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What is Medical Malpractice? What is Not?

By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. | Last updated on

You may hear about them in the papers or on TV, but the truth is that medical malpractice cases are not merely lawsuits based on the fact that a patient was somehow injured by a healthcare provider.

Medical malpractice is a form of negligence, meaning that only those injuries caused by a doctor's negligent actions can legally form the basis of such a lawsuit.

However, as is explained below, proof of negligence doesn't always guarantee a successful claim.

Because medical malpractice cases are based on negligence law, a plaintiff must prove that a doctor, medical professional, or facility breached its duty of care, which in turn was the legal and actual cause of the injury.

Medical professionals and facilities owe patients a special duty of care. They must act in a manner consistent with the accepted standards of the industry, as well as those within their own specialty.

This means that a medical malpractice case is only valid if a provider failed to follow the generally-accepted standard of care to ensure patient safety and proper treatment.

Even if a patient is able to prove that a doctor acted in such a manner, that may not be the end of the inquiry.

There are medical instances when a plaintiff may prove negligence, but the defendant is held not to have been negligent when a patient does one of the following:

  • gave informed consent
  • accepted unavoidable known risk
  • contributed to his own harm
  • failed to mitigate damages
  • failed to disclose important information

Though it isn't often discussed in the media, patient behavior oftentimes is more important than that of a medical provider when analyzing the viability medical malpractice cases.

[Editor's note: Post was updated on 8/19/2011 to clarify the interplay of defendant negligence and medical malpractice allegations.] 

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