What Is Medical Malpractice?

What is medical malpractice? Medical malpractice occurs when a healthcare professional deviates from the standard of care, causing harm to a patient. This deviation can involve errors in diagnosis, treatment, aftercare, or health management. In Illinois, medical malpractice falls under personal injury law, governed by a combination of statutes, regulations, and case law designed to protect patients and ensure high standards in medical care.

Were you injured by a doctor’s negligence? Call Chute, O’Malley, Knobloch, & Turcy, LLC in Naperville to start your claim. 312-775-0042.

Illinois Laws Governing Medical Malpractice

In Illinois, medical malpractice is defined under the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure. Medical professionals, including doctors, nurses, dentists, and hospitals, can be held liable for injuries caused by negligent actions or omissions. The Illinois Medical Malpractice statute outlines the legal requirements for filing a claim, including the need for a plaintiff to establish that the healthcare provider deviated from the standard of care.

Statute of Limitations

The statute of limitations for medical malpractice cases in Illinois is generally two years from the date the patient knew or should have known of the injury. However, no action can be brought more than four years after the date on which the act or omission occurred, regardless of when the injury was discovered. For minors, the statute of limitations is extended, allowing them to file a lawsuit until their 22nd birthday if the malpractice occurred before their 18th birthday.

Certificate of Merit

Illinois law requires that a medical malpractice complaint be accompanied by an affidavit from the plaintiff’s attorney. This affidavit must state that the attorney has consulted with a qualified healthcare professional who has reviewed the case and determined that there is a reasonable and meritorious cause for filing the lawsuit. This certificate of merit is intended to prevent frivolous lawsuits.

Common Medical Malpractice Injuries

Medical malpractice encompasses a variety of injuries that patients may suffer due to the negligence or errors of healthcare professionals. Understanding the common types of medical malpractice injuries can help in recognizing when such incidents occur and the potential legal implications. 

Surgical Errors

Surgical errors are among the most dramatic and severe forms of medical malpractice. These can occur during any surgery, whether elective or emergency. Common surgical errors include:

  • Wrong-Site Surgery: Operating on the wrong part of the body.
  • Wrong Procedure: Performing an incorrect surgical procedure.
  • Retained Surgical Instruments: Leaving surgical tools or sponges inside the patient’s body.
  • Nerve Damage: Accidental cutting or damaging of nerves during surgery.
  • Anesthesia Errors: Mistakes in administering anesthesia, leading to complications such as brain damage or death.

Such errors can result in significant physical harm, prolonged recovery periods, additional surgeries, or even death. They often lead to severe emotional and psychological trauma for patients and their families.

Misdiagnosis and Delayed Diagnosis

Misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis can have serious consequences, as it often leads to incorrect or delayed treatment. Common conditions that are misdiagnosed or diagnosed too late include:

  • Cancer: Delay in diagnosing cancer can allow the disease to progress to an advanced stage, reducing the chances of successful treatment.
  • Heart Attacks: Misdiagnosing a heart attack as a less severe condition can prevent timely intervention, leading to severe heart damage or death.
  • Strokes: Delayed diagnosis of a stroke can result in permanent neurological damage and disability.

Misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis can exacerbate a patient’s condition, causing unnecessary suffering, increased medical costs, and reduced survival rates.

Medication Errors

Medication errors are mistakes in prescribing, dispensing, or administering drugs. These errors can include:

  • Wrong Medication: Prescribing or dispensing the incorrect drug.
  • Incorrect Dosage: Providing too much or too little of a medication.
  • Drug Interactions: Failing to account for harmful interactions between prescribed drugs.
  • Allergic Reactions: Not recognizing or ignoring known patient allergies.

Such errors can lead to adverse drug reactions, ineffective treatment, overdose, or serious health complications.

Birth Injuries

Birth injuries can affect both the mother and the newborn, and are often the result of negligent prenatal care or mistakes during delivery. Common birth injuries include:

  • Cerebral Palsy: Often caused by oxygen deprivation during birth.
  • Brachial Plexus Injuries: Damage to the nerves controlling the arm and hand, usually due to excessive pulling during delivery.
  • Fractures: Broken bones during a difficult delivery.
  • Maternal Injuries: Severe tearing, excessive bleeding, or infections due to improper care.

These injuries can lead to lifelong disabilities, requiring extensive medical treatment and therapy.

