What is the difference between medical malpractice and medical negligence?
Medical malpractice and medical negligence are terms that are often used interchangeably, but they refer to two distinct legal concepts. Medical malpractice is a type of personal injury case in which a doctor or other medical professional is held liable for damages caused a patient. In these cases, the cause of the injury is often attributed to medical negligence.
While almost every medical malpractice case is rooted in some form of medical negligence, negligence on it's own is insufficient to warrant bringing a medical malpractice claim.
To better explain this concept, we can use a more familiar type of injury case; a car accident. A car accident can be caused by a negligent driver running a stop sign. In this case, the negligent driver is liable for all damages caused by his/her negligent driving. If that same driver runs a stop sign the following month, but doesn't cause a car accident, there is no case. You can't file a claim against someone unless their negligence caused you injury. While that driver may be punished in criminal court, and receive a traffic citation, civil court deals only in compensation for injury.
Similarly, if your doctor treats you in a negligent way, but that negligence doesn't lead to any injury or damages, then there can be no medical malpractice claim.
That being said, in common language the two terms are often used interchangeably to describe a case of patient injury to medical error. In the court room though, the difference lies in the presence or absence of significant patient damages.
by: David Goguen, J.D.
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