Medical Malpractice Defined

After experiencing symptoms of a medical problem, you often trust doctors and nurses to inform your decisions regarding your health and treatment. Medical care providers are expected to provide a responsible diagnosis and effective treatment for your injuries. Unfortunately, not every provider will offer the high-quality care and treatment you both need and deserve. In fact, every year, medical malpractice settlements result in more than $3 billion in payouts to injured victims.

If you suffer medical malpractice while being treated by a medical professional, you may have the right to file a claim by speaking with a medical malpractice lawyer today.

What Is Medical Malpractice?

Tatiana Boohoff Lawyer
Seattle Medical Malpractice Attorney, Tatiana Boohoff

Medical malpractice occurs when a healthcare provider, including doctors and hospital employees, causes injury to a patient. Medical malpractice typically occurs due to negligence on the part of the provider, rather than a deliberate intention to cause harm. However, medical malpractice can lead to substantial pain and suffering for patients impacted by a healthcare provider’s poor decisions.

To define a patient injury as medical malpractice, the healthcare provider’s behavior must:

  • Violate the standard of care expected of medical professionals. Medical professionals have a duty to provide the level of care that others with the same training and experience would provide in similar circumstances. Physicians must not simply refrain from harming patients, they must also provide a high quality of care to all their patients.
  • Cause substantial injury to the patient.
  • Result from a provider-patient relationship between you and the care provider who committed the error. A doctor who is not responsible for your care cannot face liability for your injuries caused by another physician’s negligent behavior. For example, another doctor who is merely present in the emergency room at the time of an accident will not be held responsible for your inadequate care.

8 Types of Medical Malpractice

Medical malpractice may occur in a variety of circumstances. Anytime a provider’s negligence causes injury to a patient, you may have grounds for a medical malpractice claim. A few circumstances that commonly lead to medical malpractice claims include:

1. Failure to Diagnose

Patients often seek a medical evaluation after they begin experiencing symptoms of a medical issue. Your doctor must then use your description of symptoms to inform his or her diagnose your illness or injury. Typically, doctors are qualified to diagnose routine illnesses or injuries by observing a patient’s symptoms. When patients present more complex or serious symptoms, diagnostic testing and further observation may be required to accurately diagnose the condition.

Even with diagnostic testing and observation, doctors sometimes fail to properly diagnose a patient’s condition. At times, doctors fail to diagnose a condition, despite symptoms that clearly point to a specific illness or injury. If another doctor with similar training and experience would have properly diagnosed the condition, an injured patient may have grounds for a medical malpractice claim. If a doctor’s failure to provide an accurate diagnosis causes complications or a worsening of symptoms, the patient may be entitled to compensation.

2. Misdiagnosis

What is Medical MalpracticeSimilar to the failure to diagnose, misdiagnosis occurs when a doctor looks at the symptoms you display, then assigns an inaccurate diagnosis. If another doctor would have reasonably diagnosed your actual condition, or ordered additional testing, you may have grounds for a medical malpractice claim.

Misdiagnosis creates two key problems for the victim. First and foremost, the initial condition often continues to go untreated as a result of the inaccurate diagnosis. In some cases, victims may ignore worsening symptoms, assuming they simply represent the progression of the condition described by the doctor. Unfortunately, misdiagnosis can sometimes cause extreme health complications.

Second, the victim of malpractice may receive treatment for an illness or injury he does not have. Often, the medications or procedures required to treat the diagnosed illness have side effects, which cause unnecessary pain and suffering. In addition, the prescribed procedures and treatment may have significant costs for which the patient is responsible for paying.

3. Birth Injury

During the birthing process, both the mother and baby experience a high degree of vulnerability. A birth injury occurs when either the mother or baby suffers a significant injury during birth, including:

  • Brain injury
  • Spinal cord damage, including paralysis
  • Excessive bleeding
  • Infection
  • Bruising from forceps
  • Hypoxia
  • Meconium aspiration
  • Fractures
  • Soft tissue injuries
  • Stillbirth
  • Maternal death

Birth injuries may occur due to a variety of reasons. Some birth injuries are unavoidable despite the highest level of care. Other birth injuries, however, may occur due to:

  • Failure to provide necessary medical intervention. When a doctor fails to provide a necessary medical intervention, it can cause injury to either the mother or baby during childbirth. For example, a doctor may fail to acknowledge a baby’s distress signaled by an increased heart rate. If the doctor’s lack of awareness leads to their failure to intervene which causes a stillbirth, the doctor may be held liable.
  • Use of unnecessary interventions. On the other extreme, instead of failing to provide needed interventions, a doctor may use unnecessary interventions. Unnecessary interventions during childbirth may cause increased trauma and injury to the mother or baby. The use of forceps, for example, can cause excessive bruising to the baby and a greater risk of vaginal tearing during childbirth. If labor is unnecessarily induced early, the risk of complications for both the mother and baby are significantly increased.
  • Improper use of intervention tools. Most interventions commonly used during childbirth are intended to protect the safety of the mother and baby. However, improper use of those interventions can significantly increase the risks of injury.

