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The Difference Between Medical Malpractice and General Negligence in California

Medical MalpracticeMost people are familiar with the term “medical malpractice,” at least in a casual sense. They typically realize that medical malpractice refers to a failure of a doctor, nurse, or medical facility to provide the appropriate care in a given situation. But how is medical malpractice different from other types of negligence under the law? The answer is important because the amount time you have to file a claim in California may be different depending on the type of negligence or liability in question.

The Statute of Limitations

According to California Code of Civil Procedure, a person seeking damages for medical malpractice must file an action within one year from the date that he or she discovered the injury or could have reasonably discovered it. The law also provides that regardless of when the injury is or should have been discovered, action must be filed within three years of the action that caused the injury. For example, if you sought medical treatment today and doctor’s negligence caused an injury that you identified tomorrow, you would have one year from tomorrow to take legal action. If however, the care you received today caused an injury that did not become evident for two and a half years, you would still only have three years from today to file your lawsuit.

For other types of personal injury lawsuits—including those resulting from car accidents or slip and falls—the statute of limitations provides two years from the date of the act or incident that allegedly caused the injury. Failure to act within the allotted time will cause your case to be dismissed.

California Supreme Court Highlights the Difference

The California Supreme Court clarified the distinction between general negligence and professional negligence by a medical provider last year. At issue in the case was whether substandard maintenance of hospital equipment qualified as medical negligence or general negligence.

The plaintiff was a woman who was injured when she attempted to stand up from her hospital bed. When she put her weight on the bed rail to stand, the rail collapsed and the woman fell to the floor. The rails had been raised in compliance with her attending doctor’s orders. She filed suit just under two years later, claiming that the hospital “failed to take reasonable in maintaining [its] premises,” among other similar claims. She also claimed that the professional element of the situation ended when the doctor ordered the rails to be raised, so her action was based on ordinary negligence.

The Supreme Court ultimately determined that the question of maintaining the bed rails was part of “the rendering of professional services.” Therefore, any legal action related to the failure of the rails needed to be filed under the statute of limitation for medical malpractice claims. The ruling effectively set a precedent that any action, inaction, or negligence related to the delivery of medical services should be handled as a professional negligence claim.

Questions About Your Case?

If you have suffered an injury while under the care of a doctor or hospital, it is important for you to fully understand your available options. Contact an experienced San Jose medical malpractice attorney to discuss your case and determine the best course of action for moving forward. Call (408) 289-1417 for a free consultation at Corsiglia McMahon & Allard, L.L.P today.

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Client Reviews
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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.