Differences Between Medical Malpractice and Negligence in NY

The terms “medical malpractice” and “medical negligence” can be a bit confusing.  Many lawyers will draw strict distinctions between what these two phrases entail, while others essentially treat them as the same thing.

Medical malpractice refers to problems with the doctor’s practice of medicine – which most typically involve medical negligence.  Medical negligence is the failure to comport with the standard of care in the case at hand, resulting in injury to the patient.  Many lawyers clarify that malpractice requires an intentional deviation, versus negligence is an unintentional deviation.  All in all, the lawsuit you file is typically a negligence lawsuit in either case.

For help with a malpractice case, call the Westchester personal injury lawyers at The Martello Law Firm: (914) 685-6950.

Medical Malpractice vs. Medical Negligence in New York

As mentioned, the distinction between these two terms is not particularly important because neither of them is, in fact, a legal cause of action.  When you sue a doctor for malpractice or negligence, the cause of action that your New Rochelle personal injury lawyer files is a “tort” case for “negligence.”  Nonetheless, the distinctions between these terms sometimes are helpful to understand.

What is a Negligence Tort?

A tort is essentially the charge that you bring against someone else in civil law.  You can sue for torts like breach of contract, assault, battery, or negligence, among others – with negligence being the most prominent tort used in personal injury law.  When you sue a doctor for malpractice, you are typically filing a negligence tort.

To prove a negligence case, generally, you have to prove that there as a legal duty, that it was breached, that the breach caused your injuries, and that you suffered damages as a result.  Those are four elements that hold true in every negligence case, whether for medical malpractice or some other injury claim.

Some malpractice cases are based on the tort of battery instead of negligence.  In these cases, the claim typically goes that the doctor performed surgery or some other procedure on you without consent.  Putting hands on someone (or cutting them with a scalpel) would be considered battery if it were done outside the medical context.  As such, performing medical procedures without consent does sometimes qualify as medical battery instead of negligence.

Battery, including medical battery, is an “intentional” tort rather than one of negligence and has different elements and different deadlines to file under NY law.

What is Medical Malpractice?

The “mal” in malpractice essentially means “bad,” meaning that malpractice is simply any bad practice.  The standard of “malpractice” applies to professionals in many fields but is most commonly used in the medical field.

Under this definition, medical malpractice is any bad practice from a medical professional.  This standard only applies to professionals that have a code of ethics, licensure boards, and other things like that.  These rules and standards help define what proper medical practice looks like so that we have a view as to when that practice goes wrong and becomes malpractice.

When you sue for medical malpractice, the standards are essentially the same as for any other negligence case but applied specifically to the situation at hand.  However, when it comes to breaching the duty in that case, many people refer to the situation as malpractice if there was an intentional deviation from the proper standard rather than a mistake.  For example, if a doctor made a call in the operating room that they knew was risky, that could easily be construed as malpractice if it went wrong and led to harm.

Keep in mind that other causes of action, such as lawsuits for medical battery, fall under the classification of “medical malpractice” but not “medical negligence” as they are not, in fact, based on negligence.

What is Medical Negligence?

As mentioned, when you sue for medical injuries, the claim is usually a negligence claim with the four elements discussed above.  When we apply those four elements to medical situations, the elements change a bit:

The duty in a medical negligence case is known as the “standard of care.”  By virtue of the doctor-patient relationship, a doctor owes a patient care that falls in line with this “standard of care.”  The standard of care is not one singular principle you can look up in a medical textbook, but rather, it is defined as conforming with the practices and standards that any reasonable physician who has similar training and experience would have used in the same situation.

For example, if a patient comes into the ER complaining of chest pain with no visible signs of chest injury, then any reasonable doctor would likely check to see if the patient was having a heart attack.  It would be unreasonable for a doctor to dismiss this chest pain, and that would be considered a breach of this duty.

To prove that a breach of this duty exists, you typically need another medical professional to testify in your case that what the defendant doctor did was, in fact, wrong.  There is no actual element in these cases that the deviation was intentional, and any lawsuit for medical malpractice/medical negligence should be allowed to proceed even with accidental or unintentional deviations from the standard of care.

Proving Medical Malpractice and Medical Negligence in New York Injury Cases

To prove medical malpractice, you need to show that all four elements of the case are met – as discussed in detail above.  Your attorney will prove this by producing relevant evidence and testimony.

It is the plaintiff’s job – the victim’s job – to produce evidence that what the doctor did was wrong as well as evidence of the injury.  This typically means producing medical records of what happened on the day of the procedure or treatment.  It also often means getting a second opinion and examination by another physician.  Ultimately, a doctor’s expert opinion will also be necessary to prove whether the defendant’s actions fell below the standard of care or not.

Call Our New York Medical Malpractice Attorneys Today

If you were the victim of unprofessional medical care, call the Yonkers personal injury attorneys at The Martello Law Firm by dialing (914) 685-6950 today.

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