What Constitutes Medical Malpractice?

What Constitutes Medical Malpractice?

What constitutes medical malpractice

Medical malpractice is a legal term that pertains to a situation where a healthcare professional, such as a doctor or a nurse, does something or fails to do something that no other reasonable healthcare professional would do under the same circumstances, thereby causing harm to a patient.

It's important to understand that not all medical errors constitute malpractice. Only those instances where the healthcare provider deviated from accepted standards of practice and caused injury or damage to the patient can be legally defined as medical malpractice.

Because medical malpractice claims can be complicated, so you must contact a law firm specializing in malpractice lawsuits. At Ryan LLP, we understand that the vast majority of medical professionals are amazing people who would do anything for their patients, but if a medical professional has harmed you due to malpractice, reach out to us to discuss a medical malpractice lawsuit.

Through a medical malpractice suit, we may be able to recover compensation on your behalf.

Medical Malpractice Law in the United States

Medical malpractice law in United States

Medical malpractice law is primarily governed at the state level in the United States, although certain federal regulations and standards also apply. The legal framework for medical malpractice suits includes constitutional provisions, statutory laws, administrative rules and regulations, and court decisions that establish the standard of care, liability, defenses, and damages.

While there is considerable variation among state laws, the general principle is that medical practitioners owe an obligation of care to their patients, and a breach of this duty, causing injury or damage, may result in legal liability.

Legal Elements of Medical Malpractice

Proving medical malpractice can be a significant challenge. In general, four elements must exist for a medical malpractice case to succeed. The doctor must have a duty of care to take care of you. A breach of that duty must have taken place, the breach of that duty must have led to damages, and you need to be able to prove that you have suffered financially somehow.

Duty of Care

The first element that must be established in a medical malpractice claim is that the healthcare provider owed the patient a 'duty of care'. This is usually straightforward to prove because the duty of care is implicitly assumed once a doctor-patient relationship is formed. The doctor is expected to provide the same standard of care that a similarly skilled and experienced doctor would provide under similar circumstances.

Breach of Duty

After establishing the duty of care, it must be shown that the healthcare provider breached this duty. This means the provider's actions or inactions deviated from the accepted standard of care. This deviation could be something like failing to diagnose a condition properly, prescribing the wrong medication, or making an error during surgery.


It is not enough to prove that the provider breached the duty of care. It must also be shown that the breach directly caused injury or damage to the patient. This is often the most challenging part of a malpractice case because many patients already have existing health conditions that can complicate the causal relationship.


Finally, to have a valid claim, the patient must have suffered some form of harm or damages because of the healthcare provider's breach. Damages can include physical injury, emotional distress, additional medical costs, lost wages, and decreased earning capacity.

Common Examples of Medical Malpractice

Unfortunately, medical malpractice is more common than many people realize, and it can happen in just about any setting. There are a lot of situations where people may not know if they have suffered medical malpractice, so it is important to take a look at a few examples below.

Examples of medical malpractice that frequently occur include: 

Misdiagnosis or Delayed Diagnosis

Misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis

Misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis can occur in a variety of circumstances:

  • Misinterpretation of Lab Results: A healthcare provider may misinterpret lab results, leading to an incorrect diagnosis. This could result in unnecessary treatments for a condition the patient does not have or a lack of treatment for a condition the patient does have.
  • Failure to Recognize Symptoms: If a provider fails to recognize the symptoms of a serious condition, such as a heart attack or stroke, the patient's condition can deteriorate, leading to significant harm or even death.
  • Failure to Refer to a Specialist: Primary care doctors should refer patients to specialists when symptoms suggest a complex or severe condition. Failure to make a timely referral can delay the diagnosis and treatment, causing the patient's condition to worsen.
  • Ignoring or Misinterpreting Patient History: A provider might fail to consider a patient's history or risk factors when diagnosing a condition, leading to an incorrect or delayed diagnosis.

If the doctor misses a diagnosis that a reasonable physician should have caught, medical malpractice may have occurred. A medical malpractice attorney from our team could help prove medical malpractice liability on your behalf.

Surgical Errors

Surgical errors

Surgical errors can happen in many ways:

  • Wrong Site Surgery: Performing surgery on the wrong body part is a serious error that can have devastating consequences. For example, removing the wrong kidney could lead to unnecessary loss of function.
  • Incorrect Medical Procedure: Performing the wrong surgical procedure can cause harm to the patient, including unnecessary surgery, longer recovery times, and increased medical costs.
  • Anesthesia Errors: Errors in administering anesthesia can lead to serious complications, including brain damage and death.
  • Postoperative Negligence: Negligence in postoperative care, such as inadequate infection control or failure to monitor vital signs, can lead to complications like infections, sepsis, and other serious conditions.

Even though mistakes can happen in an operating room, some of them may constitute medical malpractice. Reach out to our office to learn more.

Medication Errors

Medication Errors

Medication errors can involve many types of mistakes:

  • Incorrect Dosage: Prescribing or administering the wrong dosage can lead to an overdose or underdose, potentially causing harm to the patient.
  • Wrong Medication: Providing the wrong medication can result in the patient's condition not being treated or causing adverse reactions.
  • Adverse Drug Interactions: If a provider prescribes a medication that interacts negatively with another drug the patient is taking, it can lead to serious health complications.
  • Incorrect Administration: Medication can be administered incorrectly in many ways, such as via the wrong route (e.g., orally instead of intravenously) or at the wrong time.

