Professional Negligence Lawsuits

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 What Is Professional Negligence?

Professional negligence, also known as professional malpractice, is a civil wrong, or “tort” in legal terminology, involving the breach of the duty owed by a professional to their client.

Basically, a professional commits professional negligence if they perform their professional service in a manner that is below the standard expected from professionals in the same geographic area.

What Is the Duty of Care?

The duty of care is the responsibility we all have to act with the degree of care that an ordinary person would demonstrate in their actions. Generally, people should act so as to avoid harm to others.

For example, a driver of a vehicle has a duty to other drivers, passengers, and pedestrians on the streets and highways to operate their vehicle in such a way as not to cause harm to them. If they are negligent and cause an accident, they can be liable to their victim for damages.

A professional has to meet a higher standard of care with respect to their clients. They have a duty to act as a skilled professional in the same or similar professional circumstances. This is because a professional, such as an engineer or a doctor, has received specialized education and training. For this reason, they have a special professional duty of care.

What Is a Common Type of Professional Negligence?

One of the most common types of professional negligence is medical malpractice, but lawsuits for legal malpractice are not unheard of. Medical malpractice occurs when a medical professional fails to act in the same manner that a reasonable medical professional with the same amount of training and expertise would in the same or similar circumstances. This duty extends to doctors, surgeons, nurses, pharmacists, and hospitals.

What Other Professionals Owe a Duty of Care to Clients?

There are several types of professionals who can be liable for professional malpractice, as follows:

  • Accountants: Accountants and other accounting professionals can be liable for accounting malpractice. An accountant commits malpractice when an error, omission, or other deviation from Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) is the direct cause of measurable harm to a client;
  • Financial Advisors, Brokers, Registered Investment Advisers, and Broker-dealers: These professionals who provide financial advice to their clients owe them certain duties and can be liable for negligence if they fail to fulfill those obligations. In some circumstances, they may owe a fiduciary duty to their client, the highest standard of care in our law.
    • The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) is a self-governing entity that is responsible for regulating the professional conduct of registered investment professionals. An investor may file an arbitration claim with FINRA against a negligent broker or broker-dealer. Financial advisers can also be liable for negligence in a court of law;
  • Engineers and Architects: Engineers and architects may be liable for professional malpractice. Individual homeowners, real estate investors, and property developers rely on the professional services of engineers and architects and depend on them to provide competent professional services.
    • If they fail to perform in a way that meets the accepted standards of practice in their professions, they could face a malpractice lawsuit. The American Institute of Architects (AIA) stresses meeting the industry’s professional standard of care for its members;
  • Lawyers and Law Firms: Attorneys and law firms are always concerned about the risk of professional malpractice. Of course, clients rely on lawyers to handle their legal problems competently. A lawyer who causes harm and loss to their client due to substandard performance could be liable for negligence in a lawsuit for legal malpractice.
    • The American Bar Association (ABA) reports that most lawyers can expect to face a claim for malpractice in the course of their careers. In addition, lawyers accused of certain types of misconduct, e.g., financial, can be disciplined by the state bar association that licenses them. A lawyer can even lose their license to practice law for misconduct;
  • Doctors, Nurses, Pharmacists, and Other Health Care Providers: Malpractice remains a significant issue in the medical industry. Doctors in all medical specialties and other health care providers may face a claim for malpractice if a patient suffers harm due to substandard care. Once again, a medical professional can be legally liable for the harm done to the victim through a malpractice claim.
    • In addition, a medical professional may face an investigation by their state medical board and the loss of their license.

How Do I Prove Professional Negligence?

In all states, a victim must prove specific elements in order to prove professional negligence:

  • Duty of Care: The victim must prove that the professional owed them a special duty of care based on their specialized skill as a professional and the fact that they provided specialized professional service to the client. For example, handling a lawsuit for them or providing them with surgical care;
  • Breach of Duty: The professional, who is the defendant in a lawsuit for professional negligence, did not perform as their duty of care required;
  • Causation: The professional’s negligence was the direct cause of harm to their client;
  • Damages: The professional’s breach of duty led to actual, measurable harm to the victim.

A professional negligence lawyer knows that the victim must have the help of a witness who is an expert in the profession at issue. The expert witness can testify about the standard of care for the professional and how their performance fell below it. Expert witnesses are necessary in virtually every case in which a victim is suing for professional negligence.

What Are the Consequences of Professional Negligence?

In the vast majority of professional negligence lawsuits, the victim seeks an award of compensatory damages. The damages should compensate the victim for all of their economic and non-economic losses. The economic losses would differ in suits against different kinds of professionals.

For example, the harm caused by a medical professional usually involves physical injury that requires further medical treatment. The healthcare professional who is liable for medical malpractice would have to compensate the victim for all of the necessary medical care that their injury required to restore them to good health. This could include hospital and doctors’ bills, for example.

In a case of malpractice by a victim against a surgeon, the victim may require costly medical treatment to correct the harm that the surgeon caused by providing substandard surgical care.

The defendant would also have to compensate the victim for any salary they lost because they had to miss work due to an inability to do their job or had to get medical care. These are two common elements of compensatory damages in a medical malpractice case. A victim would also be able to recover non-economic damages for their pain and suffering.

In a lawsuit for accountant malpractice, the damages would be very different. For example, a person might hire an accountant to prepare their income tax return. The Internal Revenue Service may audit their return and end up informing the victim that they owe far more in taxes than the accountant reported, plus penalties and interest. If this is the case, the victim might seek compensation for the economic losses that the accountant caused them.

The malpractice of a structural engineer in designing a structure might lead to expensive rebuilds of a structure that has already been constructed. The negligent engineer would be liable for restoring the building to a sound condition free of engineering defects.

Do I Need to Talk About My Claim With an Attorney?

If you have been the victim of a professional’s negligence, contact a liability lawyer. The attorney will guide you through the steps of the legal process. The first step would be to consult a professional of the type who caused you harm to get an analysis of whether the professional in your case was negligent and in what way. can quickly connect you to a lawyer who has experience in making the best use of expert witnesses in order to succeed with a lawsuit for professional negligence.


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