What Is Medical Malpractice?

What is medical malpractice? Medical malpractice occurs when a patient suffers illness, injury, or death due to improper treatment provided by a medical professional, hospital, or clinic that is responsible for the patient’s care. Under established medical standards, hospitals and medical professionals owe their patients a certain duty of care that protects them from harm while under their care.

Doctor with her finger on her lips in a modern hospital.

Medical malpractice is the third-leading cause of death in the United States, accounting for approximately 10% of American deaths. Out of 195 countries assessed, the U.S. ranks below the top 50 in preventing patient deaths from medical errors. In 2020, six Illinois medical centers received a D rating, and one received an F rating, making these facilities some of the most dangerous hospitals in the country. These ratings include medical centers in Chicago. Patients who receive treatment at D-rated and F-rated hospitals have a 92% increased risk of avoidable death.

What Are the 4 Elements of Medical Malpractice?

When you file a medical malpractice claim, you must prove your case in an Illinois civil court. For a successful outcome, you must demonstrate these 4 important elements:

Duty of Care

Doctors take a professional oath to protect their patients from harm while patients are under their care. To prove duty of care, you must provide proof of a doctor-patient relationship during the time when your harm occurred. Evidence may include scheduled office visits and treatments, medical bills, and prescriptions. Duty of care is rarely challenged in court when documented evidence is presented.

Breach of Duty

Breach of the duty of care occurs when a duty of care exists between a doctor and a patient, but the duty of care is not followed. In medical malpractice and medical negligence cases, breach of duty is established by showing that the medical care provided fell below acceptable and reasonable standards.


When a breach of duty is proven, you must show that the breach of duty caused you to suffer damages. Proving causation means proving that your doctor’s negligent actions caused your injury or losses. You must show the injury or loss would not have happened if your medical provider met the standard of care. Although proving causation can be difficult in many cases, it is a necessary element for winning your case.


The final element you must prove is evidence of damages caused by the substandard medical care. Proof may include evidence of medical expenses, lost income or loss of future income due to your inability to work, and proof of physical or mental pain and suffering.

Medical professionals take an oath to protect their patients from harm to the best of their abilities. They are expected to provide a certain standard of care to their patients. The issue of the appropriate medical standard of care is often one of the most contentious in a medical malpractice case, and proving this element in court can be difficult without documented proof.

This requires establishing the appropriate medical standard of care that should apply to the patient’s case and proving how the defendant (the medical professional) fell short of meeting that standard of care. The medical standard of care is compared to the type of care that a prudent, similarly-trained medical professional would have provided to the patient.

Medical Malpractice Laws in Illinois

According to medical statistics, approximately 12 million patients suffer some type of illness or injury caused by medical malpractice every year. It’s believed that the actual number of injured patients may be even higher because many patients don’t realize their illness or injury is due to medical malpractice. As such, many cases go unreported.

What Constitutes Medical Malpractice?

In Illinois, medical malpractice occurs when a patient suffers illness, injury, disease, or death due to the medical treatment of a hospital, medical institution, or healthcare professional including physicians, surgeons, nurses, dentists, pharmacists, and other types of healthcare workers.

Common examples of medical malpractice include the following:

  • Misdiagnosis and delayed diagnosis of a medical condition
  • Improper medical care and treatment
  • Anesthesia and surgical errors
  • Medication and prescription errors
  • Defective medical equipment
  • Failure to follow up with patients

If a patient suffers illness, injury, or death caused by medical malpractice, that patient has the right to pursue legal action against the guilty party through a medical malpractice lawsuit to recover damages. A medical malpractice case is a civil lawsuit handled by a medical malpractice lawyer within the state where the incident occurs. In Illinois, a successful civil lawsuit for medical malpractice may include damages for medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.

What Damages Are Available in Medical Malpractice Claims?

When pursuing a medical malpractice case, an attorney will handle the case and assign monetary damages to the patient’s injuries. Compensation will include both economic and non-economic damage awards to the patient.

