Intentional Versus Negligent Torts in Malpractice Cases

People make mistakes. In many instances, these errors are the result of a breach in the applicable standard of care, such as a doctor who fails to respond to an emergency situation involving a woman giving birth when the baby is in distress. Most of the time, these errors cause serious, long-term harm and change the course of a person’s life, as well as the lives of family and loved ones. These injuries usually are not the result of a reckless or intentional action, but when the harm is caused because someone committed an act that went far beyond that of a simple mistake, it is important to understand that different things that might happen.

In order to bring a medical malpractice case against a healthcare provider, it is necessary to demonstrate the following:

  • The medical professional committed a mistake that breached the standard of care applicable to the particular type of treatment or services being provided, which led to harm to the patient; or
  • The medical professional committed an intentional or reckless act, which caused actual harm to a patient.

Nearly all medical malpractice cases are based on a theory of negligence. This is because it is very unusual for a doctor, nurse, or other healthcare provider to take an action with an intent to cause harm to a patient or act with reckless disregard for the risk of harm that they actions encompass.

In order to prevail on a theory of negligence, it is necessary to demonstrate the following:

  • The doctor or other medical professional had a duty to provide care to the patient that met the applicable standard of care. Basically, this means that there needs to be an established relationship where the healthcare provider intended to provide specific services and the patient was receptive to receiving those services;
  • The healthcare provider breached the standard of care – this standard varies depending on the nature of the medical care and the specific circumstances under which this care was provided;
  • The breach of duty was the actual and proximate cause of the harm suffered by the patient; and
  • The harm was quantifiable – there must be some way to measure the nature of the harm in order to make it compensable with damages.

Intentional or reckless torts are very different from negligent torts.

Examples of intentional torts are:

  • Assault – This tort happens when a person takes a deliberate action that makes a patient fear that he or she is in imminent danger of harm. A doctor picking up a scalpel and threatening to slash the wires on a machine that is regulating a person’s heart rate may fall within this category; and
  • Battery – This tort occurs when a doctor or other healthcare provider actually causes harm to a person through physical contact. Although rare, a medical professional may aggressively restrain a person in order to administer treatment, leading to harm.

Many times, there are defenses to charges of an intentional or reckless tort, which may include claiming that the actions in question were performed with the consent of the patient. In addition, it may be possible to argue that the harm that was done was the result of acting in self-defense or in defense of a third-party. It should be clear that both the charges of intentional or reckless torts and the applicability of the potential defenses are very rare when dealing with medical malpractice cases.

Criminal Prosecution of Intentional Torts

If the actions of the doctor, nurse, or other medical professional do rise to the level of an intentional tort, then there may be two separate actions brought against that person. The first is mostly out of the hands of the individual who was harmed. A prosecutor may decide to pursue criminal charges against the healthcare provider who committed an intentional or reckless tort. Whether or not these charges are brought often will depend on the severity of the harm that was caused, whether there is sufficient evidence that the healthcare provider acted with intent or with disregard to the substantial risk of harm, and whether there it is clear that one of the defenses might apply in the particular case. Regardless of whether or not the prosecutor decides to pursue criminal charges, it is possible to bring a civil action against the medical professional. An experienced medical malpractice attorney can review the available information and determine whether or not a malpractice case likely will be successful.

Stern Law, PLLC Helps Individuals Understand Their Legal Rights

Tort law is very complex and liability actions based on medical malpractice often involve even more layers of intricacies. At Stern Law, PLLC, our attorney is committed to making certain that our clients have the information that they need to make the right decisions for themselves and their families at every step of the process. Our dedication to providing resources and information has led to our development of a compassionate and knowledgeable staff available to answer any questions relating to medical malpractice 24 hours a day, seven days a week, regardless of whether or not you are a client. Call us at 1-844-808-7529 or fill out an online contact form in order to learn how we can help you get through this difficult time.

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