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Difference Between Medical Malpractice and Personal Injury

Difference Between Medical Malpractice and Personal Injury

A personal injury claim arises when one party injures another party, typically through misconduct such as negligence (carelessness). A medical malpractice claim arises when a health care provider, typically a doctor or a hospital, injures another party through misconduct. Therefore, medical malpractice is a type of personal injury claim.

Personal Injury Claims

Following is a very general overview of how personal injury claims work.

Classification of Personal Injury Claims Based on Culpability

You can divide personal injury claims into several different types—negligence (the most common), strict liability, intentional torts, and vicarious liability.

Negligence claims

To win a negligence claim, you must prove the following five elements:

  • The defendant owed you a duty of care. A mechanic must have exercised competence in repairing your car, for example. 
  • The defendant breached their duty of care to you. Using the same example, let’s say the defendant failed to competently repair your steering column. Breach of duty of care = negligence.
  • You suffered a physical injury (this is true in most cases; under limited circumstances, you may be able to file a claim based solely on a non-physical injury). For instance, you might have suffered broken bones, burns, and lacerations. A motorist your car collided with might have also suffered injuries.
  • The defendant’s negligence must have been the factual cause of your injuries.
  • Your injuries must have been a foreseeable consequence of the defendant’s negligence (proximate cause).

You will lose your claim if you fail to prove even one of these elements. If you prove them all, however, you can recover both economic and non-economic (pain and suffering) damages.

Strict liability claims

“Strict liability” means liability without fault – or, at least, liability without proving fault. For example, Texas courts can hold a defendant liable for abnormally dangerous activities, such as storing explosives at a fireworks shop. If an explosion injures someone, the owner is liable, no matter how careful they were.

Intentional torts

Picking a fight and beating someone up at a nightclub is an example of an intentional tort (battery).

Vicarious liability

In a vicarious liability claim, one party bears liability for the conduct of another. The most common example is the fact that the law holds employers liable for injuries caused by the misconduct of their employees. 

Classification of Personal Injury Claims Based on Type of Accident or Incident

Following is a list of various forms of personal injury claims based on the accident or incident that gave rise to them:

  • Vehicle accidents: Vehicle accidents, including car accidents, truck accidents, and motorcycle accidents, are by far the most common type of personal injury claim.
  • Premises liability: Owners of real property bear liability to guests who suffer injury on their property due to dangerous conditions.
  • Medical malpractice: Healthcare providers, primarily doctors and hospitals, must perform their jobs with professional competence.
  • Product liability: Product manufacturers (and sometimes distributors) bear liability for injuries that their products cause.
  • Workplace injuries: There are two remedies for workplace injuries: (i) workers’ compensation for employee claims against employers and ordinary personal injury lawsuits for employee claims against third parties.
  • Dog bites: In Texas, a dog owner can bear personal liability if their pet injures another person. 
  • Slip and fall accidents: Typically, slip and fall accidents happen on wet floors and in stairwells.
  • Assault and battery: Intentional, criminal acts of violence.

A wrongful death claim arises when the victim dies from a personal injury. Strictly speaking, however, a wrongful death claim is not a personal injury claim.  

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Medical Malpractice

Following are some of the more salient characteristics of medical malpractice claims.

How the Legal Elements of Negligence Apply to Medical Malpractice Claims

The elements of a medical malpractice claim are the same as they are in other kinds of negligence claims (assuming the claim is based on negligence). These elements apply differently for a medical malpractice claim, however, in certain respects:

  • Duty of care. This element involves two sub-elements. First, there must have been a doctor-patient relationship between you and the defendant. Second, a healthcare provider’s duty of care is very high because of their training and expertise.
  • Breach of duty: Typically, you need expert testimony to prove that the defendant breached their duty of care, at least with respect to the medical treatment itself.
  • Damages: You must prove an actual physical injury. You generally can’t win a medical malpractice claim simply by proving that the doctor negligently diagnosed you with a terminal illness.
  • Causation: The defendant’s negligence must have been the foreseeable cause of your injuries.  

Unfortunately, medical malpractice is a major cause of death in the United States.

Types of Medical Malpractice

Following is a list of some of the more common types of medical malpractice:

  • Failure to diagnose, late diagnosis, and misdiagnosis: Any of these errors can easily cause death or serious harm.
  • Anesthesia errors: Administering too much anesthesia, for example, can result in serious injury or death.
  • Failure to obtain informed consent: Performing a procedure without the patient’s informed consent is sometimes illegal, but permitted in emergencies. 
  • Infections acquired in the hospital due to exposure to another patient with a contagious disease.
  • Negligent patient monitoring: Failure to properly monitor a patient can result in significant complications.
  • Prescription medication errors: Prescribing the wrong medication or the wrong dosage, for example.
  • Radiology and lab testing errors: Misreading X-rays, blood sample analyses, and more.
  • Surgical errors: For example, leaving a scalpel in a patient’s body after surgery.

This list of errors is far from exhaustive.

Key Ways Medical Malpractice and Other Personal Injury Claims Differ

Following is a summary of how medical malpractice cases and typical personal injury cases differ from each other. They are not the only differences.

Scientific Complexity

Medical malpractice claims tend to be more scientifically complex than other types of personal injury claims. Exceptions exist, however. For instance, many product liability claims are also scientifically complex.

Types of Evidence

Medical malpractice claims almost always rely on expert testimony. Expert testimony is usually not required for more typical personal injury claims. Typical personal injury claims rely on eyewitnesses, police reports (in settlement negotiations). Medical malpractice claims, by contrast, almost always rely on medical records.

The Texas Medical Malpractice Lawsuit Advance Notice Requirement

Too many medical malpractice lawsuits result in higher malpractice insurance premiums, costs which doctors pass on to patients through higher health care expenses. In response, Texas has established a barrier to discourage frivolous lawsuits.

In Texas, you must notify the defendants in writing of your intent to file a lawsuit at least 60 days in advance. Your notice must include written authorization for the release of your confidential healthcare records.

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Seek Professional Legal Advice From an Austin Personal Injury Lawyer

If you suspect you might have a personal injury claim, especially a medical malpractice claim, consult with a qualified lawyer ASAP. Navigating the waters of personal injury law is not a task that you should even attempt to undertake alone. Since most Austin personal injury attorneys work on contingency, you can hire them with no upfront costs – and they only get paid if you do. Reach out to FVF Law at (512) 982-9328  to schedule a free consultation

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