Anesthesia Errors

Anesthesia errors are critical mistakes related to the administration of anesthesia, which can occur before, during, or after surgery. Common anesthesia errors include:

  • Incorrect Dosage: Administering too much or too little anesthesia.
  • Failure to Monitor: Not properly monitoring the patient’s vital signs during surgery.
  • Delayed Anesthesia Delivery: Administering anesthesia too late, causing pain or distress during the procedure.
  • Allergic Reactions: Failing to identify and prevent allergic reactions to anesthetic agents.

Such errors can result in severe complications, including brain damage, cardiac arrest, or death.

Failure to Treat

Failure to treat occurs when a healthcare provider correctly diagnoses a condition but fails to provide adequate treatment. This can involve:

  • Not Ordering Necessary Tests: Failure to conduct follow-up tests to monitor a condition.
  • Ignoring Test Results: Overlooking or misinterpreting critical diagnostic results.
  • Inadequate Treatment Plans: Providing insufficient or inappropriate treatment for a diagnosed condition.

Failure to treat can cause a patient’s condition to worsen, leading to preventable complications and further health deterioration.

Infections and Sepsis

Hospital-acquired infections (HAIs) and sepsis can result from negligent care, such as:

  • Unsanitary Conditions: Poor hygiene practices in hospitals or clinics.
  • Improper Sterilization: Failure to sterilize surgical instruments or medical equipment.
  • Delayed Diagnosis of Infection: Not identifying or treating infections promptly.

Infections can lead to severe complications, extended hospital stays, and sometimes death, particularly if they progress to sepsis.

Medical malpractice injuries are diverse and can have lifelong impacts on patients and their families. Understanding these common injuries is crucial for recognizing malpractice and seeking appropriate legal recourse. Each type of injury—whether from surgical errors, misdiagnosis, medication mistakes, birth injuries, anesthesia errors, failure to treat, or infections—underscores the importance of vigilance, proper care, and adherence to medical standards by healthcare providers. In Illinois, victims of medical malpractice have legal avenues to seek compensation for their injuries, ensuring accountability and promoting higher standards in medical care.

How to Prove Medical Malpractice

Proving medical malpractice in a lawsuit or claim involves several critical steps:

Establishing the Standard of Care 

The plaintiff must demonstrate what the appropriate standard of care was under the circumstances. The standard of care is typically defined as the level and type of care that a reasonably competent and skilled healthcare professional, with a similar background and in the same medical community, would have provided.

Breach of the Standard of Care

The plaintiff must show that the healthcare provider breached the established standard of care. This involves demonstrating that the provider’s actions or omissions fell below the accepted medical standard. Expert testimony is often required to establish this breach.


It is not enough to prove that the healthcare provider was negligent; the plaintiff must also show that the breach of the standard of care directly caused his or her injury. This means proving that the injury would not have occurred if the provider had adhered to the proper standard of care.


The plaintiff must demonstrate that he or she suffered actual damages as a result of the medical malpractice. Damages can include medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and loss of earning capacity.

Expert Testimony

Expert testimony is a cornerstone of medical malpractice cases. Experts in the relevant field are brought in to provide opinions on the standard of care, how it was breached, and the causal link between the breach and the plaintiff’s injuries. In Illinois, the qualifications of these experts are critical, and they must have experience and knowledge relevant to the specific medical issue in question.

Challenges in Medical Malpractice Cases

Medical malpractice cases often involve complex medical issues that can be difficult for jurors to understand. Simplifying these issues without losing the nuances is a challenge.

Healthcare providers and their insurance companies often have substantial resources to defend against malpractice claims. They may employ various tactics, such as disputing the standard of care or arguing that the injury was due to an underlying medical condition rather than negligence.

Additionally, medical malpractice litigation can be expensive due to the need for expert witnesses, extensive discovery, and lengthy trials. Plaintiffs must often secure funding to cover these costs upfront, which can be a barrier to pursuing a claim.

Medical malpractice is a critical aspect of personal injury law in Illinois, aimed at holding healthcare professionals accountable for deviations from the standard of care that result in patient harm. Illinois laws provide a structured framework for filing medical malpractice claims, emphasizing the need for expert testimony and adherence to statutory requirements. Despite the challenges, successful medical malpractice litigation can lead to significant remedies for injured patients and can promote higher standards in healthcare practices.

Were you injured by medical malpractice? Call Chute, O’Malley, Knobloch & Turcy, LLC.  312-775-0042 to review your case today.