How is medical malpractice different from ordinary negligence?

Medical malpractice is a variation of the general tort of negligence. The concept behind a negligence cause of action is that the person responsible for the plaintiff’s injury owed a duty of reasonable care, and in the breach of such duty directly caused harm that was foreseeable under the circumstances.

A  key element of proof in any negligence-based claim, whether in general or in the particular situation of alleged medical malpractice, is how to define what behavior is “reasonable” under the circumstances as they existed at the time of the injury. For ordinary negligence, the law only requires that a person of ordinary, prudence would have either known, or have been in a position where he or she should have known, that harm would be foreseeable as the result of his or her acts.

Medical malpractice is somewhat different in how the law defines what is reasonable on the part of the defendant. The starting point of this difference is the superior level of knowledge and expertise that is required of a physician or other medical professional compared to what an “ordinary” person would know,.so it is not relevant to use the standard of general negligence when weighing the issue of whether such medical professional was acting in accordance with good practices.

Instead, Connecticut law uses as its medical malpractice benchmark of reasonableness the standard of whether the defendant exercised the degree of skill and learning that a reputable and prudent member of the medical profession would have used. What this means for plaintiffs and their attorneys is that in a medical malpractice lawsuit it is necessary not only to sue the defendant as a medical professional and not as an “ordinary” person, but also that the claimed act of negligence was substantially connected to a medical diagnosis or treatment that required the exercise of sound medical judgment.

Note that this peer-level standard of negligence in a medical malpractice action is why it is typically important to use the testimony of medical expert witnesses when establishing the claim of negligence.

Because of its particularized requirements to show negligence, a claim of medical malpractice requires legal counsel familiar with and experienced in how to establish not only the elements of a case, but also to match those elements to facts that will show under the medical community-based standard of care that the defendant’s actions were unreasonable under the circumstances. 

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