When you hear the word “malpractice,” what’s the first image that comes to mind? A doctor performing surgery on the wrong limb or organ? A prescription for the wrong medication? Medical malpractice is a persistent issue in the legal landscape, but did you know that there are other kinds of professional malpractice that can also lead to litigation?
Medical malpractice can take different forms. Malpractice can take expected forms, like an incorrect diagnosis or a delayed diagnosis of a problem, or performing surgery on the wrong body part. Medical malpractice can also include prescribing the wrong medication, failing to take a complete medical history from a patient, failing to account for allergies or adverse reactions, overlooking symptoms, or discharging a patient from the hospital too soon.
A lawyer who fails to provide a client with competent representation, either on purpose or through negligence, commits legal malpractice. Malpractice can take the form of failing to file documents in a timely manner, misusing a client’s funds, failing to appear in court on behalf of a client, or being careless when preparing or reviewing documents.
Architects or engineers may be liable for malpractice if they design (or even just review) a structure that proves to be unsafe or causes an injury. They also may be liable if they fail to comply with zoning regulations or building permit requirements.
Because accountants are also held to professional standards, and because there is an expectation of trust, accountants can also be liable for malpractice. Accounting malpractice may take the form of bad tax advice or fraudulent or erroneous tax returns.
While malpractice claims most commonly involve professions that involve medical, legal, or financial duties, the type of profession is less relevant than the standard of care. The key to any malpractice claim is a failure to follow the “standard of care” for the profession, which means that the doctor (or lawyer or engineer or accountant) did not do what any reasonable member of the profession would do in the same situation.
Kathleen Davies is a Staff Writer for GetLegal.com. She is a graduate of the University of Michigan Law School and has practiced law and taught legal writing and advocacy.