Close up of the definition of negligence

How Courts Define Medical Negligence

Jun 11 2020

Medical negligence and medical malpractice are often uttered in the same breath. But does this mean that the two are synonymous and interchangeable? Absolutely not. Most medical malpractice claims hinge on medical negligence. However, medical negligence on its own does not immediately mean that medical malpractice has occurred. Getting charged with medical malpractice (where medical negligence comes into play) can be a serious blow to someone’s career, can be damaging to the credibility of an establishment, and can result in extensive liabilities. As such, medical negligence is an important legal concept to understand - especially for all healthcare professionals. Whether you are a medical professional who seeks to be aware of the intricacies of medical negligence or someone involved in a medical malpractice case, this comprehensive guide will tell you all that you need to know. Here, we will define medical negligence, give example scenarios, and more! Let’s get started! A clipboard that reads “medical negligence”

What is the Definition of Medical Negligence?

Medical negligence is an act or failure to act omission) by a medical professional - thereby not complying with the accepted standard of medical care. The said medical professional should owe the patient a duty of care. Strictly speaking, medical negligence does NOT equate to medical malpractice. Medical negligence is, however, one of the required legal elements for a medical malpractice claim.

When Does Medical Negligence Become Medical Malpractice?

As we mentioned above, medical negligence is only one of the elements of a medical malpractice claim. By strict definitions, medical negligence does not necessarily equate to injury. However, when medical negligence is proven to cause injury or harm to the patient (to whom the healthcare professional owes a duty of care), then this gives rise to a viable medical malpractice lawsuit. To summarize, there are 4 elements that comprise an incident of medical malpractice:
  • Duty of care
  • Medical negligence
  • Damage (or injury)
  • Causation

Who can Commit Medical Negligence?

The short answer for this is ALL healthcare professionals. Medical negligence is not exclusive to physicians. It can also be committed by nurses, medical technologists, medical assistants, technicians, paramedics, and more. These healthcare professionals can come from virtually all medical disciplines including the following and more:
  • Anesthesiology
  • Cardiovascular medicine
  • Critical care medicine
  • Dermatology
  • Emergency medicine
  • Endocrinology
  • Geriatric medicine
  • Gastroenterology
  • Hematology
  • Nephrology
  • Neurology
  • Oncology
  • Ophthalmology & Optometry
  • Pulmonology
  • Pediatric medicine
  • Psychiatry
  • Radiology
  • Reproductive medicine
  • Surgery
  • Urology
And because healthcare professionals from these disciplines can commit medical negligence, they can also be charged with medical malpractice.

Can Anyone be Sued for Medical Negligence Without Any Damages Sustained?

In the above section, we talked about how medical negligence is one of the four elements of a medical malpractice lawsuit, along with the duty of care, damage (or injury/harm), and causation. But can medical negligence alone be a standalone case? No, it can’t be. If, for example, you have medical negligence along with the duty of care - but without any form of damage and thereby no causation of damage, this is typically not viable in courts.  Close up of a judge’s gavel beside a doctor’s attire and stethoscope

What Are Some Examples of Medical Negligence?

To recap, medical negligence does not always lead to injury. Medical negligence can happen without damages caused. However, medical negligence incidents usually only get noticed when resulting damage takes place. So, if you take the following incidents of medical negligence and confirm the presence of the other three elements—duty of care, damage, and causation—then, and only then, can they be considered as cases of medical malpractice.

Example 1: Surgeon

All surgeries have associated risks. Surgeons communicate this with the patient and the patient’s relatives before a consent form is signed prior to the surgery taking place. This consent form, however, does not mean that all kinds of mistakes that may occur during the surgery are acceptable. A few examples of medical negligence that surgeons may commit include leaving surgical tools inside the body or puncturing/removing the wrong organ. These mistakes can cause serious harm to the body, or even death, so oftentimes incidents like this can lead to a medical malpractice lawsuit.

Example 2: Anesthesiologist

Anesthesiologists need to take extra care because mistakes involving anesthesia administration can result in permanent brain damage and even death. A common example of medical negligence is when the anesthesiologist fails to take the patient’s personal medical history into account. This can lead to administering the wrong amount of anesthesia to the patient, resulting in detrimental results.

Example 3: Clinic Physician

One of the most common cases of medical negligence (that gives rise to medical malpractice claims) are those that involve incorrect medication. Physicians may prescribe patients with the wrong drug for their illness or prescribe an incorrect dosage of medication. If this occurs, patients may sue for medical malpractice.

Example 4: Medical Assistant

A common example of a medical assistant committing medical negligence is the use of equipment that is known to be faulty. In a situation where a nurse or physician asks a medical assistant to transport a patient, and the medical assistant uses a stretcher that is known to have a faulty wheel or frame, this can count as medical negligence.

Example 4: Hospice Nurse

Since hospice nurses are in charge of vulnerable individuals, medical negligence can arise from a lack of providing sufficient care to these individuals. Some examples of medical negligence in this line of work are when a hospice nurse delays treatment, over-administers medications, or administers the wrong medication to the patient

Example 5: Paramedic

Ambulance paramedics are usually at the forefront of saving people’s lives. As such, medical negligence can quickly lead to injury or death. A few common examples of paramedics committing medical negligence includes improper use of ambulance equipment, misdiagnoses, willful failure to attend to a patient at the site of the accident, and failure to administer proper medications to the patient.

What’s Next For Me?

Would you like to delve deeper and fully understand the concept of medical malpractice? Then check out this other resource that we have: What You Need to Know Before Making a Medical Malpractice. If you are in the healthcare industry, you might also be thinking of how important it is to have medical professional liability insurance. After all, incidents of medical negligence are more common than we’d like to admit and when these incidents cause injury or death, it can lead to a costly and debilitating medical malpractice case. Medical malpractice insurance is tailor-fit for all healthcare professionals to provide coverage for legal costs and expenses that can arise from such medical malpractice lawsuits. KASE Insurance is one of the top providers of medical malpractice insurance in Canada. Through the years, we have gathered awards and plenty of industry recognition. You can be sure that you are in good hands. We’ll be more than happy to help you put together the best insurance policy for your line of work. Contact us today or get a quick quote and let’s get started!

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