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Medical Mistake vs. Medical Malpractice

Medical Mistake MalpracticeMistakes happen, even in medical contexts. Even the best-educated and most intelligent professionals will occasionally use poor judgment or simply err in treating a patient. However, in this day and age, we are taught the simplistic idea that a medical mistake translates to medical malpractice, and this is not always the case. There are more specific requirements that must be met in order for a simple mistake to rise to the level of malpractice, and it is generally a good idea to consult a knowledgeable attorney before bringing any kind of malpractice suit for this very reason.

Bad Outcome vs. Mistake

In actuality, one must take even one more step back in determining whether or not what you experienced equals malpractice. It is part of consenting to medical treatment that you accept the risk of what physicians call a bad outcome. A bad outcome is defined as a poor outcome of a risk taken in the course of medical treatment. Bad outcomes are technically not mistakes; they are decisions taken when a physician deems the procedure or test to be the best option for the patient. It is merely that probability guarantees a bad outcome in rare instances, even if the underlying decision is a medically sound one.

Mistakes, by comparison, are fairly self explanatory. Unlike a bad outcome, a mistake is a decision made that may not necessarily be the best one for the patient in question. Medical malpractice requires that a bad outcome or a mistake happen, but the mere existence of a bad outcome or mistake does not equal malpractice. There must be an element of negligence involved in order for malpractice to occur. This does not mean that medical mistakes are not a serious issue in U.S. health care - between 200,000 and 400,000 patients are affected each year by harm due to preventable medical errors.

What Constitutes Malpractice?

In California and most other states, medical malpractice must contain an element of negligence in order to distinguish an action from a mere mistake. Malpractice has four components, all of which are based in negligence law and must be shown in a court of law in order for a defendant doctor to be held liable. They are:

  • That there was a duty of care between the medical professional and their patient;
  • That the duty was breached;
  • That the patient suffered harm; and
  • That the harm was suffered as a direct result of the defendant’s conduct, with no supervening cause.

A medical mistake may very easily lack one or more of these criteria. For example, if a physician administers the wrong dosage of a medication to a patient via IV, but there is a power outage later on and the patient dies due to lack of proper treatment, that could plausibly be argued to be a superseding cause, even though the doctor did make a mistake. Another example might be that the patient suffered no actual harm from the doctor’s error; without a showing of actual harm, no malpractice can be said to have occurred.

Ask a Medical Malpractice Attorney

Sometimes the gap between mistake and medical negligence is apparent; other times it is not. If you have questions about which event you have experienced, it is generally best to consult a legal professional. The dedicated San Jose medical malpractice attorneys at Corsiglia, McMahon & Allard, L.L.P. are happy to help answer your questions and walk you through what may be the best option for you and your loved ones. Call us today to set up an initial appointment. We serve San Jose, the Bay Area, and the counties of San Mateo, Santa Clara, San Benito, Monterey, and Alameda.

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.