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Physician negligence and misconduct: two separate issues that often go together for patients, P.1

Physician misconduct and negligence often go hand in hand, despite the fact that there is a different avenue for handling each. Negligence refers to malpractice, which is dealt with through the tort system in the courts. Misconduct, by contrast, is handled by state medical boards, which are responsible for issues of physician licensing and discipline.

Medical malpractice litigation can be an effective way for an injured patient to obtain compensation for damages suffered at the hands of a negligent physician, but it can be a costly and time-consuming process. Unless a case settles outside court, there are costs associated with court filings, payments for expert witnesses, and expenses associated with legal representation. These costs can add up. 

In medical malpractice litigation, it is up to the patient as the plaintiff to prove each element of the claims brought against a physician, and doing so is not always easy. Not every case in which a physician makes a mistake will qualify as medical malpractice. To have a meritorious case, it must be shown that the physician breached an established standard of medical care and that this caused harm to the patient. Standards of care are a frequent source of disagreement in medical malpractice litigation, and establishing causation can be difficult depending on the circumstances of the case.

Then there is the issue of damages. Even when a plaintiff can put forward a meritorious claim, it is important to consider what the likely payout will be. Damages in medical malpractice litigation are determined by a variety of factors. In some cases, the damages a plaintiff is likely to win by pursuing a malpractice case may not outweigh the costs of litigation.

None of this is to discourage patients who have been injured by a careless physician from pursuing litigation. Rather, it highlights the importance of consulting with an experienced attorney to have one's case thoroughly evaluated before deciding that to pursuing litigation. In our next post, we'll look at the physician discipline process as a potential way to seek justice for patients who are unable to pursue litigation. 

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