Home / Blog / The Difference Between Negligence and Malpractice

Medical professionals have a responsibility to deliver medical treatment according to an established standard of care. These standards are what a minimally competent physician in the same field would do in the same situation with the same resources.  In other words, a standard of care outlines what actions a medical professional should pursue under similar circumstances as determined by research and experience. If medical professionals fail to follow an established standard of care, resulting in a negative outcome, their actions may be negligence or malpractice.

Under Indiana law, malpractice is a breach of contract based on healthcare or professional services that a healthcare professional provided, or should have provided, to a patient. Anyone believing they are a malpractice victim should consult Wagner Reese, the Indianapolis medical malpractice lawyers. 

What Is Medical Negligence in Indianapolis?

Negligence is the failure to take reasonable care of something. Medical negligence is an act of carelessness that occurs when a healthcare provider fails to follow a medical standard of care, resulting in injury or illness. Maybe, the physician misdiagnoses an illness or recommends an unnecessary surgery, not on purpose, but by accident. If the provider knowingly deviates from an established standard of care, medical negligence can turn into malpractice.

What Is Medical Malpractice in Indianapolis?

Indiana’s medical malpractice law stipulates what is necessary to establish medical malpractice. To qualify as medical malpractice, the action must adhere to the following criteria:

Duty of Care

No matter the profession, there is a duty of care requirement. For example, certified public accountants (CPAs) have a duty of care to provide a level of judgment, prudence, determination, and service to clients under similar circumstances without causing harm. In essence, duty of care means performing services with the best interest of the client or patient in mind.

Likewise, healthcare professionals must perform to a standard of care. The guidelines may vary depending on the situation, the medical specialty, and standard practices. The relationship between the medical practitioner and a patient must demonstrate that the practitioner owed the patient a duty of care.

Breach of Duty of Care

Whether it is the result of negligence or malpractice, the injury or harm must be because of a breach of duty of care. In other words, a patient must establish that the medical professional did not meet the standard of care for patients in similar circumstances. Risk is part of every medical procedure, and sometimes that risk leads to a negative outcome unrelated to negligence. 

Deciding whether the physician’s actions contributed to the outcome is weighed against the accepted risk for the procedure or diagnosis. Establishing a breach of duty requires collecting medical information, documentation, and expert testimony. This data collection can be time-consuming, and expert testimony can be conflicting. That’s why consulting an medical malpractice attorney in Indianapolis is essential to recovering the compensation you deserve.

Review Panel

Part of Indiana’s Medical Malpractice law established a review panel to address the concept of breach of duty. A peer review panel, consisting of three Indiana-licensed healthcare providers and one attorney, makes up the review panel. Only the healthcare providers can vote on whether the submitted claim is a breach of duty.

Both parties submit evidence for review. The panel studies the information to determine whether the actions were within the standard of care for the specific situation. The panel then issues its opinion, which can be used in court. With the help of medical malpractice lawyers Indianapolis residents can prepare the information for panel review.


Proving malpractice causality means establishing that the healthcare provider deviated from the standard of care, and that deviation resulted in harm or injury to the patient. Causality can be obvious such as removal of the wrong organ or amputation of a healthy limb, but most cases are not that straightforward. 

Medical diagnosis and treatment are highly complex, and attributing a negative outcome to a single cause such as physician error can be difficult. For example, a patient undergoes surgery and is discharged according to the established standard of care. Within 24 hours, the patient is in the emergency department, suffering a stroke. Is the stroke related to the surgery?

Financial or Intangible Losses

Negligence or malpractice must result in financial or intangible losses to the patient. Suppose you did not receive the standard level of care for a postoperative procedure, but your recovery proceeded normally with a positive outcome. Regardless of the duty of care breach, you cannot claim medical negligence or malpractice because you did not suffer a financial loss, physical impairment, or emotional distress.

What Is the Difference Between Negligence and Malpractice?

The difference between negligence and malpractice is a matter of degree. If unintentional but avoidable error caused the injuries, the provider was negligent. If the injuries resulted from intentional recklessness, it is malpractice.

Medical Malpractice

A patient arrives in the emergency department complaining of chest pains. The attending physician runs a series of tests that come back negative. The patient is sent home, suffers a heart attack, and dies. It’s determined that the ER doctor failed to run tests included in the established standard of care. The physician knowingly deviated from the established protocol, and the patient died as a result.

Medical Negligence

In the same scenario, the ER doctor completes all the tests listed in the standard of care but still discharges the patient, and the patient dies. It’s determined that the physician misread the test results. The physician made an unintentional but avoidable error.

In emergency situations, mistakes can happen. Sometimes, it’s because of fatigue and understaffing. Maybe, it’s inexperience. Whatever the underlying cause, the error was unintentional. However, it’s malpractice when a physician knowingly deviates from the standard of care. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to distinguish without the help of an experienced law firm.

Can a Medical Injury Be Both Negligence and Malpractice?

A medical injury may be the result of negligence or malpractice. It depends on intent. Medical injury cases begin with negligence because the healthcare provider failed to deliver an acceptable standard of care. It becomes malpractice if the medical professional knows the risks but continues with a course of action that leads to injury.

What to Do If You Are Injured Due to Negligence or Malpractice

If you or someone you know suffers a personal injury because of medical negligence or malpractice, contact our Indianapolis medical malpractice attorneys for a free consultation. Our lawyers will review your case and outline a course of action that complies with Indiana law. 


This content has been reviewed by the attorneys at the Wagner Reese offices.