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Below are some of the common medical malpractice terms patients may encounter. In order to better understand their legal rights, patients can learn these medical malpractice terms commonly used by doctors, lawyers, and judges. Recognizing these common medical malpractice terms may help guide injured patients through the intricacies of the medical and legal conversations they could face.

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Breach: The violation of a law or contractual obligation.

Compensatory Damages: Also called “actual damages,” this is money awarded to compensate for actual losses by a patient and is based on the harm proven, loss, or injury suffered by the patient.

Damages: The sum of money owed for some breach of duty or violation of some right. This will most likely be in the form of a financial responsibility. The most common forms of damages are compensation for lost time at work and any procedures that need to be done to correct the malpractice procedure. Other damages may include emotional suffering or the time lost in life due to being injured. The only way that the patient can claim these damages is if the professional has been found to be at fault.

Duty of Care: The health care provider’s obligation to offer a standard of care on-par with what other health care professionals would provide. Every patient should be able to receive the same treatments, tests, and procedures that other patients are given when they see the same professional.

Defendant and Plaintiff: If a malpractice trial goes to court, the plaintiff is the person who is bringing the charges against the medical professional. The defendant is the medical party that the suit is being held against.

Defensive Medicine: This term refers to the practice where medical professionals make treatment and diagnostic decisions with the primary goal of avoiding litigation that may be brought against them, rather than letting patient need determine the course of treatment. This practice often results in excessive medical testing, which is used as a precautionary tool.

Informed Consent: The doctor’s duty to explain the risks of recommended procedures to a patient before the patient decides whether or not to go forward with the treatment.

Liable Parties: These are the defendants that have been listed in the medical malpractice suit. They are the ones who will ultimately pay for any damages that are awarded to the patient.

Loss of Consortium: A compensatory damage designed to compensate a close family member, generally the spouse, for the loss of the relationship’s benefits, which include affection and sexual relations.

Loss of Enjoyment of Life: A compensatory damage type which compensates patients who lost the ability to experience the pleasures in life due to malpractice.

Malpractice: When a professional does not execute their duty to a client.

Medical Negligence: This is a basic statement in which there has been a minimum of neglect to the patient by a medical professional. Negligence does not have to mean something that the professional did to the patient. The act can be something that the professional did not do for the patient that later resulted in damages.

Pain and Suffering: These are compensatory damages which are designed to compensate patients for physical discomfort suffered due to malpractice.

Pro-se litigant: A patient pursuing a medical malpractice claim without the assistance of an attorney.

Proximate Cause: The proof that that there is a strong enough relationship between the harm a patient experienced and the health care provider’s negligence to support liability.

Punitive Damages: Money awarded by a health care provider to patients who were the victims of medical malpractice. These damages are designed to act as punishment to the health care provider for conduct that is considered particularly egregious.

Standard of Care: The degree of care, including watchfulness, attention, caution, and prudence, that a reasonable person should exercise under the circumstances. If an individual does not meet the standard of care, he or she may be liable to a third party for negligence.

Survivor Action: A lawsuit filed by the estate of a deceased individual for damages suffered by the patient before the death.

Wrongful Death Action: A civil action taken against someone who can be held liable for a death. A claim for wrongful death must be brought by the decedent’s survivors, but generally only close relatives.



Cornell University Law School. Legal Information Institute, n.d. Web. 25 May 2012.
Kysar, Douglas. CPR Perspective: Medical Malpractice. Center For Progressive Reform, September 2009. Web. 25 May 2012.