Depending on the facts of your case, you may have a claim for medical malpractice, or for medical negligence. While these claims are closely related, there are differences between medical malpractice and medical negligence.  It is important to understand the differences between these theories of negligence, as it can affect who you can sue.

If you need to obtain medical treatment at a hospital, it is reasonable to assume that you will not suffer an additional injury due to medical malpractice or medical negligence. The injuries you suffered as a result of a medical provider’s negligence will likely require extensive medical care in order to rebuild your life. This is because the injuries that are caused by a medical provider’s negligence often result in victims suffering life-altering disabilities. These injuries and the resulting medical care warrant significant financial compensation.   

What Is Medical Negligence?

Medical negligence is a form of negligence. A negligence claim is fairly simple. To have a viable negligence claim, you must prove a person owed you a duty of care. Additionally, you must prove the negligent party violated this duty of care, and the breach of this duty directly caused your injuries.

This concept is best illustrated by automobile collisions. All drivers owe each other a duty of care to operate their vehicles in a safe and reasonable manner. This duty of care is well-defined by Illinois State transportation laws, i.e., the rules of the road. If a driver caused a collision because he or she was driving in excess of the posted speed limit, proving a breach is simple. 

Medical negligence means a medical provider or institution committed an act of negligence that caused your injuries.  Medical malpractice is more specific and more difficult to prove.

What Is Medical Malpractice?

Medical malpractice lawsuits are complex cases that are fiercely defended by medical malpractice insurance carriers. Unlike medical negligence, medical malpractice occurs when a medical provider administers care that falls below the applicable standard of care. A medical practice claim requires you to prove that a professional relationship existed between you and your medical provider. You must also prove the medical provider breached his or her duty of care. Finally, you have to prove that the medical provider’s negligence caused your injuries. Typical examples of medical malpractice include:

  • Surgical errors
  • Anesthesia errors
  • Medication errors
  • Diagnostic errors
  • Birth injuries

How Does Negligence Differ from Medical Malpractice?

There are three ways in which medical negligence differs from medical malpractice. Proving that a medical provider breached his or her duty of care is the main reason why medical malpractice lawsuits are difficult to litigate, and also the first way in which medical malpractice differs from medical negligence. Unlike lawsuits surrounding automobile collisions, there is no statute defining what specific actions by a medical professional constitute a breach. Instead, a medical professional breaches his or her duty when they provide medical care which falls below the applicable standard of care that a medical professional in the same field of care owes to his or her patient. Stated more simply, defining the applicable standard of care requires testimony by an expert medical witness. The expert must practice the same type of medicine as the negligent doctor and must define the applicable standard and how it was breached.

Another way medical negligence differs from medical malpractice is the extent of the breach. If a doctor committed a relatively simple mistake, such as prescribing the incorrect drug that caused you some minor discomfort but no lasting injury, the mistake qualifies as medical negligence. Medical malpractice requires an egregious act of negligence that caused you to suffer a serious injury.  Accordingly, not all cases of medical negligence rise to the level of medical malpractice.

The final way medical negligence differs from medical negligence is that medical negligence can apply to actions that do not involve medical care being administered. Medical negligence usually involves staff members injuring victims due to dropping patients, improperly drawing blood, providing the incorrect type of food, or using outdated or improperly maintained equipment. Additionally, medical negligence claims can be asserted against hospitals. This occurs when hospitals fail to use properly maintained medical equipment, or maintain proper staffing levels. Insufficient staffing can be an issue because staff fatigue is linked to increased medical errors in the hospital ER.

Who Can Be Held Liable for Negligence or Medical Malpractice?

Generally, if a medical provider such as a doctor commits malpractice, he or she can be held to be liable.  Depending on the doctor’s relationship with the hospital, it may be possible to also hold the hospital liable if the doctor committed malpractice. If the doctor is an employee of the hospital, the hospital may be vicariously liable for the doctor’s negligence. However, if the doctor is an independent contractor and not a direct employee, it is unlikely that the hospital can be held to be vicariously liable. Similarly, If a staff member committed an act of medical negligence, he or she can be held to be liable along with the hospital.  Finally, in addition to insufficient staffing issues, a hospital can be held liable for other acts of negligence, such as failing to properly train, monitor, or fire negligent staff members, and for inadequate medical policies.

Is There a Difference Between Filing a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit and a Negligence Claim?

There are differences between filing a lawsuit for medical malpractice as opposed to filing a lawsuit for negligence. Filing a lawsuit alleging negligence is a simple process. At a minimum, you must be able to identify the negligent party and clearly articulate your theory of negligence, i.e., the duty you were owed and how the negligent party breached that duty.

A medical malpractice lawsuit requires extensive review and preparation by a knowledgeable medical malpractice lawyerIllinois State Law requires that a Certificate Of Merit be filed with the lawsuit. A Certificate Of Merit is an affidavit written by a health professional. The health professional must state in the affidavit that he or she has knowledge of the medical issues in your case. Additionally, the health professional must state that he or she teaches or practice the same type of medicine as the negligent doctor.  The health professional must also state that he or she is competent, qualified, and experienced to review your case. Finally, the health professional must state that there is a “reasonable and meritorious cause” for filing your lawsuit.

No Certificate of Merit is required to file a negligence lawsuit. In many medical malpractice lawsuits, the health professional that prepares the Certificate of Merit is often retained as an expert medical witness by a medical malpractice attorney. The health professional will provide testimony regarding the applicable standard of care, and how the negligent doctor breached the standard. This expert witness requirement means that a medical malpractice lawsuit requires more investigation and preparation.

The final difference between filing a medical malpractice lawsuit is the time limit by which you must file a lawsuit. Illinois has a two-year statute of limitations for all negligence claims. For example, if you want to sue a hospital due to being dropped by an orderly, you must do so within two years of the incident. If you suffered an injury due to medical malpractice, you may have more time.

While the two-year statute of limitations applies to medical malpractice, there are some exceptions. If the doctor or medical facility intentionally withheld information to conceal their negligent care, you have five years from the day you discovered the cause of the injury to file a lawsuit. Additionally, if you were severely physically incapacitated and unable to file a lawsuit, the statute of limitations is stopped until the disability is removed.  After the disability is removed, you must file your lawsuit within two years.