What is the difference between malpractice and negligence?

Many people use the terms malpractice and negligence interchangeably when referring to personal injury that occurs at the hands of a medical professional. Negligence is, in fact, only one aspect of a medical malpractice claim.  

Negligence forms the basis of many torts that are unrelated to the practice of medicine.  It is based on the premise that people owe a duty of care to others. For example, a driver has a duty to operate his or her vehicle safely and not injure other people or damage their property. This duty is the foundation of traffic rules.  Drivers who run a red light are acting negligently because their actions could harm another.

Similarly, doctors owe their patients a duty. They should treat them in accordance with accepted medical standards of care and act in a way that does not cause undue harm. Medical negligence occurs when a medical professional gives treatment to a patient that fails to meet the accepted medical standard of care.  It is typically the basis for a medical malpractice lawsuit intended to compensate a victim for injuries caused by a doctor or other medical professional.  However, medical negligence does not implicitly mean that an injury occurred. A doctor can still act negligently even if no harm occurs to a patient.  

Is it malpractice or negligence?

In some cases, it is difficult to determine whether an act constitutes medical malpractice or ordinary negligence. One such example comes from a 2004 Louisiana Supreme Court case, Williams v. Hospital Service of Jefferson. The plaintiff in this case was riding in a wheelchair pushed by an employee of Jefferson Medical Center when a wheel came off, causing her to fall and be injured. The Supreme Court ruled that the case did not fall under the Medical Malpractice Act (MMA) of Louisiana, reasoning that the failure to properly maintain a wheelchair was not adequately related to healthcare services. 

When an injured person contacts a Washington D.C. medical malpractice law firm for help with a liability claim, the counsel representing the plaintiff decides which type of claim to bring. As the previous example shows, many factors must be considered and medical malpractice may not always be the strongest grounds on which to base a case.


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