What is Medical Malpractice? | Lawyers for Medical Malpractice

Tarun Sridharan Legal Editor & Attorney Contributor Read Time: 8 minutes

What is Medical Malpractice? | Lawyers for Medical Malpractice

If you or a loved one received medical attention, and left the hospital in worse condition than you arrived in, you may have grounds for a medical malpractice lawsuit.

When you seek medical attention from a doctor, hospital, clinic, or another healthcare professional or facility, you rightfully anticipate receiving the proper care. You expect that your health will improve or at least be stabilized by seeking medical care. Sadly, this doesn’t always happen for some Americans. Sometimes seeking the healthcare they need, worsens their health and exposes them to medical malpractice. 

What Percentage of Death is Medical Error?

According to the Journal of Patient Safety, there are around 400,000 deaths a year from preventable medical errors. While it’s unclear exactly how many deaths result from malpractice, a 2016 John Hopkins study suggested that medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the United States, just behind cardiovascular disease and cancer. Those who suspect they were injured in a malpractice incident should contact a skilled medical malpractice lawyer as soon as possible.  

What Does Malpractice Mean?

What is malpractice? Malpractice can mean different things in different professions. However, malpractice generally means failure to exercise an ordinary degree of professional skill that results in injury to the patient or client. When malpractice causes harm, victims can often file a malpractice claim against the professional that committed it. 

What is Medical Malpractice?  

Medical malpractice occurs when a health care provider’s professional negligence results in inadequate treatment, which results in patient injury. If a medical professional, such as a doctor or nurse, fails to perform proper medical care in the way a reasonable medical professional would that isn’t congruent with the current standards of care, they have engaged medical malpractice. Medical malpractice cases arise from negligence, recklessness, or sometimes even intentional actions.  

In a successful medical malpractice lawsuit, the injured party or their attorney on their behalf must show that the medical professional’s breach of their duties was the direct cause of their injury.  

What is an Example of Malpractice?  

Medical malpractice can take on many forms and impact all areas of medicine. For example, a diabetic patient needs to have their right leg amputated below the knee. The current standard of care is that immediately before surgery, the patient, or someone on their behalf if they physically or mentally can’t, must place an “X” on the surgical site with a marker. The medical/surgical team must also have a brief “time out” before beginning the surgery to review the type of surgery, the patient’s health history, allergies, and other pertinent information.  

Suppose the pre-op nurse forgets to have the patient place an “X” on their right lower leg before surgery, and the team gets busy and skips their “time out.” The doctor ends up amputating the lower left leg instead of the correct right leg. In this case, medical malpractice has almost certainly occurred. The patient could bring a lawsuit against the surgeon, the pre-op nurse, and potentially other members of the team or hospital. While this might sound like an extreme example, surgery on the wrong body part or side of the body does happen and can have disastrous results. 

Other Common Examples of Medical Malpractice

Most medical malpractice claims fall into 3 categories: failure to diagnose, improper treatment, and failure to warn a patient of known risks. Common medical errors and examples of medical malpractice include:

  • Failure to diagnose 
  • Failure to order proper testing 
  • Misdiagnosis 
  • Misreading, misinterpreting, or ignoring laboratory results 
  • Surgical errors  
  • Performing unnecessary surgery 
  • Wrong medication or dosage
  • Anesthesia errors
  • Lack of or poor follow-up or aftercare 
  • Premature discharge 
  • Failure to take an appropriate patient history or to consider it in their care 
  • Failure to order proper testing 
  • Failure to recognize symptoms 
  • Childbirth injuries 

Malpractice of all kinds can kill patients or leave them with severe injuries or disabilities they may never recover from. The ones who do recover often face a lengthy uphill battle to do so. Medical malpractice impacts patients of all ages and from all socio-economic levels.  

Medical malpractice is typically the result of negligence or the failure to act in a reasonably prudent way given the circumstances and the individual’s professional background. In medical malpractice cases, the injured party or their malpractice attorney must establish a legal basis that includes the four elements of medical negligence. They are: 

  1. Duty of Care
  2. Breach of Duty
  3. Proximate Cause
  4. Damages

Duty of Care 

The existence of a legal duty on the part of the doctor to provide the best care possible to a patient, which typically occurs at the start of the doctor-patient relationship when the doctor assumes care. Duty of care can be measured by the current standard of care in that area of medicine and by what other medical professionals with similar training and background would have done in the same or similar situation.  

Breach of Duty 

A breach of this duty on behalf of the doctor occurs when they fail to adhere to the standards of the profession. That is to say, the medical professional violates their duty of care in some way. For instance, they prescribe the wrong medication or the wrong dose.

Proximate Cause 

Proximate cause is a causal relationship, occurring when the medical professional’s breach of duty resulted in or was the cause of the patient’s injuries. In other words, the patient wouldn’t have suffered the injury if it weren’t for the medical professional’s negligent actions. 


The existence of damages that stem from the injury and solicit a claim for compensation. The patient’s injuries caused their damages. Damages typically account for both actual economic loss, such as medical bills and lost wages, and noneconomic loss, such as pain and suffering or scarring and disfigurement. 

What is the Most Common Reason for Malpractice? 

Medical malpractice can happen for several reasons. However, nearly all reasons result from negligence somewhere on the healthcare continuum. While there is never an excuse for medical malpractice and negligence, it can occur because of: 

  • Poor communication among medical staff 
  • Lack of training and experience 
  • Lack of proper protocols and guidelines 
  • Fatigue and exhaustion 
  • Distraction 
  • Carelessness 
  • Staffing shortages/caring for too many patients at once 
  • Alcohol or drug use  

How Hard is it to Sue a Doctor?

You generally have a better chance of getting the compensation you deserve when you have legal representation. You also let the insurance company know you take your claim seriously. Often, these cases can be resolved out of court, but if necessary, your attorney can litigate your claim. If you believe you have a medical malpractice claim, please fill out our contact form, and a qualified lawyer near you will contact you within 10 minutes.  

Typically, these types of cases can be difficult to pinpoint, being that there needs to be a strong legal basis for a medical malpractice lawsuit. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, you will need to prove that the physician acted negligently in rendering care, and that such negligence resulted in injury. Injuries or harm resulting from the negligence do not have to be related only to physical and mental pain, but also can be related to lost income and future medical costs.

Why Hire a Medical Malpractice Lawyer?

A medical malpractice lawsuit is very complex and the burden of proof lies with you, that’s why it’s best to get professional legal help. An experienced medical malpractice lawyer knows how to prove negligence, what evidence will support your claims, how to properly examine medical documents, and how to deal with medical companies. If you think you may have a medical malpractice lawsuit, call today and speak to an experienced lawyer about your situation.

Contact an Experienced Medical Malpractice Attorney Today

If you are considering filing a claim and suing for malpractice, it’s in your best interest to have an experienced medical malpractice attorney on your side. Even when the patient clearly has every right to compensation for their injuries, these cases can be uphill battles because large insurance companies would rather fight than pay medical malpractice settlements.  


  1. Journal of Patient Safety. A New, Evidence-based Estimate of Patient Harms Associated with Hospital Care. Retrieved February 12, 2014.
  2. National Center for Biotechnology Information. An Introduction to Medical Malpractice in the United States. Retrieved February 12, 2014.

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