Why Is Medical Malpractice Handled in Civil Court?

Why Is Medical Malpractice Handled in Civil Court?In September of 2021, the husband of a former George Washington University Hospital patient filed a lawsuit against the healthcare facility for allegedly failing to diagnose his wife for cancer in 2018. Patrick Tate alleges that the medical professionals were negligent by failing to properly diagnose a cancerous tumor near his wife’s thymus gland.

This misdiagnosis caused his wife to succumb to her cancer a year later in 2019. The doctors allegedly located only one of two tumors near Mrs. Tate’s thymus in a CT scan conducted in May of 2018. Due to the doctor’s negligence, Mrs. Tate’s case of myasthenia gravis worsened, leading to her cancer diagnosis and untimely death.

Contrast this with the case of RaDonda Vaught, a nurse who was recently convicted of criminally negligent homicide and gross neglect of an impaired adult after she “mistakenly administered the wrong medication to patient Charlene Murphey while Murphey awaited a radiologic study at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.”

The act of medical malpractice itself is not considered a crime, which is why Vaught’s case was so extraordinary. It is, instead, considered an act of negligence that causes a patient to experience serious harm; the patient (or the patient’s estate) can then sue for damages. In civil court, patients who suffer from an act of medical malpractice can sue the healthcare professionals who are found liable for their injuries.

Differences between civil court and criminal court

There are many differences between civil court and criminal court. Civil court is reserved for victims of personal injury cases who want to seek compensation for their injuries. Personal injury victims can seek compensation from their accidents as a way to become “whole” again after suffering harm.

Criminal court, on the other hand, is reserved for the state or government, which files criminal charges against an individual who has broken the law. Individuals accused of committing criminal charges are charged with misdemeanors or felonies. In any case, there must be reasonable evidence for the state or federal government to file charges against the individual.

Medical malpractice cases are rarely tried in criminal court. The nature of the medical malpractice incident must be extreme to warrant criminal charges. It must be proven, for example, that the medical professional exhibited gross negligence and was reckless or even intentional in their actions.

When do a medical professional’s actions break the law?

The deciding factor between whether a medical malpractice’s case is tried in civil court or criminal court is whether the medical professional breaks the law in their actions.

If it is proven that the medical professional deliberately caused harm to a patient, that would be grounds to criminally charge a medical professional in criminal court. If the medical professional’s actions do not break the law but cause a patient harm and losses, the professional’s actions may be considered negligent and proceed in civil court.

Benefits of medical malpractice cases being tried in civil court

Medical malpractice lawsuits are some of the most challenging civil claims and there are significant benefits to trying your case in civil court. One of the benefits is that it is less challenging to prove a medical professional’s negligence in civil court than it is to prove criminal intent in a criminal court. For an offender to be convicted in criminal court, one of the elements that must be proven is the offender’s state of mind during the criminal act. For example, in a medical malpractice case, it must be proven in criminal court that the medical professional committed the act with a criminal intention. Since this element is often difficult to prove, pursuing a medical malpractice case in civil court is usually the better option.

What are the elements of negligence?

In civil court, the plaintiff’s counsel must prove that the medical professional’s actions meet the four basic elements of negligence:

  • Duty of care. The medical professional’s duty of care must be established through this element. This element must prove that the medical professional owed the injured patient a duty of care.
  • Breach of duty. This element must prove that the medical professional’s actions violated the injured patient’s duty of care. This element can be proven either by the medical professional’s deliberate actions or lack of action.
  • Causation. This element must prove that the medical professional’s actions directly caused the patient’s injuries. This element is one of the most difficult elements to prove in a medical malpractice case; however, it can be proven by the testimony of another medical witness or the injured patient’s medical records.
  • Damages. This element must show how the medical professional’s actions caused serious harm or damages to the injured patient. The injured patient’s medical records can also prove this element.

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