The Difference Between Negligence and Malpractice

Things do go wrong sometimes and someone can actually get harmed even during the time that they are trying to seek treatment for their illnesses. A recent study estimates that between 210,000 and 440,000 patients experience preventable harm in hospitals each year due to medical errors, including instances of negligence and malpractice. 

Malpractice and negligence differ in some key areas and there are legal implications that are distinct to each of them. While both terms involve breaches of duty, malpractice and negligence aren’t interchangeable terms. There’s also this misconception that negligence only applies to healthcare; but it doesn’t. Negligence can also occur in different contexts, like in personal injury cases, premises liability, and car accidents. 

Let’s take a closer look at negligence and malpractice.

Key Definitions of Negligence and Malpractice

In definition, medical gross negligence refers to the failure to provide a standard level of care that a reasonable healthcare professional would offer in similar circumstances. It’s the unintentional actions or omissions that result in harm to a patient. 

Malpractice is a type of negligence that occurs when a healthcare provider deviates from the standard of care, causing patient injury or harm. Malpractice is a breach of duty owed to the patient by negligent actions or omissions, even if the provider did not intend to cause harm.

Many malpractice cases involve medical errors, but malpractice can also result from failures to obtain informed consent, breaches of patient confidentiality, or other violations of professional standards. To summarize, negligence can sometimes be a precursor to malpractice if the breach of duty leads to patient harm.

Elements of Negligence and Malpractice in Healthcare

In the healthcare setting, the elements of negligence include duty of care, breach of duty, causation, and damages. 

Duty of Care: It’s the legal obligation of healthcare providers to follow a certain standard of care when treating patients.

Breach of Duty: It occurs when a healthcare professional fails to meet the standard of care expected in their field.

Causation: This establishes the link between the healthcare provider’s breach of duty and the harm suffered by the patient. 

Damages: It refers to the measurable actual harm or injuries experienced by the patient as a result of the healthcare provider’s negligence.

Legal Implications of Negligence

As mentioned, negligence generally refers to a failure to provide the standard of care expected in a particular situation. It may not always involve intentional wrongdoing but rather a lack of reasonable care. Healthcare providers have a legal duty to provide care that meets the accepted standards within their field. 

When this duty is breached due to negligence, there can be serious legal implications. It typically involves civil lawsuits where patients seek compensation for damages caused by the breach of duty or the negligent actions of a healthcare provider.

These lawsuits can result in financial settlements or judgments against the provider, affecting their reputation and future practice. Negligence can also lead to disciplinary actions by state licensing boards, affecting the ability of the healthcare provider to continue practicing.

Legal Implications of Malpractice

Malpractice implies a higher degree of fault or recklessness compared to negligence and often leads to more severe legal consequences. Patients who’ve suffered harm due to malpractice have the right to file a lawsuit seeking compensation for damages such as medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.

Apart from the financial implications, healthcare providers found guilty of malpractice may face disciplinary actions such as suspension or revocation of their medical license. This can have long-lasting effects on their career and reputation. In some cases, criminal charges may be brought against the provider if their actions were deemed grossly negligent or intentional.

Healthcare providers must take malpractice claims seriously and to seek legal counsel if faced with such allegations. Proper documentation, adherence to protocols, and clear communication with patients can help prevent malpractice claims and protect both patients and providers from legal troubles. 


Negligence refers to a failure to take proper care, while malpractice involves a professional’s breach of duty towards a patient. While both negligence and malpractice share similarities in terms of legal implications, the distinction lies in the level of fault and the severity of consequences associated with each. It’s important to understand these distinctions to provide the highest standard of care to patients and to avoid any legal issues. 

If you’ve fallen victim to medical negligence or malpractice, it’s best to consult an attorney who can explain to you what course of action is the best one to take.