The Differences Between Medical Malpractice and Negligence - GoodRx (2023)

Key takeaways:

  • Everybody makes mistakes. But in some cases, a healthcare professional’s mistake can be considered medical malpractice or medical negligence if it causes an injury.

  • The difference between medical malpractice and medical negligence typically boils down to a healthcare professional’s intent or awareness.

  • If you think you’ve been a victim of malpractice or negligence, you have a right to look into your situation to see what happened.

The Differences Between Medical Malpractice and Negligence - GoodRx (1)

When you want or need healthcare services, you obviously want some aspect of your health to get better. But, sometimes, your plans experience a hiccup — to say the least. It’s possible to experience an injury as a result of medical care gone wrong. These injuries may be mild, severe, or even life-threatening.

If you were harmed after receiving healthcare services, you may be curious about what your options are. A good starting point is to review the events leading up to your injury. What was my healthcare provider thinking? What was the context of my situation while it was unfolding?

Depending on your case, you might wonder whether you were subject to medical malpractice or medical negligence. A medical malpractice lawyer is best equipped to help you navigate your options. Still, it's helpful to know the general differences between these two legal claims.

Here, we’ll talk about medical malpractice and medical negligence — what they are, how they’re different, and what to do if you think you’ve been affected.

How is medical malpractice different from medical negligence?

Everyone is human. Humans make mistakes. Healthcare professionals are trained humans that work in a medical setting. But given the context of healthcare services, these mistakes can have serious consequences.

If a healthcare professional makes a mistake that results in an injury, there’s a chance it could be considered medical malpractice or medical negligence.

At their core, these are similar concepts. But the difference typically comes down to the intent or awareness of the healthcare professional.

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  • Medical negligence: This is when a healthcare professional makes a decision or performs an action that accidentally causes harm to their patient.

  • Medical malpractice: A healthcare professional should never try to cause harm. But if a healthcare professional is aware of the potential consequences before making a mistake, it could be considered medical malpractice. They likely made a mistake because they didn’t follow proper guidelines or protocols.

Keep in mind: These are simple definitions. A healthcare professional or medical malpractice lawyer can help you decide if either or both of these apply to your situation.

What are examples of medical malpractice and medical negligence?

Let's review some examples of these two claims.

A surgeon is performing a routine procedure and accidentally nicks a blood vessel, causing you injury. This would be an example of medical negligence.

In contrast, a situation might qualify as medical malpractice if a surgeon performs a surgery without running necessary tests first, thus leading to an injury.

Each situation is very fact-dependent. It’s best to check with a trained legal professional about whether the care you received could rise to the level of either medical negligence or malpractice.

Can a medical incident be both malpractice and negligence?

There’s often a fuzzy line between the two. In fact, medical malpractice can be considered a type of medical negligence.

If a mistake is made that results in an injury, a lot of thought will go into how to classify the situation. A medical malpractice lawyer or court of law could consider many factors, such as:

  • What happened leading up to the mistake?

  • Was the healthcare professional aware of the possible consequences before the action or decision was made?

  • Were protocols in place to prevent the mistake from happening? Were the protocols ignored?

  • Was the healthcare professional trying to offer the best treatment possible?

  • Was it an honest mistake that could have happened to anybody?

What is duty of care, and how does it affect cases of malpractice or negligence?

Duty of care is a big consideration when deciding to classify a case as medical malpractice or medical negligence.

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But what exactly is it? Essentially, if there’s a relationship in place between you and a healthcare provider, they have a legal duty to treat you in the best way that they can.

For instance, your designated primary care provider (PCP) has a legal duty to care for you. But a different provider at the same office who’s never seen you wouldn’t necessarily have this duty of care. Whether a duty of care is established can impact the success of a potential malpractice or negligence claim.

What should you do if you experience medical malpractice or negligence?

Countless things in life can go wrong. This is also true in the healthcare field. If you’re injured while receiving healthcare services, there’s a chance it could be medical malpractice, medical negligence, or neither.

Regardless, you have a right to receive the best possible medical treatment (“standard of care”) for your condition when it exists. You also have a right to seek compensation for damages if the situation is appropriate.

If you think you’ve been affected by medical malpractice or medical negligence, you have a few options to consider.

The bottom line

Medical malpractice and medical negligence are close in definition, but they’re each unique. Medical malpractice is when a healthcare professional is aware of the possible consequences before making a mistake that led to an injury. Medical negligence is when a healthcare professional makes an honest mistake that leads to an injury.

Regardless of the legal terminology, you have a right to see out your situation. This could be done with or without legal action. In some cases, you could get some form of compensation for damages.


Babbitt & Johnson. (n.d.). The difference between medical malpractice and medical negligence.

Bal, B. S. (2009). An introduction to medical malpractice in the United States. Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research.

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Boeschen, C. (n.d.). Damages in medical malpractice cases. Nolo.

Bryden, D., et al. (2011). Duty of care and medical negligence. Continuing Education in Anaesthesia Critical Care & Pain.

FindLaw. (n.d.). Browse medical malpractice lawyers near you.

Manchin Injury Law Group. (2019). Difference between medical negligence and medical malpractice.

National Cancer Institute. (n.d.). Standard medical care.

Oyebode, F. (2013). Clinical errors and medical negligence. Medical Principles and Practice: International Journal of the Kuwait University, Health Science Centre.

(Video) What Doctors Get Sued the Most for Medical Malpractice?

Shensky, E. S. (2015). What is a healthcare provider’s duty of care? The National Law Review.

Sritharan, K., et al. (2001). Medical oaths and declarations. BMJ.

Weiss, A. (2021). Medical malpractice vs. negligence: Legal differences & definitions explained. Anapol Weiss.

GoodRx Health has strict sourcing policies and relies on primary sources such as medical organizations, governmental agencies, academic institutions, and peer-reviewed scientific journals. Learn more about how we ensure our content is accurate, thorough, and unbiased by reading our editorial guidelines.

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