Medication errors can also lead to medical malpractice. If a reasonable doctor had not made that mistake, medical malpractice might have happened.

Birth Injuries

Birth injuries

Birth injuries can occur due to various forms of medical negligence:

  • Improper Use of Forceps or Vacuum: Improper use of delivery tools can cause physical injuries to the baby, such as skull fractures or nerve damage.
  • Oxygen Deprivation: If a baby's oxygen supply is compromised during delivery, it can result in brain damage, leading to conditions like cerebral palsy.
  • Delayed C-Section: If a C-section is needed but is not conducted within an appropriate timeframe, it can result in injury to both the mother and the baby.
  • Failure to Detect or Treat Maternal Conditions: Providers who fail to detect or treat conditions in the mother, like preeclampsia or gestational diabetes, risk harming both the mother and the baby.

Birth injuries can impact a baby for the rest of his life, and these medical bills can be very expensive. Reach out to us to see if medical malpractice may have taken place. 

Medical Malpractice Laws and Regulations

So, what exactly defines medical malpractice? Some cases can be a bit confusing to sort through, as there are different laws that may apply from place to place. Some of the key points you need to keep in mind regarding medical malpractice laws and regulations include:

State-Specific Laws and Statutes of Limitations

Medical malpractice laws differ substantially from state to state. This includes variations in statutes of limitations (the time limit within which a lawsuit must be filed), damage caps (limits on the amount of compensation a plaintiff can recover), and requirements for expert testimony. For accurate and current information, it is crucial to consult with a knowledgeable lawyer familiar with your state's laws.

Expert Testimony and Proof of Negligence

In most medical malpractice cases, expert opinion is essential to establish the standard of care, prove negligence, and explain how the provider's actions directly caused the patient's injury. The expert is usually a healthcare professional working in the same field as the defendant. They objectively evaluate what a competent and reasonable provider would have done under similar circumstances.

Medical Malpractice Insurance

Most healthcare providers carry medical malpractice insurance to protect against the financial risk of being sued by a patient. This insurance covers the cost of legal defense and any damages awarded to the plaintiff. However, the presence of insurance does not absolve the provider of responsibility or guarantee a favorable outcome for the patient.

Preventing and Mitigating Medical Malpractice

Preventing and mitigating medical malpractice

One of the best ways to deal with medical malpractice is to prevent it from happening. There are a few steps that patients and doctors can implement to minimize the likelihood of mistakes taking place in the medical setting.

Some of the best ways to prevent medical malpractice include: 

Improving Communication and Patient Engagement

Patient-centered communication is fundamental to quality healthcare and can significantly reduce the likelihood of medical malpractice. Healthcare providers must encourage patients to voice their concerns, ask questions, and discuss their preferences. Equally, providers should ensure that they are fully listening and responding to their patients meaningfully and compassionately.

The use of patient-friendly language, visual aids, and educational materials can be beneficial in ensuring that patients fully understand their health conditions and treatment options. Digital tools like patient portals can also enhance communication by providing patients with easy access to their medical information and a convenient way to communicate with their providers.

Enhancing Healthcare Provider Training and Education

In addition to technical training, healthcare providers should also receive training in areas like empathy, cultural competency, and shared decision-making. This holistic approach to education can help healthcare providers understand better understand patient values and offer care that not only addresses the medical issue but also offers emotional care and support.

Furthermore, training programs should emphasize the importance of teamwork and collaboration among healthcare professionals. A well-coordinated team can significantly reduce medical errors and enhance patient safety. Simulations and role-playing exercises can be effective training methods, enabling providers to practice and improve their skills in a safe and controlled environment.

Implementing Quality Improvement Initiatives

Implementing quality improvement initiatives involves continuous evaluation and adjustment of healthcare practices. Feedback systems are essential in this process, allowing providers to learn from their mistakes and successes. Patient feedback, in particular, can provide valuable insights into areas of care that need improvement.

Quality improvement initiatives should also focus on implementing evidence-based practices. These are practices that have been scientifically researched and proven to be effective. Finally, initiatives should promote a culture of safety, where providers feel comfortable reporting errors and near misses without fear of retribution. A supportive and non-punitive environment encourages open discussion about mistakes, which is crucial for learning and preventing future errors.

Speak With Our Medical Malpractice Lawyer at Ryan LLP Today

Speak with our medical malpractice lawyer at Ryan LLP today

At Ryan LLP, we understand that experiencing medical malpractice can be incredibly distressing and life-altering. Our experienced and compassionate team is here to guide you through the complex legal process. We aim to ensure that you receive your rightful compensation, allowing you to concentrate on your recovery and rebuilding your life.

We are dedicated to safeguarding the rights of patients and holding healthcare providers accountable for their actions. Our medical malpractice lawyers will assess your case meticulously, consult with medical experts, and develop a compelling case to fight for the justice you deserve.

Let Ryan LLP stand by your side during this challenging time. Reach out to us for a free case consultation.

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