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When is Negligence Medical Malpractice?

Doctor contemplates medical malpractice

Medical Malpractice I: Negligence

Medical malpractice is just a term for medical wrongdoing by your doctor, hospitals and other persons you pay to provide you with proper health care.

There are lots of different types of medical wrongdoing.

The least serious category of medical wrongdoing commonly is referred to by lawyers as negligence. That is simply a fancy way of saying that the health care provider has been careless, lazy, inattentive, unknowledgeable, unprepared or unskillful to a degree that fails to meet the standard that would be expected of a reasonably prudent health care provider in that community and in those circumstances.


There are many, many ways, just like with driving a car, that a person can fail to meet the standards. It’s important to understand this when you are considering bringing a medical malpractice lawsuit. Even though your doctor, health care provider, or hospital may become extremely defensive, both because of their pride and because of money, you’re not necessarily accusing them of being bad doctors or bad hospitals, much less bad human beings, any more than if you caused an automobile accident when you were not driving your very best. The people suing you likely would not be accusing you of being a bad person. Rather they merely are claiming you didn’t meet the standards of driving in the community (e.g., exceeded the speed limit, but not ridiculously), and that the injuries they suffered was an accident of this substandard driving. Further, because it’s your fault, society is going to shift the burden to you to take the financial responsibility for the harm that you caused.

Similarly, in the state of California, if a judge or jury decides that if a doctor or other health care provider failed to meet that standard in the community, and that failure caused your injury, then that health care provider is responsible for your injury. And responsibility means they must compensate you for that injury.

In a negligence case, “Compensation” legally means to give back what was taken away from the victim, not for punishment. So if you or a loved one has been harmed by the carelessness of a doctor so you couldn’t work, you’ll get back that loss of earnings. If you’re not able to do the necessary things around your household, and now have to pay somebody else to do them, you can seek recovery for that, and for various other out-of-pocket expenses (called economic damages).

You also may be entitled to “non-economic” damages, that is compensation for intangible things you have lost. That’s sometimes called emotional damages, and includes compensation for, “pain and suffering” and loss of enjoyment of life.

Unfortunately, in California, if it’s a regular run-of-the-mill negligence medical malpractice case, there is a cap on the amount that you can recover for these non-economic damages, even if the harm is unbelievably vast, such as if a doctor negligently caused you to become a quadriplegic, that is, you can’t move your arms, you can’t move your legs, you can’t control your bowels or your bladder, etc. Despite all of the sadness that that brings and all of the negative changes in your life, even loss of many years of your life, your recovery is still limited. Specifically, the top limit of what you can recover for all of the non-economic loss is two hundred and fifty thousand dollars ($250,000).

So when you have a medical negligence case, it revolves around three elements that you have to prove.

  1. The doctor, hospital, etc. provided care that was below acceptable standard of conduct.


  1. The inappropriate conduct was the cause.


  1. Injuries and the amount of compensation will depend on the extent of your injuries.