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Medical Malpractice Can Lead to Criminal Charges

The Illinois medical malpractice lawyers at our firm have frequently explained the difference between civil and criminal lawsuits and the way that each type has different goals. While the civil medical malpractice lawsuit works to compensate the victims for the specific harms that they suffered, criminal suits are actions initiated by a community when a specific crime has been broken. Criminal cases have much different motivations, and there remains constant discussion about the goals the criminal justice system. From deterring the conduct of other citizens and punishing the wrongdoers to providing a system to rehabilitate the criminals, various motives drive policymakers when they are crafting our criminal laws.

When medical malpractice is mentioned it essentially always refers to the civil component of the justice system. It is rooted in the law of negligence, which allows victims of unreasonable conduct of all forms to hold those wrongdoers (also called “tortfeasors”) liable financially for the consequences of their conduct. However, when a medical professional’s conduct is particularly bad it may reach a level of reckless or “criminal negligence.” In those cases an actual law passed by policymakers may have been violated. In such cases, a criminal suit may also be brought by local prosecutors completely separate from the civil lawsuit.

A recent high-profile case illustrates this principle well. The personal physician of Michael Jackson is currently in the middle of a criminal trial related to his conduct which may have led to the death of the famous pop star. As a new Associated Press story explains, the case represents the unique, but not unheard of, situation where a medical professional is criminally charged for a standard of care deviation-in this case he is charged with involuntary manslaughter. To be found guilty of the crime of involuntary manslaughter an individual must generally act in a way that is reckless or, in some areas, criminally negligent resulting in the death of another. Recklessness and criminal negligence are terms of art in the legal world which refer to the level of mental culpability than a defendant displays at the time of the complained of conduct.

Therefore, at issue in this case was the reasonableness of the doctor’s use of the drug propofol to treat his chronic insomnia. The reasonableness of the conduct is generally measured against the actions of similar individuals in similar circumstances. The jury will be asked to consider whether or not the doctor was reckless in using the drug in that manner-recklessness generally being defined as a “gross” deviation from an applicable standard of care. This is a higher standard than the level of culpability that must be shown for a plaintiff to succeed against a defendant in a civil medical malpractice lawsuit.

If you or someone that you know may have suffered injury or death because of inadequate medical care in any setting, be sure to contact a legal professional to learn about your rights. For decades our Illinois medical malpractice attorneys at Levin & Perconti have helped local families pursue civil actions against their wrongdoers. No family should have to go through the consequences alone or spend each day wondering how they will have the financial resources necessary to put their lives back together.

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