Defining Medical Malpractice

Medical malpractice is when a health care provider – doctor, hospital, technician, nurse, surgeon, anesthesiologist, radiologist, healthcare professional, etc. – commits an error or fails to act in a way that deviates from the accepted standard of care, resulting in injury, and in some instances, death to the patient. Standard of care simply means what the average qualified provider would have done under the same circumstances.

What are Examples of Medical Malpractice Cases? What is Medical Malpractice in Massachusetts

Imagine a patient is in the hospital and undergoes an x-ray because the patient is experiencing chest pain. The radiologist reviews the x-ray and writes a report stating that the x-ray is “normal” with no cause for concern. In reality, the x-rays shows that the patient has a collection of fluid that requires immediate investigation and workup to make sure that the patient is not bleeding internally. Rather than undergoing an appropriate workup, the patient is discharged from the hospital but suffers severe injuries due to internal bleeding that is not diagnosed and corrected in a timely manner. This is just one example of medical malpractice where the healthcare provider’s misdiagnosis results in injury and/or death to the patient.

Other types of potential medical malpractice cases include:

  • Failure to diagnose a patient’s serious medical condition;
  • Providing incorrect treatment to a patient;
  • Prematurely discharging a patient from the hospital;
  • Prescribing or administering the wrong medication to the patient;
  • Leaving medical instruments inside a patient’s body following surgery;
  • Operating on the wrong part of the patient’s body;
  • Ignoring abnormal or worrying laboratory results;
  • Not following up on abnormal imaging study results;
  • Failure to follow up on test results;
  • Failure to order proper testing to rule out a dangerous medical condition;
  • Anesthesia injuries; and
  • Injuries to a baby or mother during birth.

These are only a few examples out of many.

What are Legal Elements of a Medical Malpractice Claim in Massachusetts?

According to Massachusetts law, a patient bringing a medical malpractice lawsuit must prove the following elements:

  • The medical provider owed a duty of care to the patient. In a medical malpractice case, the patient must prove that a doctor-patient or provider-patient relationship existed between the plaintiff (the patient/injured party) and the defendant(s) (the healthcare provider). This is usually the easiest element to prove in any medical malpractice case.
  • A violation of the standard of care. The standard of care refers to the accepted practices, clinical judgment, and procedures that should be carried out in a specific medical situation. It is what an average doctor would do under the same circumstances. In a medical malpractice case, the plaintiff has to prove that the defendant(s) deviated from or failed to follow the standard of care. That is, the defendant did not do what should have been done under the same medical circumstances. Many times, a patient has a “bad outcome” from a surgery. Unless that bad outcome was caused by a negligent act or failure to comply with the standard of care, there can be no case under Massachusetts law.
  • An injury to the patient was caused by the medical provider’s violation of the standard of care. To have a medical malpractice claim in Massachusetts, it is not enough that the healthcare provider violated the standard of care. The patient must also demonstrate that the violation causally resulted in an injury to them. In other words, the patient must prove that if the violation did not occur, then the injury would not have occurred or that there would have been a substantial change in the outcome or prognosis. There is also no medical malpractice case if the violation of the standard of care did not lead to an injury, no matter how bad the negligence was. If for example a provider fails to read and act upon abnormal lab results but another provider thankfully does, there are no injuries caused by the first provider’s negligence and likely there is no claim.
  • The injury to the patient resulted in damages. Damages refer to the losses the patient suffered as a result of the medical malpractice. In Massachusetts, damages in medical malpractice cases can be calculated by including medical bills, lost earning capacity, and pain and suffering. Besides the damages sustained by the patient, the patient’s immediate family, i.e., their spouse and children, may be able to bring claims for loss of consortium. These damages are for the changes in relationship between the patient and their immediate family that resulted from the medical malpractice. Because of the time and expense of bringing a medical malpractice claim in Massachusetts, cases are not typically brought unless there are substantial damages that make a claim financially viable.

Medical malpractice cases can last up to a few years and so, if you would like to learn more about personal injury or medical malpractice cases, please refer to our “What to Expect” page.

If you believe you or a loved one received substandard or negligent medical care, SUGARMAN has the personal injury lawyers who can help. Please call us at (617) 542-1000, email us at, or fill out a Contact Form.