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Criminal Activity and Medical Malpractice

Medical MalpracticeMedical malpractice is a type of civil offense that usually revolves around a finding of negligence or recklessness. However, certain actions can actually be reckless or negligent while still reaching the level of criminality - in theory, an action can be a civil and criminal wrong at the same time. If this happens within a medical malpractice context, it can be important to gauge a defendant’s possible criminal culpability and how it might affect your prosecution.

California’s Standard of Care

California’s standard of care for medical professionals is fairly straightforward, stating that a practitioner is negligent if they fail to use the same level of ‘skill, knowledge, and care’ that another reasonably careful practitioner would use in the same situation. While this standard only applies to civil offenses, it can also be applied to actions that may, in fact, be criminal as well. A breach of the standard normally involves degrees of negligence, implying mistake - but if the doctor’s conduct is reckless or malicious, the standard has been left far behind.

An example would be a famous case from 2011, wherein a doctor was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the death of Michael Jackson. The medical professional was alleged to have been grossly negligent and reckless in his conduct (rather than ordinarily negligent), and served two years of a four-year sentence. The fact finder in the case alleged criminal wrongdoing because propofol, the drug that allegedly killed Jackson, is a restricted drug normally only administered in hospitals. Regardless of the criminal outcome, it was then reasonable for a civil trial to hinge on the fact that most ‘reasonably careful’ practitioners would not have engaged in conduct similar to the doctor in question.

Are Criminal Charges Common?

While one might assume that physicians would be charged criminally fairly often, the reality is very different for a multitude of reasons. While you as a patient might have experienced considerable pain and hardship, it is difficult in many situations to show a direct link, as is necessary, between your suffering and the doctor’s conduct. In other words, the mere fact that you suffered an injury does not automatically mean that a doctor’s conduct is reckless or even negligent. Medicine is an imperfect, inexact field, in which errors are normal. It is the severity of an error that determines whether the case is actionable or not.

Be advised, however, that criminal charges generally precede civil charges in terms of prosecution order. If you have been the victim of a doctor’s negligent or reckless conduct, and the state decides to bring charges against that medical professional, it is not guaranteed - but it is likely - that the criminal trial will proceed first. The rationale is that the burden of proof is higher in a criminal case - a defendant must be found guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt,” while in California civil trials, the plaintiff must prove only that the defendant is “more likely than not” to have committed the action in question. Thus, if the defendant is found guilty of criminal negligence, for example, then by definition they are liable for civil negligence in most cases, given the standard to meet is lower.

Ask a Medical Malpractice Attorney

While the state prosecutes criminal matters, a knowledgeable medical malpractice lawyer can help answer questions for you and help you decide what the best options are for you in civil court. The San Jose medical malpractice attorneys at Corsiglia, McMahon & Allard, L.L.P. are well versed in civil medical malpractice, and will put our knowledge to work for you. We serve San Jose, the Bay Area, and the counties of Alameda, San Benito, Santa Clara, San Mateo, and Monterey.

Client Reviews
My experience with Attorney Brad Corsiglia during my recent medical malpractice case was nothing short of amazing given the very stressful circumstances. I was fortunate to find Brad highly recommended from a mutual contact and from the very beginning of the process, Brad was truly engaged and knowledgeable in understanding my case and providing input on what avenues were available to me. Michelle M.