Medical Liability Terminology That Health Care Professionals Should Know

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Medical liability terminology for health care professionals

You probably learned basic legal terminology while you were getting your degree and other training, but if you are ever involved in a malpractice lawsuit or claim, you may find yourself overwhelmed by unfamiliar words and phrases.

Here is a glossary that covers many of the legal and insurance terms you might hear in relation to a malpractice case.

Affidavit – A sworn written statement or declaration of facts.

Allegation – In a legal proceeding, this is a statement of the claim against the defendant that the person making the complaint intends to prove.

Answer – The written reply by the defendant to an allegation, which denies or admits to it.

Arbitration – A process for resolving a legal dispute without involving the court system.

Assumption of risk – This is an allegation that the defendant was aware of the danger of the actions they were taking but chose to take the risk anyway.

Case law – The body of previous decisions of appellate courts which forms the basis for law.

Civil lawsuit – A lawsuit that does not seek to prove criminal liability. Many medical malpractice and personal injury cases fall under the umbrella of civil suits.

Comparative negligence – In cases where there is more than one defendant, this refers to the degree of fault of each accused party.

Compensation – Money awarded by the court to be paid to the plaintiff by the defendant to make up for an injury, damage or wrong inflicted by the defendant’s actions or negligence.

Complainant – Another word for plaintiff.

Cross-examination – At a deposition, hearing or trial, this is the questioning of one party’s witness by the opposing party.

Damages – Money awarded to a plaintiff by the court for injuries or losses suffered by them due to the wrongdoing of the defendant. Where compensation is designed to right an injustice, damages can vary significantly and take the form of non-compensatory damages including punitive damages.

Default – Failure to file documents or appear in a civil case during a specified time period.

Defendant – The person sued in a civil case or accused in a criminal case.

Deposition – Pre-trial testimony from a witness.

Disciplinary hearing – A hearing or licensing review by a professional regulating authority, government agency or licensing board.

Discovery – The process that allows one party the pre-trial opportunity to review the evidence being presented at a trial by the opposing party.

Dismissal – The order to dismiss a case. In a dismissal with prejudice, the court is saying that the plaintiff cannot sue again. In a dismissal without prejudice, the court leaves open the possibility that the plaintiff can sue again for the same cause.

Established customary standard of care – This refers to the level of skill and care that the average medical professional would provide to a patient in a similar situation.

Evidence – Any fact presented to the court, including objects, documents and written or spoken testimony by witnesses.

Exhibit – Items offered into evidence at a trial, including documents or physical objects.

Incompetence – Being unfit or legally unqualified to perform a necessary duty.

Liability – Legal responsibility.

Litigation – Using the court system to settle a dispute.

Medical incident – Any error, omission or act that takes place in the course of providing professional services.

Medical negligence – The failure of a medical professional to conform to standards of conduct for their job duties, based on how a reasonable person with the required knowledge and skills would act in the same situation.

Misdiagnosis – A failure by a health care professional to correctly identify and diagnose a patient’s medical condition.

Negligence – An act or omission by a health care professional that causes an unacceptable level of treatment based on accepted practice standards within the medical community, leading to injury or death to the patient.

Prescription error – A variety of malpractice where a patient is harmed by medication, which may include being given the wrong medication, being provided the wrong dosage or being given medication at the wrong time.

Plaintiff – The party who alleges that they have suffered harm due to the defendant’s negligence or actions.

Pleadings – Written statements of the allegations and claims of each party in a legal dispute.

Professional services – The services someone performs as a health care professional, for which they are trained, licensed and qualified.

Subpoena – A court-issued document ordering a person to appear and provide testimony or evidence.

Wrongful death – A death caused by the malice, recklessness or negligence of another person.