Medical Malpractice: Causes, Standards of Care, and Liability Explained

Medical Malpractice happens when the negligence of a healthcare professional results in the injury, suffering, or death of a patient. This negligence can come in many forms such as giving substandard treatment, omitting to take action, or withholding vital information from the patient or their next of kin. 

When a patient is under the supervision of healthcare professionals, a standard of care is expected. While the professional is not legally liable for all the harm a patient experiences, if they deviate from the standard of care, they can be responsible for the injury or harm of a patient. 

Disappointment or dissatisfaction with a medical experience does not automatically imply there is malpractice. Malpractice is only present if the negligence or malice of a healthcare professional results in injury or harm. 

According to the American Board of Professional Liability Attorneys, a number of characteristics must be involved for malpractice to be considered:

1. A violation of the standard of care

What is the standard of care?

In the early days of modern mdeicine, the standard of care was understood by the legal concept of “custom.” Quoted in the 1934 case of Garthe v. Ruppert, when “certain dangers have been removed by a customary way of doing things safely, this custom may be proved to show that [the one charged with the dereliction] has fallen below the required standard.” You can learn more about the legal history and definition of the standard of care from this academic study

2. An injury that was caused by negligence 


It is not enough for a professional to violate the standard of care for a malpractice claim to be valid. It must also be proven that the patient sustained injuries that would not have occurred if not for negligence on the part of the health professional. If it can not be proven that negligence caused the injury, there is no malpractice case. 

3. An injury that resulted in significant damages


If the damages of negligence are small, a malpractice case will not be worth it. This is because malpractice cases are usually very extensive and costly. These kinds of cases require the testimonies of many expert witnesses and numerous hours of deposition. However, if the negligence of a health care professional did result in significant disability, income loss, suffering, past or future medical bills, or death, then the extensive litigation of a malpractice case can bring the justice and compensation the patient deserves.  

Informed Consent:

Informed consent is vital to determine liability. If a patient (or their representative) does not give informed consent, the health care provider could be liable if the operation or procedure results in harm or death. 

For example, if a surgeon does not inform a patient that a procedure involves a 10% chance of major complications, the patient cannot give informed consent. If the procedure occurs and the patient experiences major complications, the surgeon is liable. Even if the operation was performed perfectly by the surgeon, they are still liable. This is because the patient might have opted not to undergo surgery had they been informed of the risks beforehand.  

Examples of a Medical Malpractice Claims

Anesthesia Errors

Anesthesiologists, anesthetists, and other care providers are highly trained in this important profession. They must understand all the equipment, possible side effects, potential worse-case scenarios, and other data regarding the very potent drugs administered during surgery. If they make a serious error or their equipment fails, it can cost lives or severe complications. 

Medication Errors

Prescribing medications can be very tedious and personal to the patient. A professional writing these prescriptions must be very careful because the side effects of these medicines can be very dangerous. 

Failure to Diagnose 

When a patient has a condition that is life-threatening but treatable, like many cancers, it is important for a healthcare professional to be very attentive to symptoms and observations from the patient. The failure of the professional to diagnose can be extremely harmful to the patient, especially if an early diagnosis might have prevented great suffering or death. 

Infections in Hospitals

Hospitals and medical offices are expected to maintain the highest level of sterility and cleanliness. The staff responsible for disinfecting all the rooms and surfaces are expected to protect patients from contracting infections borne in hospitals. When hospital staff fail to maintain this level of cleanliness, their negligence might cause harm, injury, or death to a vulnerable patient. 

If you or a loved one has suffered from the negligence or malice of a healthcare professional, it can be extremely difficult to know who to trust. For an attorney who will listen and fight for your case with care, call (678) 819-5200 for a free consultation with Anita Lamar.