Professional negligence (sometimes referred to as medical malpractice, nursing malpractice, dental malpractice etc.) occurs when any member of the health care profession fails to follow the standard of care. The standard of care can be thought of as practice rules that are established by health care professionals for the safe and appropriate treatment of their patients. If these rules or standards are not followed, then the health care professional is said to have breached the standard of care which is another way of saying that he/she was professionally negligent or that he/she committed malpractice. If a malpractice suit is brought to court, the health care professional who is being sued is called the defendant, while the person bringing the action is called the plaintiff.
A health care professional can be professionally negligent by either performing a negligent act or by failing to act when a certain action is called for. For example, a doctor would obviously be professionally negligent if he/she operated on the wrong leg during surgery (a negligent act). However, a doctor could also be negligent by failing to properly identify the proper leg before the start of surgery (in this case, negligently failing to take action).
In either instance, the plaintiff need not prove that the health care professional intended to make a mistake — the plaintiff need only prove that the health care professional made an accidental mistake that was in violation of the standard of care. This is important to understand. Whether the health care professional is held accountable for his/her mistake is not dependent on his/her intent.
The takeaway is this: The purpose of the rules of law surrounding professional negligence cases is NOT to punish the health care professional. Rather, the rules of law are designed to make sure that the injured party is adequately compensated for all of their injuries (harms and losses), including the economic losses of lost wages and medical expenses.
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