Medical malpractice is negligence committed by medical professionals. For negligence to be “actionable” (having all the components necessary to constitute a viable cause of action), there must be a duty owed to someone, a breach of that duty, and resulting harm or damage that is proximately caused by that breach. The simplest way to apply the concept of proximate cause to medical malpractice is to ask whether, “but for” the alleged negligence, the harm or injury would have occurred.
When determining whether the conduct of a member of the general public is negligent, the conduct is judged against a standard of how a “reasonably prudent person” might act in the same or similar circumstance. Conversely, when determining whether a medical professional has been negligent, his or her practice or conduct is judged at a level of competency and professionalism consistent with the specialized training, experience, and care of a “reasonably prudent” physician in the same or similar circumstances. This constitutes the “standard of care” or professional “duty” that a physician owes to his or her patient. If the physician breaches the standard of care and his patient suffers accordingly, there is actionable medical malpractice.
The term “patient” generally refers to a person who is receiving medical treatment and/or who is under medical care. In many states, other licensed medical professionals such as chiropractors, nurses, therapists, and psychologists, may also be sued for malpractice, i.e., negligently breaching their respective professional duties owed to the patient. The following sections refer generally to medical malpractice as it relates to medical doctors/physicians.