual cause of the person’s injuries and/or losses; and
  4. The losses can be calculated or quantified into a monetary amount.

In the majority of medical negligence claims, there are issues when attempting to define the term “duty of care.” In general, the medical professional is expected to exercise the same standard of care that any professional with similar training and background would under identical circumstances.

What this means is that nurses may be held to a different standard of care than a surgeon, as they have received considerably different forms of training. Additionally, surgeons are generally held to different, specific standards of care when compared to surgeons who practice in a different field of medicine. Meaning, a cosmetic surgeon would not be held to the same standard of care as an open heart surgeon. That being said, general standards for medical care are somewhat consistent and can be defined from medical textbooks, industry standards, and specific state laws.

Can I Sue A Medical Clinic For Medical Malpractice?

A medical clinic is a medical facility that focuses primarily on providing outpatient care. If you have been injured as a result of the care you received at a medical clinic, you may be able to bring a medical malpractice claim against the clinic and/or the medical staff who treated you. To reiterate, medical malpractice claims generally involve the patient proving that some form of negligence occurred, which resulted in their injury.

As previously discussed, the following are some of the most common examples of medical malpractice injuries that occur in both clinics and traditional hospitals:

  • Failure to diagnose and properly treat medical emergencies;
  • Failure to diagnose and properly treat serious medical conditions;
  • Surgical mistakes;
  • Mistakes associated with medication prescription and/or treatment;
  • Delays in diagnosis;
  • Birth Injuries;
  • Lack of informed consent; and/or
  • Abandonment.

As with any other personal injury case, the plaintiff who is bringing a medical clinic malpractice claim must prove all of the following elements:

  • Duty: Once again, doctors are required to adhere to a specific standard of care. In legal terms, this is defined as the amount of care that a reasonably competent and prudent physician, who is in good standing and of the same or similar educational background and geographic location as another physician, should exercise given the circumstances. The plaintiff must prove that the physician in question did, in fact, owe them a duty of care;
  • Breach: An injured patient must also prove that the doctor breached their duty of care. This is generally proved by an expert who testifies that the doctor’s conduct fell below the standard of care required of their position. This testimony is generally provided by another doctor who practices a similar type of medicine in the same community;
  • Causation: Causation in a personal injury lawsuit simply means that the plaintiff must prove that the doctor caused the injury. In short, the court will generally ask “but-for your doctor’s actions, would you have been injured?” If the answer is no, causation is considered to be proved; and
  • Damages: The plaintiff must prove that they suffered physical, financial, and/or emotional harm directly because their healthcare provider breached their duty of care to the patient.

However, there is one exception. According to the Federal Tort Claims Act, medical professionals who work at charitable free clinics are considered to be federal employees in terms of civil liability. This provides them with immunity from medical malpractice liability, if they meet specific requirements. It is assumed that this law was passed in order to encourage more medical professionals to offer their services for free, by making it less risky to do so. It is important to note that this law does not apply to clinics that charge for their medical services, even if the fee is considerably reduced when compared to others.

Are There Any Legal Remedies For Medical Malpractice?

Damages in medical malpractice claims generally take the following form:

  • Economic Damages: Monetary amounts that can be measured and specifically calculated based on a particular harm. This most commonly includes medical expenses, hospital bills, lost wages, and loss of earning capacity;
  • Non-Economic Damages: Monetary amounts that are more difficult to calculate, as are intangible or somewhat immeasurable injuries. This most commonly includes pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of enjoyment of activities, and reputational damage; and
  • Punitive Damages: These are rarely ever awarded, and are generally only recognized for medical malpractice claims in a handful of states. In states in which they are awarded, there are generally damage caps or limits on those amounts as well. Punitive damages are intended to punish the defendant, in an effort to discourage repetition of their actions.

Some other examples of remedies that a plaintiff may request include having a medical professional’s license suspended or revoked, or requiring that a medical facility update their policies and/or health and safety procedures in order to reduce the likelihood of future occurrences.

Do I Need An Attorney For Medical Clinic Malpractice?

If you have been injured due to medical malpractice, you will need to consult with a local personal injury lawyer as soon as possible.

An attorney will be most aware of your specific state’s laws and how those laws may affect your legal rights and options. Additionally, an attorney will also be able to represent you in court, as needed.