What is the Difference Between Medical Malpractice and Medical Negligence?

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As patients, many people do not want to recognize the fact that the doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals responsible for their care are human and capable of making mistakes. Even the most brilliant and respected medical professional can make a mistake. Unfortunately, depending on the circumstances and the nature of the mistake, a medical error can have serious implications when it comes to the health of the patient. If a patient is injured, or their health is compromised as a result of a medical mistake, they may be eligible for financial compensation. An experienced medical malpractice lawyer will recommend the best legal course of action based on whether the mistake was the result of malpractice or negligence.

Recovering from a medical injury can be an overwhelming process, particularly if the injury or the health complication results in costly medical bills, lost wages, emotional distress, and the need for long-term care. The last thing that the patient wants to handle is a mountain of paperwork that involves deciphering a bunch of legal jargon. Although a medical malpractice lawyer will assist patients with every step of the claims process, it helps to understand the difference between medical negligence and medical malpractice.

What is Medical Negligence?

Medical negligence occurs when a health care professional fails to provide the standard of care that a patient deserves. From a legal perspective, standard of care is the level of care that a reasonably skilled health care professional who has a similar background in the same medical community would have provided under similar circumstances. Negligence occurs when there is a breach in the standard of care. The main difference between medical negligence and malpractice is that negligence is considered an act of carelessness rather than an intent to harm.

For a patient to prove that his or her health care provider was negligent, he or she must consider whether a reasonably prudent doctor, nurse, or surgeon would have carried out the same medical treatment under similar circumstances. If, however, it is determined that another doctor would have recommended a different treatment or made a different diagnosis, the patient’s doctor may be guilty of medical negligence. If this is the case, it is important to understand that the patient must be able to prove that the medical professional responsible for their treatment was negligent. To do that, the patient must prove the following:

  • A medical professional or medical institution had a legal responsibility to protect the patient’s safety.
  • There was a breach in that duty.
  • The breach in the duty of care was responsible for causing the injury.
  • The patient was injured as a result of the breach.

What is Medical Malpractice?

If a health care professional has been charged with medical malpractice, it is a serious accusation and one that should not be taken lightly. In fact, it is more distressing than a medical negligence charge because it means that the doctor, nurse, surgeon, or other health care provider performed some action, or failed to take the appropriate action, with the intent to cause harm. For example, if a cardiologist was aware that conducting an additional diagnostic test on a patient with a heart condition could diagnose and prevent a heart attack but decided to skip the test in order to get home at a reasonable time, this would be considered medical malpractice.

The patient must prove the same four elements as they would in a medical negligence claim. However, he or she must also be able to prove that the health care professional should have done something different but failed to do so, knowing it could harm the patient. A medical malpractice lawyer will not need to prove that the health care professional intended to cause harm to the patient, only that the doctor knew that his or her actions could put the patient’s health at risk and chose to proceed with those actions anyway.

Can Patients Pursue a Lawsuit if They Were Not Injured?

If a patient believes that their health care provider acted in a way that was negligent or irresponsible, but those actions did not result in an injury, they cannot pursue legal action for negligence or malpractice. These cases fall under personal injury law; therefore, there is no case if there is no injury. In addition, it is important that patients understand that, just because they were injured or suffered a health issue, it does not always warrant a medical malpractice or medical negligence lawsuit. If the medical mistake was deemed reasonable within the accepted standard of care, the patient will not have a case, even if the error resulted in some type of injury or harm.

Does a Patient Need to Hire a Medical Malpractice Lawyer for Their Case?

Patients who are considering filing a medical malpractice claim should hire an experienced medical malpractice lawyer who will protect their legal rights and obtain the financial compensation they deserve. The following are the top reasons why it is in the patient’s best interest to hire a medical malpractice lawyer:

  • A dedicated malpractice lawyer will negotiate with insurance companies, allowing the patient to focus on recovering from his or her injuries.
  • Experienced medical malpractice lawyers understand that every case is unique, and that there are a range of factors that are considered when determining a settlement amount, including the type of injury, the consequences, and the lack of follow-up care.
  • A malpractice lawyer will communicate with health care providers, insurance companies, and witnesses and ensure that the patient receives the best possible financial settlement.
  • Malpractice lawyers can accelerate the complex claims process and ensure that the patient receives his or her financial compensation as quickly as possible.
  • An experienced legal professional will also ensure that the patient’s medical malpractice claim is filed before the statute of limitations deadline passes. In most cases, if a claim is filed after the deadline, it will likely be denied, and the patient may not have any legal recourse to seek financial compensation. Therefore, patients who wish to pursue a medical malpractice lawsuit are urged to contact a medical malpractice lawyer as soon as possible.

What Damages are Patients Entitled to Receive?

The financial damages that a patient receives will depend on a number of factors, including the severity of the injuries and whether the injuries were the result of negligence or malpractice. Patients may be entitled to the following damages:

  • Economic damages: These are damages that can be easily calculated and can include the following:
    • Medical expenses: This can include hospital bills, ambulance fees, in-home nursing care, prescription medication, and medical accessories such as crutches, hospital beds, or wheelchairs. They also include the expenses associated with extended or long-term care if the injury causes severe or permanent damage.
    • Lost wages: If the patient is unable to return to work as a result of the injury, they may be able to collect compensation for lost wages. Depending on the circumstances, the patient may also seek compensation for lost future earning capacity if it is unlikely that they will be able to return to work indefinitely.

There is no cap on economic damages in the state of Maryland.

  • Non-economic damages: These damages are awarded for patients whose quality of life is compromised. They include payments for the following:
    • Pain and suffering: This refers to the physical and emotional distress that the patient has suffered as a result of the injury.
    • Loss of consortium or companionship: This refers to the emotional pain caused by the loss of companionship, affection, or sexual activity.
    • Loss of enjoyment of life: A severe injury can have a permanent impact on the patient’s ability to enjoy everyday life, particularly if the injury causes chronic pain, loss of mobility, cognitive impairments, or severe depression.

In 2020, the cap on non-economic damages for injuries and wrongful death cases in Maryland is $875,000. If a wrongful death case involves two or more beneficiaries, the cap increases to $1,312,500.

  • Punitive damages: These are awarded to punish a medical professional who acted in a particularly egregious manner. For example, if a surgeon performed a surgical procedure while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, the patient may seek punitive damages.

There is no cap on punitive damages in Maryland.

Baltimore Medical Malpractice Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Advocate for Injured Patients

If you or a loved one has been injured, or your health has been compromised while under the care of a doctor, nurse, or any other health care provider, do not hesitate to contact the Baltimore medical malpractice lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton. We will assist you with the complex claims process and address all your questions and concerns. Our dedicated legal team will protect your rights and secure the maximum financial compensation you deserve for your injuries. We will continue to fight for you until you are completely satisfied. To schedule a free consultation, call us today at 800-547-4LAW (4529) or contact us online.

Our offices are conveniently located in BaltimoreColumbiaGlen Burnie, and Prince George’s County, where we represent victims throughout Maryland, including those in Anne Arundel CountyCarroll CountyHarford CountyHoward CountyMontgomery CountyPrince George’s CountyQueen Anne’s CountyMaryland’s Western CountiesSouthern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, as well as the communities of CatonsvilleEssexHalethorpeMiddle RiverRosedale, Gwynn OakBrooklandvilleDundalkPikesvilleParkvilleNottinghamWindsor MillLuthervilleTimoniumSparrows PointRidgewood, and Elkridge.