What’s the Difference Between Medical Malpractice and Personal Injury?

If you’ve been injured by someone else, there are two general ways that you can pursue compensation: personal injury claims and medical malpractice claims. These two kinds of civil liability claims have many overlaps, but they are not the same. 

Understanding the differences makes all the difference in your ability to achieve justice for your losses. Below, we break down what both types of claims are, their differences, and what you should do to determine which type of claim you should file. 

What Is a Personal Injury?

Personal injury is the broadest type of liability. It covers any harm to your person, including physical injuries, emotional problems, or psychological damage. The claim allows you to hold the person or organization that harmed you accountable for your losses. 

Examples of these claims include:

  • Slip and fall accidents: If you fall down poorly maintained stairs at a business, you may have grounds for a premises liability injury claim. 
  • Car crashes: If another driver hits your car and hurts you, they are likely liable for your injuries. 
  • Defective products: A company that makes a defective product can be held liable for the injuries it causes to consumers. 
  • Assaults: If someone chooses to punch you and gives you a concussion, they could be liable for your medical expenses and other associated losses.

What Is Medical Malpractice?

Medical malpractice is a specific type of personal injury claim with higher standards. It is not enough to be injured during a medical procedure. Only harm caused by a healthcare professional’s negligence or malice while treating you may be considered malpractice. 

This is because most medical care comes with some element of assumed risk, and the law does not want to penalize doctors for unavoidable problems. For example, surgeries can have unexpected complications; the surgeon should not be punished for this. Still, malpractice claims allow you to hold them accountable when the issue could have been avoided. 

Examples of medical malpractice claims include:

  • Surgical mistakes: If a surgeon leaves behind a medical implement during a procedure or performs the wrong surgery, they are responsible for the harm they caused.
  • Birth injuries: Causing harm to a baby or mother during labor can be grounds for a malpractice claim
  • Pharmacological errors: Providing a patient with the wrong medication, either through a prescription error or a mistake at the pharmacy, is a serious example of malpractice.
  • Misdiagnoses: Ignoring your concerns, refusing to order tests, or otherwise failing to perform due diligence and misdiagnosing you is also malpractice.

Medical Malpractice vs. Personal Injury Claims

Within these two types of claims, there are many differences. Here’s how they compare in four key areas:

Purpose of the Claim

All civil claims aim to seek compensation for the losses you have suffered. When you receive an injury, you can file a civil suit to pursue financial compensation for losses like:

  • Current medical costs: The medical bills you have already accrued from your injury.
  • Future medical expenses or accommodations: The cost of any future healthcare necessary for your recovery or life, such as ongoing therapy or renovations to your home to account for reduced mobility.
  • Time you need to take off work: Funds to cover the earnings you’ve lost because you need sick leave or future pay you will not receive because you can no longer work.

You can also seek non-economic damages or compensation for losses not immediately demonstrable with a dollar amount. These are often known as “pain and suffering” damages. For instance, if you have lost a leg, you can likely seek non-economic damages for your new, reduced quality of life.

Basis for Liability

Personal injury is the broader of the two claims. Anyone who causes you physical, emotional, or mental harm due to their negligence or malice could be liable for your losses. This includes negligent businesses as well as individuals. You have the grounds for a claim if the following four criteria are met:

  • The other party had a duty of care toward you.
  • They were negligent or malicious in breaking that duty.
  • You were harmed.
  • That harm was caused by their action or inaction.

However, medical malpractice claims have higher standards. You must demonstrate that:

  • The provider was responsible for your care.
  • They failed to meet the established standard of care.
  • You were harmed because of this.

In other words, suffering an adverse consequence from your care is not enough. You also need to prove that the provider was not living up to their responsibilities as a medical professional, or they cannot have committed malpractice.


The higher standards for malpractice claims, by nature, make them more complex. You must provide significantly greater evidence regarding your claim than in a standard personal injury case. In particular, you must be able to demonstrate that you did not receive adequate care, or your lawsuit will be dismissed.

Consequences of a Claim

In both types of claims, you aim to receive compensation for your losses. That compensation will come from the liable party or their insurance. You may negotiate with the liable party to determine the amount you will receive or go to court to have a judge or jury award damages. 

Successful medical malpractice claims often lead to greater damages for two reasons. First, malpractice usually involves significantly greater injuries than standard injury claims. Second, healthcare providers and organizations carry significant insurance policies, so there is a greater chance that you receive the entire amount awarded. 

What to Do If You Have a Personal Injury or Medical Malpractice Claim

If you have suffered an injury and are unsure what type of claim it may be, it is time to get help. You should contact the expert California personal injury and medical malpractice attorneys at the Law Offices of Michael Oran, APC. Our skilled lawyers have over 30 years of experience in all types of personal injury law. We can help you determine the best steps for your claim, no matter what. Learn more by scheduling your consultation with our Los Angeles medical malpractice law firm today.

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