4. Surgical Errors

medical malpractice errors may occur in a variety of circumstances. Surgical errors may include:

  • Operations on the wrong limb. Surgeries that require general anesthesia prevent patients from communicating with their surgeon during the procedure. Unfortunately, in some cases, a surgery may be performed on the wrong body part. For example, a doctor may negligently operate on a patient’s right knee, although the left knee was intended to be replaced. Enduring an unnecessary surgical procedure can cause significant and unnecessary pain and suffering for the patient. Ultimately, the patient will have to undergo an additional surgery on the correct body part. In cases involving amputations or organ surgeries, operations on the wrong body part can cause lifelong complications for the victim.
  • Performing the wrong procedure. In some cases, surgeons may operate on the correct limb or area of the body, but perform the wrong procedure. Performing the wrong medical procedure can, in some cases, worsen symptoms rather than improve them. Performing the wrong medical procedure can also make it difficult or impossible to perform the correct medical procedure on the patient.
  • Errors during surgery. In some cases, surgeons may make significant errors during surgery, leading to excessive bleeding. Anesthesiologists may also fail to properly medicate the patient during surgery, which can lead to difficulty breathing.
  • Infections. When a surgeon uses surgical equipment that has not been properly sterilized, it can quickly lead to serious infection. Follow-up care plays an important role in preventing and treating postoperative infections. Infections can cause significant illness and even death. If a physician’s negligence caused a patient’s infection, they may be liable for any resulting damages.
  • Leaving an item behind. Surgeons must exercise extreme care to ensure that all surgical equipment is effectively sterilized and properly stored after each operation. Leaving a surgical instrument in the body of a patient can cause significant problems, significantly increasing a patient’s risk of infection and subjecting him or her to an additional surgery to retrieve the abandoned item. Sharp objects, including glass, scalpels, and syringes, can result in significant internal damage.

5. Medical Product Liability

Defective Medical Equipement Doctors and care providers must provide a high standard of care when treating patients. In addition, they must use quality medical products to ensure that the products themselves do not pose a danger to their patients. Companies that produce and distribute medical products are similarly under a duty to provide quality products. Producers must ensure that medical equipment is sterile and will function properly.

Medical product liability claims may involve:

  • Medical devices that do not work as intended. Many patients rely on medical devices to manage their illnesses and improve their quality of life. When medical devices fail to function as intended, patients can suffer serious consequences. For example, faulty insulin pumps can improperly measure blood sugar or deliver the wrong dosage. A malfunctioning insulin pump may make it difficult for victims to maintain proper blood sugar levels. In an emergency, medical devices that fail to work properly could lead to permanent injury or death.
  • Medical devices that fail. When medical devices fail, they can cause serious injuries for the patients whose functioning relies on them. Unfortunately, faulty medical devices may cause injury to many patients before the manufacturer decides to recall the device.

6. Medication Errors

Medications provide valuable support to many patients, alleviating symptoms and helping them manage many medical conditions. Unfortunately, medication errors can pose significant challenges for patients. Medications often display unfavorable side effects, which can cause a range of problems for the patient to whom they are prescribed. Common medication errors include:

  • Dosage calculation errors. Too much or too little medication can create substantial problems. A patient who takes too much medication may experience extreme side effects. A patient who receives too little medication may not effectively treat their condition. Both doctors and pharmacists must pay careful attention to medication dosages to decrease potential errors. When a doctor or nurse improperly calculates the dosage of an IV medication, there can be devastating and even life-threatening consequences.
  • Prescribing the wrong medication. Sometimes, doctors may plan to prescribe one medication, but mistakenly prescribe a different one. Distraction or inattention may result in accidentally prescribing the wrong medication. When a doctor prescribes the wrong medication, patients may suffer extreme side effects. In addition, the patient fails to receive proper treatment for their conditions.

7. Failure to Warn a Patient About Known Risks Associated with a Procedure

Many medical procedures involve known risks. For example, any procedure that requires the use of general anesthesia poses an increased risk of complications. Some medications and treatments come with known dangers and potential complications.

As a patient, you have the right to make an informed decision about your care. To make an informed decision, you must be aware of all the potential risks associated with the suggested treatment plans. A doctor may fail to adequately inform a patient of the risks. If you would have avoided a specific treatment, had you known the risks, and you suffer injury from that treatment, the doctor may be liable for malpractice.

A doctor does not have to list every possible, minuscule risk or potential side effect to a patient before a procedure. Patients must do their own research, including the potential side effects of new medications or possible medication interactions. However, if the procedure or medication represents a significant risk or has substantial side effects, the doctor must inform you of those risks ahead of time.

8. Treatment Without Consent

Patients have the right to decide which treatment plan they will undergo. For example, you have the right to decide whether you want to submit to surgery or to a specific treatment protocol for a given illness. You also have the right to determine when medication side effects cause more serious side effects than the illness they treat. It is up to the patient whether they want to continue the suggested treatment plan. Your doctor must accept your decisions regarding your treatment, even if the doctor does not agree with your decision.

If you cannot consent to treatment, your doctor must exercise his or her best judgment based on the information available. For example, if a doctor discovers a previously unknown problem during surgery, he may decide to treat the issue to avoid future surgical intervention.

The doctor may consult your loved ones or may independently make a decision based on your current treatment. A doctor can also exercise his best judgment in providing care in an emergency without a patient’s consent. However, when a doctor chooses to perform a procedure that you could not consent to, the doctor may be liable for malpractice.

If you suffered injuries due to the negligence of a medical care provider, you may be entitled to compensation. Contact a medical malpractice attorney as soon as possible to learn more about your legal right to financial compensation.


Boohoff Law
2200 6th Avenue, Suite 768
Seattle, WA 98121
(877)-363-6021