Professional Malpractice Law

An Overview of Professional Malpractice Law

Professionals are accredited experts who are hired to perform specialized tasks. An architect is hired to design a house, a dentist is hired to care for teeth and an accountant is hired to handle a company's financial books. In all these examples, the professional is obligated to live up to certain responsibilities.

What Kinds of Professionals Can Be Sued for Malpractice?

The most common types of professional malpractice claims are filed against doctors and other health care professionals. Medical malpractice claims often involve surgical mistakes, misdiagnoses or medication errors. Dental malpractice, chiropractic malpractice and therapy malpractice are other types of medical malpractice claims. Professional malpractice claims may also be filed against other types of professionals such as:

  • Architects
  • Pharmacists
  • Brokers
  • Mortuaries
  • Accountants

Malpractice Definition and Standard of Care

Professionals can commit malpractice if they fail to use the requisite standard of care and this failure results in harm. The standard depends on their specific profession and the typical expertise and skills that are expected of a similarly situated professional. The standard of care that is owed by a family practice doctor will differ from that of a specialized oncologist, for example.

An architect who designs a house featuring elements that do not comply with local building code regulations could be sued for professional malpractice if the owner is forced to spend additional sums to bring it up to code. Professional malpractice cases could also involve certified public accountants who make miscalculations on a business tax return. Same goes for an insurance broker who doesn’t obtain the coverage requested by their clients.

Negligence Law

Almost all professional malpractice cases involve the legal theory of negligence. Negligence refers to one’s actions that result in physical, mental or financial harm or loss to someone else. Non-professionals may have been negligent if they cause harm by failing to conduct themselves in a reasonably prudent manner, but professionals owe a higher duty of care to their clients.

Once establishing the standard of care for a profession, a plaintiff may prove that the defendant's actions or inactions fell short and caused harm. Negligence may be established by proving that a qualified professional in the same situation would have reasonably foreseen the harm that resulted.

Proving Damages in a Professional Malpractice Case

A key component of a professional malpractice law is damages -- showing that the defendant's conduct caused the plaintiff to incur unnecessary additional costs. Some examples could include:

  • Hospital expenses incurred by a patient because of a doctor’s medical error
  • Construction costs from a remodel that was needed after a negligent home design
  • Attorney fees that were incurred after an accountant's errors resulted in an audit
  • The cost of replacement fillings that were needed after inadequate dental work

Litigation and Settlements

The process begins when a plaintiff files a lawsuit. If the defendant believes that the plaintiff has a strong case, a monetary settlement may be offered in order to avoid lengthy litigation and the attendant publicity. A lawyer can assist a plaintiff in determining whether to accept the offer or to continue pursuing the case in court.

The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.

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