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What is Medical Malpractice Law?

Definition of Medical Malpractice Law

Medical Malpractice Law determines standards doctors must follow when caring for their patients. Like any professional, doctors must perform their jobs to the best of their abilities. Unlike other professionals, when doctors make mistakes or do not perform to standards, the outcomes can ruin their patient's lives. Some patients who were injured by their doctor choose to sue their doctors to pay for the extra medical costs and lost wages.

Medical Malpractice is a popular area of law, but it actually is considered a part of Accidents and Injuries law. Many accident and injuries cases, including medical malpractice cases, claim that one party was "negligent" in their practices. For medical malpractice cases, this means that the patient has to prove the doctors are generally have a duty to practice medicine a certain way, that the doctor did not fulfill (or "breached") his duty, and that the breach of duty caused the patient harm.

Terms to Know

  • Informed Consent: Before a doctor can treat a patient, the doctor must explain to the patient the nature of the treatment, along with its risks and benefits, and then the patient must agree to the treatment.
  • Error in Diagnosis: A doctor makes an error in diagnosis when the doctor does not accurately name the patient's disease.
  • Error in Treatment: A doctor makes an error in treatment when the doctor does not prescribe the correct drugs or therapy.
  • Vicarious Liability: When a doctor makes a mistake, patients often sue the doctor's supervisors or the hospital under a legal theory known as vicarious liability.
  • HIPAA: The "Health Information Portability and Accountability Act" mandates that medical providers keep patients' records confidential.
  • Statute of Limitations: Like many personal injury suits, there is a time limit in which patients must bring suit against their doctors. If the time limit passes, the opportunity for suit is gone.

Practice Area Notes

Medical Malpractice is largely an issue of state law. Each state's laws, including statutes of limitations, differ slightly. Patients considering filing suit against their doctors should be sure to consult a local medical malpractice attorney. You can find a medical malpractice attorney near you using the search tools below.

Many states, along with the federal government, have passed or are considering "tort reform" bills. Medical costs in the U.S. are well above other countries' medical costs, and some believe that medical malpractice suits are to blame. They argue that doctors must buy special malpractice insurance and order unnecessary tests for their patients because the doctors are afraid of lawsuits. The cost of the insurance and tests are then passed along to patients in the form of high healthcare bills. Tort reform bills attempt to make it harder for patients to bring lawsuits in instances where the doctor did not breach her duty of care. However, some tort reform laws have the effect of barring both frivolous and non-frivolous lawsuits. Your local medical malpractice attorney should be able to advise you on whether your state's tort reform laws will affect your case.

Related Areas

  • Health Care Law: The rules that govern who can receive healthcare, and who should pay for it.
  • Accidents and Injuries: Also known as "tort law," accident and injuries law concerns when some one may sue another for causing injuries.
  • Product Liability: Sometimes doctors use faulty equipment or prescribe bad medication.
  • Elder Law: This practice area concerns all the legal aspects of aging, including estate planning and health care law.
  • Insurance Law: Insurance law attorneys help insurance companies determine how much to pay their clients and advocate for clients so that they receive all relevant benefits.
  • Privacy Law: Most patients have a strong privacy interest in their medical records.

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