On occasion a physician or hospital can be liable for negligence, rather than medical malpractice. An example of this would be if a physician knocked over a tray of instruments in the ER, and the scalpel landed on the patient's foot, causing a severe wound. In this case the physician was not actually engaged in practicing medicine at the time of the incident. Another example would be if a member of the nursing staff placed a heating pad on a patient's arm, then left and forgot about it, causing a severe burn. This is an example of negligence.
Malpractice, on the other hand, involves medical care or decisions relating to medical care. The failure of a physician to order a follow up test on a patient exhibiting signs of a serious cancer, for example, is medical malpractice.
While the distinction may seem small, it is significant. Where negligence lawsuits have a three year statute of limitations, medical malpractice actions only have a two and 1/2 year statute of limitations. In addition there are hurdles that a plaintiff must overcome prior to filing a lawsuit for medical malpractice, including obtaining a review of the case by a medical doctor and submitting what is known as a “certificate of merit,” attesting that a medical professional has reviewed the case and believes it to have merit.
Whether you believe that you have been the victim of negligence or medical malpractice the best advise is to speak with a qualified attorney, sooner than later, to discuss your options before it is too late.