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Medical Negligence Vs. Medical Malpractice: What’s the Difference?

Injury Lawyer Team > Legal Advice  > Medical Negligence Vs. Medical Malpractice: What’s the Difference?

Medical Negligence Vs. Medical Malpractice: What’s the Difference?

What is the Difference Between Medical Negligence and Medical Malpractice?

Understanding malpractice vs. negligence is crucial for patients and healthcare professionals. Although often used interchangeably, these two terms have distinct legal meanings and implications. 

This blog will provide comprehensive definitions, examples, key differences, and similarities between the two concepts. 

Furthermore, learn how victims can file medical malpractice lawsuits against the responsible hospital or healthcare provider and what compensation they can recover with the help of a personal injury lawyer

What is Medical Negligence?

Medical negligence happens when a healthcare provider does not meet the standard of care that a reasonably skilled healthcare professional would offer in similar situations. It is an unintentional act or omission that causes harm to a patient. The primary focus is on the breach of duty rather than the intent behind it. 

Contact us today for a free consultation with our expert personal injury lawyers. We’ll fight for your rights and help you get the compensation you deserve.

Examples of Medical Negligence

  • Misdiagnosing or failing to diagnose a medical condition, such as a doctor mistaking symptoms of a stroke for a migraine.
  • Prescribing the wrong medication or incorrect dosage, for example, prescribing a medication allergic to the patient.
  • Failing to inform a patient about risks involved in a procedure.
  • Performing surgery on the wrong body part or leaving surgical instruments inside a patient’s body.

What is Medical Malpractice?

Medical malpractice refers to a situation where a healthcare provider’s negligent action or omission causes injury to a patient. Unlike medical negligence, malpractice involves a higher degree of fault, often characterized by a willful or reckless disregard for the standard of care. Malpractice implies healthcare professional misconduct or unreasonable lack of skill. 

Surgical errors, birth injuries, and medications to the wrong patient are all considered medical malpractice. In the United States, medical malpractice ranks as the third leading cause of death, resulting in 251,000 deaths each year. 

Examples of Medical Malpractice

  • Improper use of forceps during delivery, leading to birth injury to the newborn or mother.
  • A doctor intentionally ignoring lab results that indicate a cancer marker, leading to the progression of the disease.
  • A physician prescribes medication not for legitimate medical reasons but for personal gain or to sell the prescriptions illegally.
  • Performing unnecessary surgery, often for financial gain. 
  • Altering a patient’s medical records to cover up a mistake. 

According to a study, almost one-third (32%) of medical malpractice claims stem from misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis.

Negligence Vs. Malpractice: Key Differences

Medical negligence occurs when there is a failure to exercise reasonable care, resulting in harm or injury, while medical malpractice refers to specific situations involving healthcare providers, where the standard of care is not met, leading to patient harm. Apart from this major difference between medical malpractice and medical negligence, there are other key differences: 

Range of Application 

Negligence can occur in any situation where a duty of care is breached. In contrast, malpractice is limited to professional services, especially in medical and legal fields.

Duty of Care

In medical negligence cases, the duty of care applies to various types of interactions. In healthcare malpractice cases, the duty of care is based on professional standards and relationships, such as those between a doctor and a patient.

Standard of Care

The standard of care for medical negligence involves general expectations of what a reasonable person would do. Malpractice cases involve specific healthcare standards and guidelines.

Expert Testimony

Negligence cases may not always require expert testimony to establish a breach of duty. However, medical malpractice cases typically require expert testimony to define and prove the breach of healthcare professional standards.

Legal Consequences

The consequences of negligence can lead to personal injury claims and compensation for damages. Malpractice, on the other hand, can result in professional disciplinary actions, loss of license, and heavy compensation for damages.


Medical negligence often results from carelessness or lack of attention, whereas medical malpractice involves a breach of duty by a healthcare professional who is expected to have a higher level of skill and knowledge. Intent is a major difference between medical malpractice and medical negligence.

Similarities Between Malpractice and Negligence 

Although there is a difference between medical malpractice and medical negligence, the two share several similarities:

Breach of Standard of Care

Both medical negligence and medical malpractice cases involve a breach of the standard of care which all healthcare providers are required to fulfill. This standard of care refers to the level and type of care that a reasonably competent healthcare professional, belonging to the same medical community, would have provided.

Patient Harm and Injury

In both cases, this breach can cause significant harm or injury to patients. Whether through a negligent error or a malpractice event, patients can suffer physical, emotional, and financial damages as a result of the healthcare provider’s failure to meet the expected standard of care.

Legal Compensation

Both medical negligence and malpractice can lead to legal actions against the healthcare provider. Injured parties have the right to negotiate a fair settlement for their damages, like medical expenses, lost income, and emotional pain. This compensation helps provide justice and financial relief to the affected patients and their families.

What Type of Compensation is Recoverable in Medical Negligence Claims? 

The United States allocates over $184 billion annually to settle medical malpractice cases. Despite the difference between medical malpractice and medical negligence, patients may be entitled to compensation, which can include:

  • Economic Damages: Include medical expenses, lost earnings, and other financial hardships.
  • Non-Economic Damages: Victims can seek compensation for pain and suffering, emotional distress, and diminished quality of life.
  • Punitive Damages: In a medical malpractice case, punitive damages may be awarded to punish the healthcare provider for egregious conduct.

