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What Is the Difference Between Medical Errors and Medical Malpractice?

two doctors worried that they have committed malpractice

Medical errors frequently occur in our country’s health care industry. However, not all medical errors are acts of medical malpractice. The distinction lies in whether the medical professional who made the error failed to treat a patient in accordance with the recognized standard of care. If so, the medical error amounts to malpractice. The medical professional could be liable for any resulting harm.

If you have any reason to believe that a medical error has harmed you or caused the loss of your loved one, you should consult with The Law Offices of Dr. Michael M. Wilson M.D., J.D. & Associates as soon as possible. Our attorneys have experience in both areas – medicine and the law – and we have recovered more than $100 million on behalf of clients in Maryland, Washington, D.C., and throughout the country. We can review your case and determine whether you should pursue a medical malpractice claim.

We provide free consultations. We also will not charge any attorney’s fees unless and until you receive a financial award. To discuss your case in more detail and learn more about the benefits of working with attorneys who are also trained physicians, contact us today.

What Is a Medical Error?

Medical errors are a serious problem in the United States. A few years ago, researchers from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine determined that, on average, more than 250,000 deaths occur each year due to medical errors, making medical errors the third-leading cause of death in our country.

Medical errors are the mistakes which doctors, nurses, anesthesiologists, radiologists and other medical professionals make during the process of diagnosing, treating and monitoring patients. These mistakes may be unintentional and the result of carelessness. They may cause a patient’s death, worsen the patient’s prognosis or result in serious but non-fatal injury or illness.

Some examples of medical errors are:

  • Failing to diagnose or delaying the diagnosis of a patient
  • Performing an unnecessary surgery
  • Operating on the wrong body part
  • Leaving a foreign instrument inside of a patient’s body
  • Prescribing or administering the wrong dose of medication
  • Failing to monitor a patient and detect complications
  • Discharging a patient prematurely
  • Failing to take timely and proper action to avoid birth injury to a child.

As odd as it may sound, some medical errors do not rise to the level of malpractice. For instance, a doctor may prescribe a certain type of medication to treat a patient’s condition. The practice of prescribing that medication for that specific condition may be a widely accepted medical practice. The doctor may have done what any other doctor in his or her position would have done. The patient may eventually suffer unforeseen side effects from the medication. In this situation, prescribing the medication may have been an error but not necessarily medical malpractice.

What Is a ‘Harmless’ Medical Error?

Before we discuss what constitutes medical malpractice, it is important to note that some medical errors may be “harmless.” This means that the error may not directly or substantially cause any injury to the patient.

For example, a doctor may make an error with a scalpel during a surgery. The patient may ultimately suffer harm as a result of the surgery. However, the harm may stem from anesthesia-related complications and not the surgical error. Or, despite the surgical error, the patient may suffer no harm at all. In those situations, the medical error could be considered harmless. It may not expose the doctor to any liability.

What Is Medical Malpractice?

A medical error may occur when a doctor acts in a certain way or fails to act. The key issue is whether the act or omission violates the recognized standard of care. In other words, would the medical community view the medical professional’s act or omission as being unacceptable for a reasonably prudent medical professional in the same or similar circumstances? If “yes” is the answer, then medical negligence occurred. The medical professional could face liability.

In a medical malpractice lawsuit, professional negligence is not the only issue which a patient or surviving family members must address. Once negligence is established, the question turns to whether the negligence served as the “proximate cause” of the patient’s injury or death. In other words, but for the medical professional’s failure to meet the recognized standard of care, would the patient have suffered harm? If “yes” is the answer, then it means that “causation” has been established.

Additionally, the patient must suffer actual harm such as an injury or illness that:

  • Requires additional medical treatment
  • Causes a patient to have a permanent disability
  • Costs the patient the chance for a better prognosis
  • Prevents the patient from being able to work and earn a living
  • Causes significant pain and suffering
  • Results in the patient’s death.

For example, a doctor may fail to take timely action during labor and delivery. The doctor’s negligence may deprive the child’s brain of oxygen and cause permanent brain damage. Due to the brain damage, the child may suffer from cerebral palsy, which is a permanent condition that typically requires a lifetime of costly care and treatment.

How Can You Know When Medical Malpractice Has Occurred?

Not all adverse consequences of medical treatment are the result of medical malpractice. As we said above, the plaintiff in a medical malpractice case must show that the doctor, nurse or other medical professional deviated from the standard of care, and this deviation, in turn, caused the adverse consequence.

The first step in a medical malpractice case is to determine whether, in fact, any error occurred. An attorney can do this by collecting and analyzing the patient’s medical records and by gathering other evidence such as witness statements. The lawyer may also consult with a medical expert – typically, a doctor or other medical professional from the same field as the defendant.

When many traditional personal injury law firms attempt to handle medical malpractice claims, they must rely on third-party information provided by medical experts during the early stages of a case. However, at The Law Offices of Dr. Michael M. Wilson M.D., J.D. & Associates, our attorneys are physicians and lawyers who focus exclusively on medical malpractice. They can analyze complex medical and legal issues simultaneously, without the risk of miscommunication that may arise when a lawyer consults with a medical expert.

However, in order to prevail in a medical malpractice claim, a plaintiff will ultimately need to present expert testimony in order to establish whether a medical professional violated the recognized standard of care.

Why Should You Consult with an Experienced Medical Malpractice Lawyer?

If you suspect that you or a loved one has suffered illness or injury due to medical malpractice, you should consult with a lawyer who understands both the medical and legal issues of these cases. An attorney can review your medical records and other evidence and give you a clear and unbiased assessment of whether you have a valid claim. If so, the attorney can pursue full and fair compensation for you through negotiation and settlement or, if necessary, through trial.

Medical malpractice cases can be highly complex. They involve thorough investigation and consultation with highly knowledgeable medical professionals. Additionally, you must take many different procedural steps, file documents and meet deadlines in order to effectively pursue a claim against a negligent doctor, nurse or other medical professional. A lawyer can take care of all of those matters for you while you focus on your health and your family.

You should make sure that you work with a lawyer who has extensive experience in dealing with the issues which often arise in medical malpractice cases. As we have discussed above, these cases are not the same as other types of personal injury cases. A lawyer’s medical and legal knowledge can and will make a significant difference for you.

Contact a Dedicated Washington, D.C. Medical Malpractice Attorney Today

As doctors and lawyers, our attorneys are in a unique position to help medical malpractice victims to understand their injuries and advise them of their legal options. For more than 30 years, our law firm has focused specifically on handling cases in this complex area of the law, and we have recovered more than $100 million on behalf of our clients. We can put that experience to work for you.

If you believe that you or a loved one has suffered harm due to medical malpractice, contact The Law Offices of Dr. Michael M. Wilson, M.D., J.D. & Associates today for a free consultation. We serve clients in Washington, D.C., Maryland and throughout the country. We will charge no attorney’s fees unless we secure a financial recovery for you.

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