When Does a Mistake Become Medical Malpractice?

two surgeons in an operating roomSometimes, things just genuinely go wrong. No one made a mistake, and no one is at fault. But, the law says that when things go wrong, someone is at fault most of the time. This is especially true if that someone was a medical professional who owed you a duty to meet a professional standard of care.

What Is a Medical Error?

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), a medical error is the failure of a planned action to be completed as planned or the use of the wrong plan to achieve a given aim. These constitute, respectively, errors of execution and errors of planning. Noting that this excludes errors of omission, NCBI proposes an alternative definition with a medical error comprising, essentially, an act of omission or commission in planning or execution that can or does contribute to an unintended medical result.

What Is Medical Malpractice?

Medical malpractice (Med Mal) is a legal concept. It is, ultimately, a tort (that is, a civil wrong) for which a victim will seek to recover compensation in legal action. Med Mal is a tort of negligence that requires that the victim prove that:

  • There is an applicable standard of care
  • That the medical professional owed the victim a duty to observe that standard of care
  • That the medical professional failed in that duty, and that failure resulted in injury to the victim.

At its simplest, then, a medical negligence action requires proof of a failure to meet a professional standard of care that caused an injury to the victim.

The law in Georgia says that any person who claims to be a medical professional can be sued for medical malpractice if they do not use a reasonable degree of care and skill, and someone is injured. The Georgia Supreme Court has said the victim must prove that there was:

  • A duty present in the doctor-patient relationship
    A breach of that duty by a failure to meet the required standard of care and skill
    A causal relationship between the breach and the injury

In either case, an injury caused by a breach of the professional standard of care moves the bar from error to malpractice.

How Do We Get from One to the Other?

A medical malpractice case requires something more than just a mistake, no matter how the mistake is defined. The professional error must be such as to violate the applicable medical standard of care, and that violation must cause an actual, compensable injury. If there is an injury, but no causation or failure to meet the standard of care, then there is no malpractice. If there is an error, but no harm, once again, there is no malpractice. In most cases, showing that a medical professional violated the standard of care requires expert testimony.

Contact a Georgia Med Mal Attorney Today

So, in order to turn a medical mistake into medical malpractice, you have to jump through a lot of hoops. The best way to do that is to work with an experienced and knowledgeable Med Mal attorney who can help you judge your case and determine the best way to get the best result for you.

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