Are Medical Malpractice Cases Civil or Criminal?

medical malpractice

Medical malpractice can cause severe injuries, illnesses, and even death. People trust their doctors to provide effective and safe care. However, some medical providers make errors, endangering the lives of their patients. When their mistakes rise to the level of malpractice, their injured patient or their patient’s survivors can seek compensation from them through an insurance claim or lawsuit. Medical malpractice cases are civil rather than criminal matters.

Difference Between Medical Malpractice and Battery

The primary difference between medical malpractice and battery is intent.

Medical malpractice results from a healthcare professional’s negligent act or omission, causing a patient’s injury or death. The act or omission is unintentional. It can take various forms, such as:

  • Administering the wrong medication or dosage
  • Anesthesia errors
  • Inadequate follow-up care
  • Incorrectly interpreting diagnostic test results
  • Misdiagnosis
  • Surgical errors

Medical battery refers to a doctor’s intentional actions. They harm a patient by touching them without their permission. For example, a surgeon who operates without the patient’s consent commits medical battery.

Typically, medical malpractice is a civil matter. Instead of pursuing criminal charges, filing an insurance claim or lawsuit is the appropriate course of action. The remedy can be a financial award to compensate for the patient’s medical bills, lost wages, and other expenses.

The state can pursue criminal charges against a medical provider if medical battery occurs. Unlike civil cases, criminal cases can lead to penalties, such as imprisonment, fines, probation, and community service.

When Medical Malpractice Leads to Criminal Charges

Although medical malpractice often requires civil action, a criminal case might be necessary, especially if the doctor’s behavior is particularly appalling.

Common factors that can turn medical malpractice into a criminal case include:

  • Fraud – A doctor might be guilty of fraud if they try to profit from performing an unnecessary procedure, prescribing certain medication, or recommending an alternative treatment plan. Fraud can also occur if a healthcare professional makes a mistake and attempts to cover it up to prevent a patient from pursuing a case against them.
  • Gross negligence – Typically, medical malpractice doesn’t involve malice or disregard for a patient’s health or safety. However, gross negligence, such as providing medical services while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, can lead to a criminal case.
  • Practicing without a license – It’s a crime to practice medicine without a valid license. A doctor misrepresenting themselves as a licensed healthcare professional can face criminal charges.

Compensation in a Medical Malpractice Case

A successful medical malpractice claim or lawsuit can provide you with compensation for the following losses:

  • Emotional distress
  • Hospitalization, surgery, prescriptions, and other medical expenses
  • Loss of enjoyment of life
  • Lost earning capacity
  • Pain and suffering
  • Lost wages
  • Scarring or permanent loss of limb

You might also recover punitive damages in a lawsuit against the negligent party. However, you must prove the defendant acted with malice or spite, a fraudulent or evil motive, or a deliberate disregard for others’ interests that deems the conduct willful or wanton. Such damages are meant to punish the doctor rather than compensate you for a loss, and are rarely awarded.

If your loved one died due to a doctor’s error, the personal representative of their estate could file a wrongful death lawsuit. The financial award goes to surviving family or the estate to compensate them for the following:

  • Conscious pain and suffering the deceased experienced due to their injury or illness
  • Financial support the deceased could have contributed if they survived
  • Funeral and burial expenses
  • Reasonable medical bills related to the final illness or injury
  • Surviving family’s lost inheritance
  • The value of parental care, guidance, and nurturing the deceased can no longer provide to their children

Statute of Limitations on Medical Malpractice Lawsuits

In New York, the statute of limitations allows a two-year, six-month timeframe to file a civil lawsuit for medical malpractice. That means you must initiate your lawsuit against the negligent medical provider within two and a half years of the injury date.

You might be able to extend the period under specific circumstances, such as those involving:

  • Failures to diagnose – If the healthcare professional was negligent in diagnosing cancer, the timeframe for filing a lawsuit is 30 months after you knew or should have reasonably known about the negligent act or omission. However, it can be no more than seven years after the act or omission or the last treatment date for continuous treatment of the condition.
  • Foreign objects – If the doctor left a foreign object in your body, the timeframe to file suit is one year from the date you discover what happened or learned information that would reasonably lead to your discovery, whichever happens first.

Steps to Take if a Medical Error Harms You

You should take immediate action if a doctor’s negligence causes your injury. The essential steps you should take include:

  • Seeking medical care – Although you might not trust doctors after what happened to you, seeking immediate treatment for your injury is crucial. You must let a physician examine you to determine your diagnosis and recommend a treatment plan.
  • Hiring an attorney – Hire a lawyer to represent you during your medical malpractice case. They can determine insurance coverage, file a claim, and negotiate a settlement. If necessary, they might also file a civil lawsuit against the negligent medical provider or facility.
  • Maintaining adequate records – Keep copies of every document related to the incident. Evidence is valuable in a medical malpractice case. You need proof of the healthcare professional’s actions and the injury you sustained. Obtain copies of the records from your initial procedure or service involving the medical error. You should also collect documentation from treating your injury or illness.
  • Avoiding your former physician – You should not discuss your case with your former doctor. You might feel tempted to confront them about what they did, but informing them of your plan to pursue a lawsuit or claim can negatively affect the outcome. It gives them time to prepare a defense and could work as evidence against you if they perceive the interaction as threatening or violent.

Speak to an Experienced Medical Malpractice Attorney Today

The medical malpractice attorneys of Finz & Finz, P.C. have dedicated our time and effort to helping New Yorkers injured by others’ wrongdoings. We have a proven track record of success, with over $1 billion in verdicts and settlements. You will be our top priority when you hire us and receive personalized services and attention.

If you sustained injuries due to a doctor’s negligence, call us at (855) TOP-FIRM for a free consultation to learn more about how we can help.

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Finz & Finz, P.C. is a New York and Long Island personal injury law firm based out of Mineola, NY. It was founded in 1984 and is highly rated, with many honors and awards of excellence.