Understanding how Medical Malpractice and Medical Negligence Differ

Scenario 1
The incessant wail of sirens startled her as she was getting ready to end her shift at the hospital.  Suddenly the OPD was full of injured commuters – there had been a pile up on the freeway nearby.  She quickly started to provide relief to those being brought in, using all her skills to stop the bleeding and ease their pain.  She noticed a man with a small cut on his forehead which did not seem to be bleeding too much.  Since there were people with graver injuries, she handed him a piece of gauze and asked him to hold it over the wound.  Working non-stop, she forgot about the man, only to be shocked when she suddenly noticed that he had fainted.  On closer inspection, the doctor found a half inch piece of metal embedded in his skull.

Scenario 2
It started with a mild fever and body ache, but he had always been extra fearful and cautious.  His doctor was aware of this and after conducting his examination and recommended that he get himself admitted at the hospital.  Since the hospital was owned by the doctor, he was sure that he would get the best treatment.  There were numerous tests conducted, medicines administered and a week later his appendix was surgically removed.  It was only later, when showing his reports to another doctor that he realized that there was nothing wrong with his appendix.  All that he had been suffering from was viral fever, which did not require any hospitalization.

While the incident involving the nurse would be labeled as medical negligence; the incident involving the doctor would be that of medical malpractice.

Medical Negligence
Negligence is defined as an injury or possible injury caused by a person neglecting to do something that was required.  Mostly caused by inaction, rather than some sort of action, negligence is normally said to have occurred if the person involved could have performed some action but did not.

Medical Malpractice
Improper or negligent action performed by a professional is defined as malpractice.  Generally, professional individuals, like doctors and lawyers are the ones who can be accused of malpractice.

This is because, to establish an incident of malpractice, the action of the individual is usually compared to what other similar professionals would do in a similar situation.  If there is a deviation from the standard course of action, it can be termed as malpractice.

Difference between Medical Malpractice and Medical Negligence
So, what is the key difference between the two?  To put it in one word – ‘Intent’.

In the incidents above, the nurse can be accused of medical negligence, because she neglected to examine the patient appropriately.  Since, this was an emergency, her attention was diverted – she did not harbor any intentions of not checking the patient thoroughly.

The doctor, on the other hand, knew that the patient was suffering from a simple viral fever, but taking advantage of the patient’s lack of knowledge, he recommended hospitalization.  The doctor intentionally did this in order to make more money out of the patient.

The Legal Aspect
Although they refer to two distinct legal terms, medical malpractice and medical negligence are often used interchangeably.

Medical negligence is a form of medical malpractice – not providing correct and necessary healthcare by a health care provider, being a simple example.  But, whilst most cases of medical malpractice have some form of medical negligence as a part of it, negligence on its own is not enough to file a medical malpractice case.  To get legal recourse and compensation, there has to be some form of injury or damage caused – it could be physical, mental or financial.     

To Sum it Up
Lack of action, often without intent, can be termed as medical negligence; whereas medical malpractice is an action taken with intent to cause injury or damage.


  1. American Board of Professional Liability Attorneys. (2015). What is Medical Malpractice? Retrieved September 29, 2015, from ABPLA: http://www.abpla.org/what-is-malpractice
  2. Sonny Bal, M. M. (2008, November 26). An Introduction to Medical Malpractice in the United States. Retrieved October 1, 2015, from NCBI: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2628513/
  3. Bassett, E. (2013, November 29). Medical Malpractice VS. Negligence: Whats The Difference? Retrieved October 1, 2015, from Bassett Law Offices: http://www.bassettlawoffices.com/blog/bid/102399/Medical-Malpractice-VS-Negligence-Whats-The-Difference
  4. David Goguen, J. (2015). What is the difference between medical malpractice and medical negligence? Retrieved September 30, 2015, from Nolo: http://www.medicalmalpractice.com/legal-advice/medical-malpractice/medical-negligence-lawsuits/what-the-difference-between-medic


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