Generally, we trust doctors and other medical professionals to provide competent, informed care. Unfortunately, negligence and malpractice sometimes happen. In some contexts, these two terms may seem synonymous. However, if you find yourself wondering if you can sue a doctor, it’s first important to understand the differences between them.

What is Medical Negligence and How Is it Different from Other Types of Negligence?

Negligence is when someone fails to exercise appropriate care or ethics and causes harm to someone else. In a lawsuit, the victim of negligence is the plaintiff, and the person responsible for it is the defendant. In a medical malpractice case, also called “med mal” cases, the two parties are the patient and their doctor, nurse, or another medical practitioner. However, “medical negligence” has a specific meaning in the law, and it’s important to know the different types of negligence before proceeding with your case.

Ordinary Negligence

Negligence means failing to follow a “reasonable” standard of conduct, or to behave in the way someone with prudence would typically not behave in similar circumstances. In an injury lawsuit, a person can be held liable for the harmful effects of their actions. However, negligence typically plays a role in civil, rather than criminal cases.

Criminal Negligence

Criminal negligence can be described as “aggravated” or “gross” and denotes a disregard for human life or an indifference to consequences. It also may assume an understanding and disregard of a substantial risk, although some interpretations of the law would term this recklessness, while negligence would suggest that the perpetrator should have recognized a risk but did not. Some courts use “criminal negligence” and “recklessness” interchangeably.

Medical Negligence

Medical negligence refers to negligence on behalf of medical personnel acting in a professional capacity. It is an act or failure to act by a medical professional that deviates from the accepted medical standard of care. However, this deviation is not necessarily grounds for a lawsuit.

Doctors make choices all the time wherein they must rely on their judgment to weigh potential risks against potential benefits. Medical negligence can be difficult to prove. It may provide grounds for a lawsuit if it leads to harm. So, if negligence is evident and it causes a patient’s condition to worsen or causes unreasonable complications, it could open the opportunity to sue the doctor or care provider. One cause of a lawsuit over medical negligence is when a doctor or caregiver fails to live up to their “duty of care.”

What is a Doctor’s Duty of Care and How Can it Affect a Negligence Case?

There are certain expectations that a doctor or care provider will act in the best interest of his or her patient. The care provider must exercise a level of skill and care that a patient reasonably expects. A legal case would consider whether the doctor acted in a way that other providers would act under similar circumstances, and the knowledge available at the time of the treatment.

A patient pursuing legal action must first demonstrate that they are, in fact, a patient of the doctor in question. To show that duty of care existed, they must show that they chose to be examined and treated by the doctor or practitioner in question. And to be awarded damages, they must show the care was negligent or detrimental and led to an injury.

When Does Medical Negligence Qualify for a Lawsuit?

Medical negligence is only one required element of a medical malpractice claim. Medical malpractice occurs when a patient experiences harm due to errors in diagnosis, treatment, aftercare, or health management. To file a lawsuit against a physician, several criteria must be met.

1. The defendant’s actions violated the standard of care

A patient should be able to reasonably expect that a medical care provider will act within generally accepted practices. If they do not, they violate the standard of care and exhibit medical negligence.

2. The negligence led to an injury 

Medical negligence is not enough for a lawsuit on its own. Rather, the plaintiff must prove that they sustained an injury and that it occurred because of the negligence. 

3. The injury caused significant damages

The plaintiff must show that the injury resulted in disability, loss of income, unusual pain, suffering, and hardship, or significant past and future medical bills. An experienced medical malpractice attorney can help determine whether the cost of pursuing legal action is likely to exceed these damages.

Examples of Damages from Medical Negligence

Only an attorney experienced with medical negligence and medical malpractice can determine whether a patient has grounds to sue a doctor or care provider. Some examples of situations that open the discussion include: 

  • Failure to diagnose a condition or recognize symptoms
  • Misdiagnosis or misreading of test results
  • Unnecessary surgery
  • Surgical errors including operating on the wrong site
  • Medication or dosage contraindicated with other treatment modalities
  • Premature discharge or inadequate follow-up
  • Disregarding patient history

What Are the Benefits of Work with a Medical Malpractice Attorney?

Can you sue a doctor for negligence? The answer is “Yes.” However, you should keep in mind the advantages of having legal representation early.

1. Guidance about How to Document Medical Malpractice

Medical malpractice lawsuits cost a great deal to litigate, frequently requiring testimony from multiple expert witnesses. It’s also crucial to provide detailed accounts of each step of an illness, injury, or surgery, from the first contact with a doctor through to the unintended outcomes. Carefully document the entire process. Medical records, photographs, even a diary of symptoms can demonstrate your case better to a judge. Hiring an attorney early also ensures you have guidance about what to document, giving you the best odds of winning damages.

2. Understanding State Laws and Statutes of Limitations on Medical Negligence Cases

Medical negligence laws can also vary by state. So consulting a qualified medical malpractice attorney can help you learn how the law works. In Florida, for example, the Florida Comprehensive Medical Malpractice Reform Act is designed to prevent frivolous claims in order to reduce the cost of medical malpractice insurance. As a result, the law pushes plaintiffs toward a settlement and creates a statute of limitations of two years, which is two years shorter than an ordinary negligence case.

Matthews Injury Law welcomes the opportunity to talk with you about any negative consequences you might have experienced as a result of medical negligence. Please reach out to us to request a free consultation.