Establishing Liability in Medical Malpractice Claims

To establish liability in a medical malpractice claim, personal injury lawyers must prove these four key elements:

  1. Duty of Care: The first step is to establish that a doctor-patient relationship existed, thereby confirming that the healthcare provider owed a duty of care to the patient. 
  2. Breach of Duty: It must be demonstrated that the healthcare provider breached this duty of care by failing to meet the standard expected in the medical community. 
  3. Causation: There must be a clear link between the breach of duty and the injury or harm suffered by the patient. It is essential to prove that the provider’s failure directly caused the patient’s injury.
  4. Damages: Finally, it must be shown that the patient suffered actual damages as a result of the breach. This includes physical, emotional, and financial harm.

By establishing these elements: duty of care, breach of duty, causation, and damages, a plaintiff can prove medical malpractice.

What is Duty of Care in Law? 

The duty of care refers to the legal obligation of healthcare professionals to adhere to a standard of reasonable care while performing any acts that could harm patients. This duty ensures that medical practitioners act in the best interest of their patients, providing care that meets established standards.

Medical Negligence Vs. Medical Malpractice
filing a medical malpractice lawsuit

Who Can a Patient Sue for Medical Malpractice?

Patients can sue a variety of parties in a medical malpractice claim, including:

  • Doctors: Physicians who provided direct care and treatment that was substandard.
  • Nurses: Nursing staff who failed to provide appropriate care or follow medical orders.
  • Hospitals: Healthcare institutions that allow negligent practices or employ incompetent staff.
  • Specialists: Healthcare professionals like anesthesiologists, radiologists, gynecologists, or surgeons who performed their duties negligently.
  • Pharmacists: For errors in medication dispensing or providing incorrect dosage instructions.
  • Medical Equipment Manufacturers: Manufacturers can be sued if faulty medical devices contributed to harm.

Case Studies of Medical Negligence and Malpractice 


Dr. Smith misinterprets a patient’s MRI scan, wrongly diagnosing them with a malignant brain tumor instead of a benign cyst. Consequently, the patient undergoes invasive surgery. The misdiagnosis leads to psychological distress and financial burden for the patient and their family.

Incorrect Anesthesia 

An anesthesiologist, Dr. Green, administers an incorrect dosage of anesthesia to a patient despite knowing the patient’s medical history and warnings in their chart. The patient suffers a cardiac arrest and permanent brain damage as a result. This error caused a diminished quality of life, with the patient requiring constant medical treatment.

Statute of Limitations for Medical Malpractice Cases 

Most injury claims, including those for medical negligence, have a time limit for filing lawsuits set by states. This is crucial because evidence and memories of the incident may deteriorate over time. Failure to act within this time frame, known as the medical malpractice statute of limitations, bars you from seeking compensation for harm caused by caregiver negligence.

The statute of limitations for medical malpractice and negligence claims varies by state. For example, the Illinois statute of limitations for medical malpractice is generally two years from the date of injury. In Missouri, patients have 2 years from the date of the alleged act to file medical malpractice lawsuits. The statute of limitations is three years from the date the malpractice occurred in Wisconsin. 

Steps Involved in a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit

Here’s how you can navigate the filing process of a medical negligence lawsuit with a personal injury attorney:

Step 1: The first step is to consult with a medical malpractice lawyer to evaluate the case and determine its validity.

Step 2: The attorney collects medical records, witness statements, and expert opinions to establish a strong personal injury case.

Step 3: The formal complaint is then filed in the appropriate court to officially start the legal process.

Step 4: During the discovery phase, both parties exchange information and evidence relevant to the case.

Step 5: Settlement negotiations are attempted to reach an agreement out of court and avoid a lengthy trial.

Step 6: If a settlement is not reached, the case goes to trial where both sides present their arguments.

Step 7: If the plaintiff wins, the court awards damages based on the evidence presented and the extent of harm suffered.

How Medical Malpractice Lawyers Can Help

Medical malpractice lawyers play a crucial role in navigating the complexities of medical malpractice and negligence cases. Around 96.9% of successful medical malpractice claims are resolved out of court.

Seeking the legal representation of a medical malpractice attorney can provide:

  • Expertise in medical malpractice law to effectively handle the case.
  • Thorough investigation of the facts to build a strong case.
  • Legal representation in court and during settlement negotiations.
  • Guidance on the best course of action to achieve a favorable outcome.
  • Emotional and legal support throughout the process.


Medical negligence and medical malpractice are closely related, they differ significantly in terms of intent, degree of fault, and legal implications. Understanding malpractice vs. negligence is essential for patients seeking justice and compensation for their injuries. Hire a skilled personal injury attorney to navigate these complex legal claims, ensuring that you receive the compensation you deserve. 

If you’ve experienced harm or severe injuries from a healthcare professional, call (888) 424-5757 for a free consultation with our medical malpractice lawyers. We fight all personal injury cases on a contingency fee basis, meaning no upfront fees unless we resolve your claim. 


Can an incident qualify as both malpractice and negligence? 

Yes, an incident can be considered both malpractice and negligence if it involves a healthcare provider failing to meet the standard of care, resulting in an injury to the patient.

What is an example of the difference between nursing negligence and malpractice?

Nursing negligence occurs when a nurse forgets to turn a bedridden patient, causing bedsores, whereas malpractice involves a nurse administering the wrong medication dosage despite clear instructions, leading to an overdose.

How to choose the right medical malpractice attorney?

Choose a medical malpractice lawyer with extensive experience in medical malpractice cases, a strong track record in similar cases, and positive client testimonials.

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