Difference Between Medical Negligence and Medical Malpractice


posted in on December 19,2019

Medical mistakes in any capacity are alarming. Medical practitioners undergo years of extensive training in the handling and care of patients. You have the right, therefore, to expect a certain level of care when you visit a doctor. Dipping beneath this level of care can cause serious and potentially fatal patient injuries and illnesses. Distinguishing between whether you are the victim of medical negligence or medical malpractice is important, as each could lead to different burdens of proof and financial recoveries for you as a plaintiff in West Virginia.

Medical Negligence

The main difference between medical negligence and medical malpractice is that negligence is unintentional. Medical negligence refers to an act of carelessness, not intent to harm. Medical negligence means the practitioner made a mistake in the good faith belief that he or she was fulfilling the medical standards of care and doing the right thing by the patient. Any failure to provide health care services per the medical industry’s standards, resulting in harm to the patient, could constitute medical negligence.

The common test to determine whether someone is guilty of medical negligence is to ask whether a reasonably prudent physician, nurse or surgeon would have done the same thing in similar circumstances. If a prudent doctor would have ordered a different type of test to make the correct diagnosis, for example, a doctor that negligently failed to do this could be guilty of medical negligence. Most claims use testimony from expert witnesses, or health care practitioners in the same field of medicine as the defendant, to prove medical negligence.

Proving medical negligence typically takes four essential elements. First, the defendant owed you a duty of care at the time of the alleged neglect. A doctor-patient relationship must have existed. Second, the defendant negligently breached this duty of care in a way another doctor would not have. Third, the defendant’s breach of duty of care caused the injury or illness in question. Fourth, you suffered specific damages as a result. An experienced personal injury attorney can help you with the elements of a medical negligence case in West Virginia.

Medical Malpractice

Malpractice can be more distressing than medical negligence as it comes with a physician’s intent. This does not necessarily mean the intent to harm a patient, but the intent to perform some action while knowing it could result in harm to the patient. A practitioner may be guilty of malpractice if he or she knew there was a risk of doing the patient harm, but committed the act or omission anyway. For example, if a physician knew he or she should conduct more tests to diagnose a possible heart attack, but decided to forego the tests to make it home on time, this would constitute medical malpractice.

The same four elements that apply to medical negligence cases apply to malpractice claims. However, a malpractice claim comes with an added element of intent. Your medical malpractice lawyer must prove the provider knew he or she should have done something different to treat the patient, yet failed to do so, while knowing this failure could harm you as a patient. Your lawyer will not need to prove an intent to cause you harm, but rather that the doctor knew there was a risk of harm yet acted anyway.

Differentiating one type of claim from the other can be important for your legal strategy moving forward with a lawsuit. You will need a qualified lawyer in West Virginia to handle either type of claim. Your attorney can help you understand the specific type of case you have, how to proceed with a lawsuit, and how to fight for fair and full compensation. The sooner you speak to a lawyer in West Virginia about your recent injury or illness, the sooner you could receive the financial recovery you need to move forward.


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