Types of Medical Malpractice Cases

A big picture look at common ways that medical malpractice can occur.

A large number of medical malpractice cases are filed each year, as lawsuits in civil court and as insurance claims. Below we'll take an in-depth look at four common types of medical malpractice: errors in cosmetic surgery, prescription drug mistakes, birth injuries, surgical errors, and diagnostic errors.

Of course, the list of possible kinds of malpractice doesn't stop with this article. For more examples, browse all the articles in our Types of Medical Malpractice section.   

Plastic Surgery and Cosmetic Surgery Malpractice  

Across the United States, millions of individuals are electing to undergo cosmetic surgery, with over 11 million procedures done in 2006 alone, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In many instances, these surgeries are not covered by health care insurers. Likewise, juries considering medical malpractice cases stemming from cosmetic surgery tend to be unsympathetic to plaintiffs.

Naturally, there are instances of cosmetic surgery medical malpractice that do warrant compensatory damages. However, you may be surprised by the relatively low rate of success in these kinds of claims. Even rarer, albeit not unprecedented, are punitive damage awards in cosmetic surgery medical malpractice cases.

Learn more about plastic surgery malpractice, see Comestic Surgery Mistakes and Malpractice.

Prescription Drug Errors

One of the most common forms of medical malpractice involve prescription drug errors, which can prove fatal. While many prescription drug errors go unreported or even unnoticed by patients (or the error is caught in time), when a prescription drug error causes harm to a patient, a viable medical malpractice claim might exist. A variety of individuals may be liable in these kinds of cases, including:

  • doctors and physicians who prescribe medication
  • healthcare or nursing staff who administer drugs (prescription and otherwise)
  • pharmacists who fill prescriptions
  • prescription drug companies, manufacturers, and marketers

These individuals and entities can be held liable for a number of mistakes or missteps, including:

  • prescribing or administering the wrong medication
  • prescribing or administering the wrong dosage
  • failure to reasonably foresee detrimental complications (i.e. harmful drug interaction)
  • manufacturing and marketing defective or unreasonably unsafe medications
  • writing illegible prescriptions that lead to patient harm

To learn more about this topic, see Prescription Drug Malpractice Errors.

Birth Injuries and Obstetric Malpractice 

Any kind of medical treatment provided by a medical professional before or during the birth process can lead to a medical malpractice claim, if the care falls short of accepted medical standards and the baby and/or mother are harmed. But it's worth noting that harm to the baby and/or mother does not mean malpractice has occurred. The key question is whether the healthcare providers acted and responded in a manner consistent with a reasonable level of skill and care.

Some of the more common types of birth injury medical malpractice cases stem from:

  • Cerebral Palsy
  • Erbs Palsy
  • Brachial Plexus
  • Erb-Duchenne
  • Dejerine-Klumpke Palsy
  • Fractures
  • Brain damage
  • Fetal death

A host of other factors may result in injuries to newborns and/or their mothers during childbirth, including:

  • Forceps or vacuum used incorrectly
  • Doctor failure to prepare for or ameliorate danger in a higher-risk pregnancy
  • Prescribed medication put the mother or baby at unreasonable risk of harm
  • Inadequate monitoring of the baby's condition
  • Doctor did not plan for a C-section when it was medically necessary to avoid harm

Learn more about childbirth-related malpractice, see Birth-Related Medical Malpractice.

Surgical and Diagnosis Errors

There are a host of surgical errors or errors in diagnosis -- either misdiagnosis, late diagnosis, or failure to diagnose at all -- that can occur in a number of different hospital or clinic setting. In surgery cases, it's possible that the doctor performing the surgery may accidentally cause damage to a nerve, internal organ, blood vessel, or other body part that can result in severe injury and medical problems. Often times, these types of surgery mistakes will not show themselves until weeks or even months after the patient has "recovered" from the surgery.

With regards to diagnosis errors, there are commonly two types, misdiagnosis and delayed diagnosis. In either case, when the doctor's failure to diagnose an illness or health problem accurately and in time causes harm to the patient, and a reasonably competent doctor would have made the proper diagnosis under the circumstances, the patient may have a viable medical malpractice case.

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