Why Is Medical Malpractice a Civil Claim and Not a Criminal One?
Medical malpractice and negligence has long been a hot-button issue in the healthcare community. Medical malpractice can encompass a variety of errors, including misdiagnosis, wrong site surgery, and medication mistakes. Any medical error can cause harm, from the preventable progression of a condition to the untimely death of a patient. When you or someone you love suffers severe physical injury because of medical negligence, you may be surprised to learn that medical malpractice cases are tried in civil, rather than criminal, court.
This is because the act of medical malpractice is, for a patient, based in negligence. When a healthcare professional’s negligence directly causes you or your loved one harm, Kentucky law allows you to hold that professional responsible for your losses in civil court. The state of Kentucky may also hold a physician criminally liable for acts of malpractice, depending on the circumstances.
What’s the difference between civil court and criminal court?
The two main differences between civil court cases and criminal court cases are generally:
- Civil court claims are for personal injury victims seeking financial compensation for the harm and losses they’ve suffered as a result of another party’s negligence. This basically means suing the responsible party to make you “whole” again – allowing you to live your life as much as possible in the way you did before your losses and injuries.
- Criminal court, on the other hand, are when the state or federal government bring charges against an individual when they break the law. A healthcare professional can be charged with a misdemeanor or felony and there must be a reasonable evidence to press charges. A physician can be tried in criminal court and civil court at the same time, but neither is reliant on the other.
Criminal malpractice cases require a great deal of evidence and, typically, a doctor’s actions must be egregious and extreme for authorities to file charges. The state must show at a minimum gross negligence with a conscious disregard for the well-being of their patient, but almost always the state will need to show criminal intention in their actions. However, civil cases require a far lesser burden of proof.
How do I know if my Kentucky doctor broke the law?
The factor that decides whether your malpractice case will be tried in Kentucky criminal or civil court is whether or not the medical professional’s actions were illegal. For example, if a doctor intentionally and deliberately caused harm (for example, sexually assaulting a patient while they were under sedation) they would likely be charged with a crime.
If the doctor’s actions did not constitute a crime, but did cause harm through negligence, the patient can hold the medical professional responsible in civil court. An example of this might be a failure to diagnose, when a doctor overlooks symptoms of a serious condition, causing a patient’s health to deteriorate.
How can a Kentucky attorney help me with my medical malpractice case?
Even though, as we mentioned earlier, malpractice cases are difficult to prosecute in criminal court, the requirements to pursue a civil claim are less challenging. Proving negligence versus proving criminal intent are quite different, and the experienced attorneys at Wilt & Associates have a successful record of results in Kentucky civil medical malpractice settlements and jury verdicts.
Proving a medical malpractice case means demonstrating the following four points, known in legal terms as the “elements of negligence”:
- Duty of care. This means showing that you and your doctor had a professional working relationship, and through this doctor-patient relationship, they owed you a duty of care not to cause you harm.
- Breach of duty. This means proving that your doctor violated (breached) their duty of care through their action or inaction.
- Causation. This means demonstrating that the doctor’s breach of duty directly caused your injuries. This is often the sticking point in many malpractice cases, but we come prepared with your medical records, expert witnesses, and other testimony to prove your case.
- Damages. This means showing exactly how much the doctor’s negligence caused you harm. Damages can include your medical bills, time lost from work, and pain and suffering.
Our attorneys are well-versed in all types of medical malpractice cases, including birth injuries and nursing home negligence.
If you believe you or someone you love are a victim of medical malpractice, our Kentucky attorneys want to help. Make an appointment for a free consultation with a compassionate member of our team and tell us your story. We can provide guidance on next steps, speak to insurance companies on your behalf, and advocate for you throughout the entire legal process. You don’t need to go through this alone. Call our offices at 502-253-9110 or reach out through our contact form. We serve individuals and families in Louisville and Lexington, and throughout the state.