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Medical Malpractice vs. Negligence: Legal Differences & Definitions Explained 

By: Anapol Weiss

Understanding the difference between medical malpractice vs. negligence can help you fine-tune your claim for better results. While they may seem the same, the difference between malpractice and negligence can affect how you structure a case and address the facts when demanding compensation from the defendants or filing suit in a court of law.

Personal injury cases focused on the medical field are always complex, in part because medical care is highly technical, with fluid, high-pressure situations, and even if everything is done correctly, treatments can still fail.

Your personal injury attorney can help you understand which type of case you have and how to structure it to protect your rights to the compensation you need to pay medical bills, replace missed wages, and recover from your injury.

Standard Of Care for Medical Malpractice vs. Negligence

While malpractice vs. negligence may be based on some key differences, they both start with an expected standard of care. When you go to a medical professional, you have a reasonable expectation that they will conform to certain rules, regulations, and professional standards when examining, testing, diagnosing, and treating you while under their care.

There are laws laid out at the federal and state levels, rules by boards of medicine and pharmacy, and individual hospital districts will establish standard operating procedures, all with the goal of ensuring those we trust with our health and wellness are delivering safe, effective care.

The core difference between malpractice vs. negligence is how the medical practitioner runs afoul of these standards.

  • Medical Negligence – Mistakes happen, but when they happen in healthcare, it can lead to injury or death. In medical negligence cases, the practitioner made a mistake, such as in some medical misdiagnosis cases where the information from a test is misinterpreted, unintentionally violating the standard of care and causing an injury to their patient.

  • Medical Malpractice – Medical malpractice is a more serious offense where the practitioner knowingly and willfully failed to meet the standard of care, resulting in an injury. This does not mean they did so maliciously to hurt the patient, but they should have known they were putting the patient at increased risk.

While the results of either failure to meet the recognized standard of care may the same, an avoidable injury, the way you support your claim and the potential damages you may be owed can be different in negligence vs. malpractice cases.

How Damages Work In Medical Malpractice Vs. Negligence Cases

When determining how much damages to ask for in your personal injury case, you want to ensure you are asking for enough compensation to cover both reasonable monetary and nonmonetary damages you’ve suffered, regardless of the type of medical case you’re pursuing.

Monetary Damages

This represents the real cost of your injury backed up by statements in dollars-and-cents figures. Medical bills, therapist statements, pay stubs that show lost wages, and other documentation of these costs helps not only determine the amount already spent, but can help provide some direction for estimating future expenses in the case of lingering, long-term injuries.

Non-monetary Damages

These can be harder to quantify, but no less important. Pain, suffering, and emotional distress can negatively impact the quality of life for injury victims. This can include disruptions to their family, their normal healthy lifestyle, or the professional path they were on before their injury occurred. This can be highly individual and subjective, and it is usually expressed as a multiplication of monetary damages ranging from 1-5X the total.

Where damages become a difference in malpractice vs. negligence cases is in a third type of damages usually associated only with malpractice.

Punitive Damages

In malpractice cases, the defendant knowingly and willfully did not adhere to the standard of care meant to keep patients safe. The court may assign punitive damages as both a punishment to the defendant and as a deterrent to other practitioners who may consider doing the same in the future. This amount can vary depending on the severity of the injury and its impact on the victim.

Proving Malpractice Vs. Negligence

Your case proving malpractice hinged on showing evidence that the failure to meet the standard of care leading up to your injury was done knowingly. This means you will need to show the practitioner understood their responsibility and chose a different path:

  • Clinical Notes – The records kept during patient visits, examinations, and surgeries can hold evidence that a practitioner failed to meet their obligations by choosing to ignore protocols and follow a different path.

  • Witness Testimony – The practitioner may have said something to you, a nurse, or office staff indicating they were intentionally ignoring their standard procedures to try an alternate treatment that led to your injury.

  • Documentary Evidence – Records from the hospital or clinic showing that a set protocol was in place, previous disciplinary action from the board of medicine, and other records can help illustrate a willing disregard for proper procedure both in general and, potentially, as it relates to situations such as yours.

Confused About Medical Malpractice vs. Negligence? Talk to a Personal Injury Lawyer Today

Whether you’ve been injured by medical malpractice or negligence, a Philadelphia personal injury attorney can help protect your rights. They’ll work to understand your situation, explain the differences between malpractice vs. negligence, and help you navigate your options moving forward.

Your initial consultation is free, making it easy to start a conversation about your rights and begin the process of fighting for the compensation you deserve. Contact Anapol Weiss about your personal injury claim today.