What Are the Different Degrees of Negligence in Medical Malpractice?

Not all medical malpractice claims are the same. Some involve more serious degrees of practitioner negligence than others. The amount of failure to provide adequate care will decide the degree of malpractice a doctor, nurse, or health care facility has committed. As an injured patient in Tennessee, it’s your right to investigate a health care worker and/or establishment for signs of medical malpractice. Use the following definitions of different degrees of malpractice to inform your case.

Personal Injury Accident

In a true accident, the patient’s negative health outcome is nobody’s fault. Examples include an unpredictable accident that no one could expect a reasonable or prudent doctor to prevent, or an act of God. True accidents generally do not qualify as medical malpractice and do not give the patient the right to file a claim. Oftentimes, however, an initial investigation may misclassify malpractice as just an accident, until further examination uncovers signs of medical negligence.

Patients can benefit from hiring attorneys to investigate their injuries or illnesses for signs of malpractice, even if an initial investigation deems it an accident. A lawyer with experience handling medical malpractice claims will know what to look for, such as a history of claims against the physician or hospital. Examining the standard complication rate of a medical procedure, for example, could help differentiate between accident and negligence.

Medical Negligence

Doctors and other health care practitioners owe strict duties of care to patients. These duties center around the rule that physicians must adhere to the accepted “medical standard of care,” or the standard at which a “reasonably competent and skilled professional” would provide in similar circumstances. Medical negligence occurs when a physician breaches these standards of care. Medical malpractice occurs when this breach of care causes patient harm, injury, or death.

To prove medical malpractice, an injured patient must show that a doctor-patient relationship existed, that the physician acted outside of accepted medical standards of care, that in doing so the physician caused patient harm, and that the victim suffered real damages as a result. The Tennessee courts require these four elements to hold a doctor or health care facility liable for patient injuries. It is the patient’s burden to prove medical malpractice using evidence such as testimony from a medical expert.

Medical Error

An error is often a form of negligence, although physicians may disguise them as accidents. Medical errors can happen when a physician misjudges a situation, doesn’t adequately prepare for a procedure, or makes a physical mistake (e.g., nicking an artery during an operation). Medical errors may qualify as malpractice if the patient can prove that a reasonable physician would have properly evaluated the situation or performed the operation based on his or her medical education and training.

Gross Negligence

Gross negligence is the most severe form of negligence in a medical malpractice claim. The law defines gross negligence as a “reckless disregard for the safety of others.” Gross negligence is a step beyond simple mistakes or lack of reasonable care. It is an error so egregious as to appear to violate a patient’s rights consciously or intentionally. A physician may be guilty of gross negligence if he or she demonstrates wanton lack of regard to patient health and safety during treatment or care. Examples include:

  • Operating on a patient while drunk or intoxicated
  • Ignoring a patient in an emergency room out of discrimination
  • Intentionally causing harm to a patient
  • Knowingly executing an operation that the hospital does not allow the surgeon to perform
  • Failing to give a patient all relevant information before a surgery
  • Operating on the wrong patient or body part

A medical professional may be guilty of gross negligence of he or she takes a deliberate action the physician knows – or reasonably should know – will cause patient harm. A judge may award punitive damages in a medical malpractice case involving gross negligence, as a means of punishing the guilty physician and providing further compensation for victims. For more information, consult with an experienced Nashville injury lawyer.