A professional is a person who holds themselves out to be a professional or expert in some field. “Professional malpractice,” also known as “professional negligence,” is an instance of negligence or incompetence on the part of a professional that injures, or otherwise damages, a plaintiff.
The most common form of professional malpractice is medical malpractice. However, professional malpractice can assume many different forms. Some common types of professional malpractice include:
- Therapist malpractice
- Hospital malpractice
- Chiropractor malpractice
- Dental malpractice
- Veterinary malpractice
- Accountant malpractice
- Attorney malpractice
- Clergy malpractice
- Architect/Engineer malpractice
Basically, anytime a professional or accredited expert is involved, the possibility for professional malpractice exists. In addition, entire groups or organizations may be held liable for malpractice, as when a hospital is sued for medical malpractice.
Professional malpractice is usually litigated under a negligence theory. In ordinary negligence cases, the plaintiff must show that the defendant failed to exercise the level of care of a reasonable and prudent person under similar circumstances. However, in cases involving a certain type of profession, the customs of that profession are instead used to set the standard of care.
Therefore, the plaintiff must show that the defendant failed to exercise the skill and knowledge normally exercised by reasonable members of the profession of average skill, and that this failure was the actual and proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injury. This will likely require expert testimony regarding what constitutes a reasonable level of care in the given profession.
Recovery in professional malpractice suits is typically divided into economic and non-economic damages:
- Economic damages reimburse the plaintiff for actual monetary losses suffered. Also called specific or special damages, this amount is easily quantifiable and includes the cost of medical bills, lost wages, and diminished future earnings.
- Non-economic damages represent compensation for the injury itself and are more difficult to quantify. Also called general damages, this form of recovery requires the jury to assign a monetary value to the injury itself, pain and suffering, and any resulting disability or disfigurement.
It is important to note that in medical malpractice cases, while economic damages are almost always recoverable, many states impose limits on non-economic damages. These states argue that arbitrarily high damages awards drive up insurance premiums and discourage medical practice.
Other states have actually gone the opposite route and have forbidden caps on non-economic damages. These states argue that legislatively imposed caps on recovery are arbitrary and violate the constitutional right to a trial by jury. Thus, it is important to research the law in your state when you consider whether to move forward with a malpractice claim.
Professional malpractice claims can sometimes be complex. This is because each profession may involve different standards of care that are specific to the practice. Also, malpractice laws can vary according to jurisdiction. Therefore you may wish to contact a lawyer if you wish to file a professional malpractice lawsuit.