Difference Between Medical Malpractice and Personal Injury

If you suffer an injury caused by someone else, you might file a personal injury claim. A medical malpractice claim is a type of personal injury claim. In other words, all medical malpractice claims are personal injury claims, but not all personal injury claims are medical malpractice claims. 

What is a Personal Injury Claim?

What is a Personal Injury Claim?

A personal injury claim is a demand for monetary compensation from the party who was responsible for your injuries. Following are explanations of the most common types of personal injury claims, organized by the defendant’s degree of culpability.

Negligence Claims

A negligence claim is a claim that someone injured you through their own carelessness. To win a negligence claim, you need to prove the following four elements:

  • The defendant owed you a duty of care.
  • They breached their duty of care to you.
  • You suffered a physical injury; and
  • The defendant’s breach of duty is what caused your injury.

You must prove a negligence claim (including medical negligence) on a “preponderance of the evidence” (more likely than not) basis.

Following are some examples of common negligence claims:

  • A grocery store fails to clean “black ice” from their entrance, thereby causing you to suffer a slip and fall accident.
  • A motorist collides with your car while driving the wrong way on a one-way street.
  • A doctor harms you through substandard medical treatment (medical malpractice).
  • A parking garage, for example, fails to hire security guards for their premises and you suffer an injury in a criminal assault (Inadequate security).

Insurance policies cover most negligence claims.

Intentional Torts

In an intentional tort, the at-fault party specifically intended their actions. They may or may not have specifically intended to injure you. Following are three examples of intentional torts.

  • Someone picks a fight with you at a bar and injures you.
  • A motorist experiencing “road rage” deliberately runs your motorcycle off the road, thereby injuring you.
  • Someone takes your car out for a “joy ride” without your permission.

A court might even award you punitive damages for an intentional tort.

Strict Liability Claims

A strict liability claim is a claim you can win without proving that the defendant was at fault. Product liability claims are usually strict liability claims, for example. You can also sue someone in strict liability if they cause an injury while engaging in abnormally dangerous activities.


Following are two examples of common strict liability claims:

  • You sue a pharmacy for injuries you suffered due to taking a defectively manufactured drug.
  • You seek a settlement arising from a dynamite blasting accident, even though the defendant took all reasonable steps required to keep their blasting safe for everyone..

Do not confuse strict liability with vicarious liability, where one party is liable for another party’s misconduct. A court might hold an employer vicariously liable for the on-duty misconduct of their employee, for example. 

What is a Medical Malpractice Claim?

A medical malpractice claim is a demand for monetary compensation from a health care provider who injured you by providing substandard medical care.

To win a medical malpractice claim, you must prove the following four elements.

  • The existence of a doctor-patient relationship. The existence of a doctor-patient relationship establishes that the defendant owed you an elevated, professional duty of care. This duty might not apply if, for example, a doctor renders first aid because they just happened to witness a car accident.
  • The defendant failed to meet the applicable standard of care under the circumstances of the claim. What would a reasonable doctor of equivalent training and experience have done in this situation? Failure to meet the standard of care constitutes medical negligence.
  • You suffered an injury. A “good scare” from an inaccurate cancer diagnosis is not enough, for example. You must suffer a physical injury.
  • The defendant’s medical negligence was the proximate cause of your injury. This means that not only did the medical negligence cause your injuries, but that a reasonable doctor would have foreseen your injuries.

You must prove all four of the foregoing legal elements to win a medical malpractice claim.

Types of Medical Malpractice Claims

Following is an incomplete list of common medical malpractice claims:

  • Delayed diagnosis,
  • Misdiagnosis,
  • Surgical errors,
  • Negligent failure to treat,
  • Medication errors,
  • Childbirth injuries, and
  • Anesthesia errors.

If the patient dies due to medical malpractice , the estate executor can file a wrongful death claim.

The Key Differences Between a Typical Personal Injury Claim and a Medical Malpractice Claim

Following are the main differences between personal injury claims and medical malpractice claims. Other differences may arise as well, depending on the circumstances of each case. 

The Standard of Care

Since doctors are well-educated and highly skilled, the standard of care for a medical malpractice is much higher than it is for an ordinary negligence claim. Imagine the difference in the standard of care required of a motorist on a highway versus the standard of care that applies to a doctor performing surgery. 

Nevertheless, the applicable standard of care varies even among doctors—a neurosurgeon must observe a much higher standard of care than a general practitioner, for example.  

The Need for Expert Witnesses

Determining what a doctor should have done in a certain situation is a difficult question to answer in most cases. So difficult, in fact, that you will almost certainly need an expert medical witness to testify on your behalf. Expert witnesses are not uncommon in ordinary negligence cases. They are nearly universal, however, in medical malpractice cases. Often, both parties retain expert witnesses.

The Discovery Rule

Florida generally applies a two-year statute of limitations to personal injury claims. The statute of limitations sets the deadline by which you must either file a lawsuit, settle your claim, or forever hold your peace. Under the discovery rule,  the two-year statute of limitations hourglass doesn’t begin running until you actually discover your injury and its cause. 

The discovery rule might apply, for example, if your surgeon left a medical instrument inside your body after surgery and you didn’t discover it until a year later. Although the discovery rule also applies to ordinary personal injury claims, it arises much more frequently in medical malpractice claims than it does in most other kinds of claims.

You’ll Need a Lawyer to Help You Navigate the Troubled Waters of a Medical Malpractice Claim

Medical malpractice claims are typically difficult to win. They tend to be scientifically complex, and doctors fight hard to protect their reputations. Nevertheless, successful medical malpractice claims are often worth a lot of money—if you let the right attorney handle your claim. Call Hollander Law Firm at (561) 347-7770 or contact us online to get the help you deserve.