Types of Medical Malpractice Claims

An overview of the common types of medical negligence claims.

Most medical malpractice suits can be put into one of the following main categories of physician negligence:

  • misdiagnosis
  • negligence affecting pregnancy and childbirth
  • mistakes in prescribing or administering medication
  • surgical errors

Let’s look at each one of these types of malpractice a little more closely.


Recent studies have found that misdiagnosing a condition is the leading type of physician error, and that the five most commonly misdiagnosed diseases or conditions are infections, tumors or masses inside the body, heart attack, blood clot in the lung (pulmonary embolism), and heart disease.

Misdiagnosis can occur with complex conditions (like those listed above) because patients do not always have the textbook list of symptoms. The consequences of misdiagnosis can be life-threatening or even fatal because the physician has been spending valuable time treating the wrong condition.

For more, see Medical Malpractice: Misdiagnosis and Failure to Diagnose.

Negligence Affecting Pregnancy and Childbirth (Obstetric/Gynecological Negligence)

So much can go wrong during a pregnancy and delivery that, even in the twenty-first century, medical negligence affecting both the mother and/or child during pregnancy and childbirth is still a problem.

Some of the leading types of medical malpractice during pregnancy and childbirth are due to the following medical problems:

  • Excessive and unexplained vaginal bleeding
  • Placental abnormalities (placenta previa or placental abruption)
  • Mother’s gestational diabetes
  • Excessively long labor that causes injury to the mother and the baby
  • Preeclampsia
  • Hemorrhage of the mother during pregnancy or labor
  • Surgical negligence during a Caesarian section
  • Negligence in administering anesthesia during labor or a Caesarian section
  • Premature babies
  • Shoulder dystocia or other nerve injury of the baby during labor

These are unfortunately just some of the problems that can occur during pregnancy and labor. However, it is important to note once again that pregnancy is complex and that, just because a pregnancy and/or delivery did not go as expected does not automatically mean that the obstetrician has committed malpractice.

Medical malpractice, like most personal injury cases, is always based on negligence. The patient can only win a medical malpractice lawsuit if he/she proves that the physician was negligent (i.e., the doctor did not act reasonably or with the skill and care that a reasonably qualified doctor would have demonstrated under similar circumstances.).

Mistakes in Prescribing or Administering Prescription Drugs

Medical malpractice relating to medication is extremely common. Medication errors can result from administering the wrong medication or from administering too much or too little medication.

Medication errors can also be caused by the physician prescribing the wrong medication or the wrong amount, the pharmacy giving out the wrong medication, or the nurse or physician’s assistant administering the wrong medication or the wrong amount.

It is shockingly easy to administer the wrong amount of medication. If, for example, any of the health care providers in the entire medication chain (from doctor to nurse to pharmacist) misses or transposes a decimal point, the patient could be administered ten or a hundred times too much (or too little) medication.

To learn more, see Prescription Drug or Medication Errors as Medical Malpractice.

Surgical Errors

Mistakes by the surgeon or anesthesiologist during the surgery are not unusual. The most common surgical errors are damaging a nerve, failing to control bleeding, and leaving a foreign body (like a medical sponge) inside the patient. But surgeons have also, believe it or not, performed the wrong operation, sometimes on the wrong part of the body or occasionally on the wrong patient entirely. The most common locations for surgical error are the gastrointestinal tract and the spine.

Anesthesia-related negligence usually has to do with giving the patient too much anesthesia, too little anesthesia, or the wrong type of anesthesia (some people are allergic to certain types of anesthesia). But anesthesia-related negligence can also relate to patient care during the surgery. For example, patients must be periodically moved during certain types of surgery to avoid putting too much pressure on specific parts of the body, and the anesthesiologist is often responsible for having the patient moved. One problem that is well known is blindness caused by long back surgery in which the patient is on his/her stomach during the surgery. If the patient is not moved periodically, the patient’s long stay in the prone position can injure the optic nerve, and blindness can result.

For more information, see our article on surgical malpractice.

To learn more about the legal issues in a medical malpractice case, see AllLaw’s section on Medical Malpractice.

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