What Is Considered Medical Malpractice?

Medically Reviewed on 10/20/2021
Medical malpractice results from negligent medical care from a healthcare practitioner that results in personal injury or wrongful death.

Medical malpractice occurs when a healthcare practitioner or provider

  • knowingly or unknowingly fails to offer adequate treatment or take suitable action, or 
  • provides substandard care to a patient, resulting in harm, injury, or death.

Typically, malpractice or negligence includes a medical mistake, which might be in the form of a diagnostic, pharmaceutical administration, health management, therapy, or aftercare.

Medical malpractice suits allow individuals to obtain compensation for any injuries caused by substandard medical care.

According to the Medical Malpractice Center, every year, 15,000 to 19,000 medical malpractice cases are filed against doctors in the United States.

Examples of medical negligence or malpractice that may result in a lawsuit include:

  • Failure to make the correct diagnosis (misdiagnosis) of the condition
  • Laboratory results that are misread or ignored
  • Unrequired surgery is performed
  • Errors in surgery or surgery performed in the incorrect location
  • Incorrect medicine or dose
  • Inadequate follow-up or aftercare
  • Early discharge is done even though the patient needs to be in the hospital
  • Ignoring or failing to take relevant patient history or medical records
  • Failure to order necessary tests
  • Inability to identify signs and symptoms
  • Medical treatment that resulted in wrongful death

What claims are medical malpractice?

Medical malpractice claims must contain the following elements according to the law:

Unable to provide standard care

  • The law recognizes that certain medical standards are accepted by the profession as appropriate medical treatment by wise healthcare providers in all similar circumstances, which is termed as the standard of care.
  • A patient has the right to expect medical professionals to provide treatment that meets these standards. If it is decided that the standard of care was not fulfilled, negligence may be shown.

Causing injury due to negligence

  • It is not enough for a malpractice claim to be valid if a medical professional simply breached the standard of medical care.
    • A negative outcome does not constitute malpractice.
  • The patient must demonstrate that they suffered harm that was a result of carelessness or ignorance from the medical professional.
  • There is no case if there is an injury that was not caused by carelessness or if the negligent act did not cause the damage.

The injury caused results in significant damage

  • Medical malpractice cases are highly expensive to litigate because they typically need the evidence of multiple medical experts and endless hours of deposition testimony.
  • For a lawsuit to be successful, the patient must demonstrate that significant damages occurred from harm sustained because of medical negligence.
  • If the damages are minor, the expense of pursuing the lawsuit may outweigh the ultimate recovery.
  • To file a medical malpractice lawsuit, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the damage caused disability, economic loss, extraordinary pain, suffering, and hardship, or considerable past and future medical costs.
  • Wrongful death is also considered significant damage.

4 elements of medical malpractice

Medical malpractice is referred to as the “four Ds,” which stand for the following:

  1. Duty: The duty of care that is to be provided to patients. The treating physician owes people the same duty of medical care that another doctor of the same or similar education, background, or geographic region would have owed.
  2. Dereliction: A breach of duty of care, such as leaving surgical tools or gauze inside the body, incorrect or missing diagnosis, missing signs to establish the diagnosis, and prescribing the wrong medication or dosage.
  3. Direct cause: Proving that the breach resulted in injury or harm to the patient. If the surgeon removes the spleen instead of the gallbladder, it links to the direct breach of duty.
  4. Damages: Injury or illness caused to the patient may result in both economic and noneconomic losses.

As they seek compensation for their client, a malpractice lawyer will look for evidence to prove that these four components of a medical malpractice case exist.


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Medically Reviewed on 10/20/2021
Bal BS. An introduction to medical malpractice in the United States. Clin Orthop Relat Res. 2009;467(2):339-347. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2628513/

Insurance Information Institute. Medical Malpractice. https://www.iii.org/issue-update/medical-malpractice

HG.org. What is Medical Malpractice. https://www.hg.org/legal-articles/what-is-medical-malpractice-31322