Medical Malpractice vs. Negligence: What’s the Difference?

Understanding medical malpractice vs. negligence is an important distinction to make. Medical malpractice is a specific type of negligence that may occur when a medical professional fails to meet the standards of their profession while providing medical treatment. There are many types of negligence – for example, drivers may be negligent if they cause an accident because they were speeding. Manufacturers may be negligent if they make a dangerously defective product. Business owners may be negligent if they fail to fix a broken stairway. 

In all types of negligence, there must be a duty of care, a failure to perform that duty, someone must be harmed, and the failure must cause that harm. In the case of a negligent driver, the duty is to use reasonable care while driving. In the case of medical malpractice, a medical professional must meet a medical standard of care while providing medical services.

A doctor could be negligent without having committed medical malpractice. This could happen if the doctor were not providing medical treatment while performing the negligent act or if the standard that was breached was not the standard of medical care. 

The question about the differences between medical malpractice and ordinary negligence most often arises when the negligent party is a healthcare facility. For example, if a visitor to a hospital tripped over a loose step in the entryway, fell, and were injured, that would be a case of ordinary negligence rather than medical malpractice. The injured visitor was not receiving medical treatment when they fell, and the hospital was not violating medical standards of care when it failed to fix the loose step. Instead, the hospital violated its duty of care to keep the premises safe for visitors, a form of ordinary negligence.

Medical Malpractice or Mistakes?

Mistakes are, unfortunately, common. Not every mistake that a doctor makes will rise to the level of negligence or medical malpractice. A mistake with no breach of duty, harm, or causal link between the breach and the harm will not be negligence. Similarly, a mistake where a medical professional did not fail to meet their professional standards or where the mistake did not cause harm will not be medical malpractice.

Why the Distinction Between Medical Malpractice vs. Negligence Matters

There are different laws concerning medical malpractice and ordinary negligence claims in Maine. If you are filing a lawsuit against a doctor, other healthcare professional, or healthcare facility, you must follow different procedures depending on which category your case falls into. Fortunately, you don’t have to figure this out on your own. A medical malpractice lawyer can analyze your case and determine whether it is medical malpractice, ordinary negligence, or a non-negligent mistake. Either way, if you believe you were harmed by a medical professional’s actions or failure to act, you should take action quickly before the deadline to file a lawsuit pass. We invite you to contact us for a free case evaluation by an experienced Maine medical malpractice lawyer.