In some cases, a fair settlement may be negotiated outside of court. If parties can’t agree on a settlement, the patient’s attorney will proceed with a civil lawsuit and take the matter to court. Whether an insurance settlement is reached or the case goes to civil court, the patients may receive compensation for the following damages:

  • Hospital and medical expenses
  • Rehabilitation and therapy expenses
  • Lost wages and lost future earning capacity
  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional distress
  • Loss of consortium

If a patient dies due to medical malpractice or negligence, his or her family has the legal right to file a wrongful death lawsuit on the patient’s behalf to recover damages.

Is There a Statute of Limitations for Filing a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit?

In Illinois, a patient with a medical malpractice complaint has two years from the time the patient knew or should have known about the injury to file a medical malpractice lawsuit. Patients under the age of 18 have up to eight years to file a medical malpractice lawsuit, as long as the case is filed before the patient reaches the age of 22.

Steps to Take If You Suspect Medical Malpractice

If you suspect you’re a victim of medical malpractice, you should know how to report medical malpractice in Illinois. Consider these 5 important steps:

1.      Get a Second Opinion – A second opinion from another medical professional can help to confirm whether medical malpractice has occurred. For the most accurate opinion, talk to a professional who specializes in the field related to your medical issue. Additionally, a second opinion can provide options for further treatment.

2.      Get a Copy of Your Medical Records – All patients have the legal right to access, review, and obtain copies of their medical records. Ask for all relevant documents such as office visits, doctor’s notes, medications, and lab results. Having a copy of your medical records will be important if you decide to take legal action with a medical malpractice lawsuit.

3.      Take Photos of Your Injuries – If you have physical injuries like wounds, scars, bruised tissues, or signs of infections, take photos of them. Keep a journal that details improvements or worsened conditions that require special care. You can document in your journal how your medical condition is impacting your daily life.

4.      Do Not Contact the Doctor in Question – If you’re considering legal action, do not contact the doctor or medical professional responsible for your injury before speaking to your attorney. Any conversations or interactions with the healthcare provider can harm your legal case. The responsible party can use any medical information discussed to build a defense.

5.      Find an Experienced Medical Malpractice Lawyer – Medical malpractice lawyers have knowledge of state and federal laws and are familiar with precedent cases that could help support your argument. They can guide you through the legal process, ensure that all deadlines are met on time, and help negotiate settlements or judgments. When interviewing a potential medical malpractice lawyer, ask questions about medical malpractice and his or her experience handling similar cases. Make sure you understand how he or she plans to approach your case. Many Illinois medical malpractice attorneys offer a free case review to evaluate your claim and the potential outcome of your lawsuit.

Due to the complex issues surrounding medical malpractice, it’s essential to hire a medical malpractice attorney who has legal experience in these types of injury cases. Proving that a hospital or healthcare professional provided substandard care that led to illness, injury, or death of a patient requires knowledge of medical malpractice law and a lawyer who understands Illinois laws and how to file a medical malpractice claim in civil court. Unfortunately, many states have created procedural loopholes and roadblocks for medical malpractice injury victims to discourage the practice of filing frivolous injury claims in civil court. It’s important to work with the right Illinois medical malpractice attorney who can win your case in court.

Chicago personal injury and workers’ compensation attorney Howard Ankin has a passion for justice and a relentless commitment to defending injured victims throughout the Chicagoland area. With decades of experience achieving justice on behalf of the people of Chicago, Howard has earned a reputation as a proven leader in and out of the courtroom. Respected by peers and clients alike, Howard’s multifaceted approach to the law and empathetic nature have secured him a spot as an influential figure in the Illinois legal system.

Years of Experience: More than 30 years
Illinois Registration Status: Active
Bar & Court Admissions: Illinois State Bar Association, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois, U.S. District Court, Central District of Illinois
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