How Does Medical Malpractice Differ from Medical Negligence?

By Julie H. Heiden

When you or your loved ones are sick or injured and you seek medical care, you trust those qualified professionals to assess and treat the conditions competently. Your health may worsen naturally, but what if you get worse due to a medical error? Is that medical malpractice? Can you hold the responsible parties liable?

To answer those questions, you must first understand whether medical malpractice differs from negligence.

How Does Medical Malpractice Differ From Negligence?

How does medical malpractice differ from negligence?

There is no meaningful distinction between medical negligence and medical malpractice. Medical malpractice claims are based on a health care provider’s negligence. To explain fully, we need to define the relevant legal terms.


According to the Cornell Law School, “Negligence is the failure to behave with the level of care that a reasonable person would have exercised under the same circumstances. Either a person’s actions or omissions of actions can be found negligent. The omission of actions is considered negligent only when the person had a duty to act.”

In other words, health care providers who do not meet medical care standards are negligent. These standards may differ by state. They can also vary between general care providers and specialists. Koonz, McKenney, Johnson & DePaolis, LLP, can help with medical malpractice cases in the D.C. metro area, Maryland, and Virginia.

Duty of Care

Whenever a physician or other medical party agrees to treat your medical condition, they acknowledge a duty of care. Doctors, nurses, medical staff, hospitals, pharmacists, care facilities, and other medical professionals may all be found guilty of medical malpractice if they fail to meet their duty of care.

Medical Malpractice

Medical malpractice can cause injuries or worsen existing conditions through negligence. In many cases of malpractice, the medical professional is aware they are making unreasonable mistakes.

Your Koonz, McKenney, Johnson & DePaolis, LLP legal team will investigate your situation. We will look for evidence to show that:

  • Someone owed you a duty of care.
  • That party breached their duty of care.
  • The breach caused your injury.
  • The injury and associated damages are a direct result of the breach.

Anyone can make a mistake, but the stakes are higher when medical personnel err. While miscalculating your checking account balance might result in an overdraft or fees, deviating from medical care standards can cause harm to patients.

What Are Common Malpractice Claims?

Incorrect dosage can be one form of medical malpractice.

A number of situations may legally qualify as medical malpractice. Some of the more common are:

  • Anesthesia, medication, and medication dosage mistakes
  • Emergency room errors
  • Failing to obtain informed consent from patients or their legal representative (such as a parent, legal guardian, or someone who holds a medical power of attorney), failing to follow up with patients, or releasing patients from medical care prematurely
  • Misdiagnosing an illness, disease, or injury, including not ordering appropriate tests or obtaining a patient’s complete medical history
  • Surgical mistakes, such as operating on the wrong body part, leaving medical tools or debris inside a patient, and performing unnecessary surgery

When a patient is in a hospital or other kind of care facility, they can develop health care-associated infections. Neglecting to reposition patients regularly may cause pressure ulcers, commonly called bedsores. Other forms of medical malpractice affect the patient’s emotional, physical or financial state.

Any of these situations can harm patients. Although the effects of some might be minor, others can be life-threatening or fatal. All can affect the patient’s quality of life.  A medical malpractice claim can provide financial compensation for these damages.

What Can Cause Medical Malpractice?

It’s impossible to list all of the reasons that could lead to medical malpractice. However, many errors occur due to:

  • Insufficient training or supervision
  • Understaffed care facilities, forcing health care professionals to divide attention among too many patients at once
  • Miscommunications
  • Clerical mistakes
  • Medical professionals under the influence of alcohol, drugs or excessive fatigue

Unfortunately, patients come to harm daily due to preventable medical errors. You might qualify to file a claim for compensation.

How Can Legal Professionals Determine Whether Your Case Is Medical Malpractice or Negligence?

An attorney helps a woman determine the difference between medical malpractice and medical negligence.

When you contact Koonz, McKenney, Johnson & DePaolis, LLP, to request your free case evaluation, we will ask you several questions, which vary depending on your unique circumstances. Your answers will help us determine whether your case qualifies as a medical malpractice claim:

  • What makes you suspect the health care provider was guilty of medical malpractice? For example, unsanitary conditions, suspected intoxication, or failure to explain treatment options fully could all be cases of malpractice.
  • Did someone ignore mandatory and understood protocols? Or were there no rules?
  • Do you believe the provider offered appropriate treatment options to give you the best care? 
  • What steps did the provider take before the incident? Explain your situation fully, describing the condition that made you seek medical care and what the provider did or failed to do.

We need to determine if the medical professional’s actions or omissions are the direct cause of harm. At that point, we can explain your legal options.

Note that some scenarios may not qualify as malpractice if no one violated their duty of care, even when:

  • Your condition did not respond to the recommended treatments.
  • You are unhappy with the results.
  • You became worse after the treatment.

Your attorney must make a determination on a case-by-case basis. If you have a valid case, we can help you decide your next steps.

How Can Koonz, McKenney, Johnson & DePaolis, LLP, Help if You Suspect Medical Malpractice?

Established in 1979, our award-winning firm focuses on personal injury claims. We know the applicable laws for Washington, D.C., and the nearby states, and we have a proven track record of winning these cases. We have the knowledge, experience, and resources to advocate fiercely for your rights and will not hesitate to take your case to trial in local or federal courts if needed. Best of all, you won’t pay us any fees unless we win compensation for you.

Call Koonz, McKenney, Johnson & DePaolis, LLP, today to request your free consultation or to get more information about whether medical malpractice differs from negligence. You can also use live chat or submit our contact request form if you prefer online communications.

About the Author
Ms. Heiden is a Virginia injury attorney who represents injured individuals in personal injury, product liability, social security, and workers compensation cases. In 2009, she was recognized by Cambridge Who’s Who for demonstrating dedication, leadership, and excellence in legal services.