The Difference Between Medical Malpractice and Medical Negligence

When something goes wrong during medical treatment, the terms “medical malpractice” and “medical negligence” often surface. While they might appear to be interchangeable, these terms represent distinct legal concepts that carry different implications for both healthcare providers and patients. This blog post aims to clarify the nuances between medical malpractice and medical negligence, particularly within the framework of South Carolina law.

Medical Malpractice: A Closer Look

Medical malpractice occurs when a healthcare provider, such as a doctor or a nurse, violates the standard of care while treating a patient. The term “standard of care” refers to what a reasonably skilled and knowledgeable healthcare provider would do under similar circumstances. If this violation of the standard of care leads to harm or injury, it qualifies as medical malpractice.

Key Components of Medical Malpractice in South Carolina

  • Violation of Standard of Care: The healthcare provider failed to adhere to the established medical norms for diagnosing or treating a condition.
  • Direct Causation: The violation directly led to the patient’s harm or injury.
  • Damages: There must be verifiable harm or injury, either physical or emotional.
  • Expert Affidavit: South Carolina law requires an affidavit from an expert witness who can testify that the healthcare provider deviated from the standard of care.

Medical Negligence: The Basics

Medical negligence, on the other hand, involves a lapse in care or oversight that is unintentional. Unlike medical malpractice, it doesn’t necessarily involve a deliberate action that diverges from the standard of care. Instead, it may involve inadvertent errors like miscommunication between medical staff, administrative mistakes, or other unintentional lapses that lead to patient harm.

Key Components of Medical Negligence

  • Lack of Intent: Unlike malpractice, negligence doesn’t require proving that the healthcare provider knowingly violated the standard of care.
  • Error or Omission: Medical negligence may occur due to a mistake or something that was unintentionally left undone, leading to patient harm.
  • Measurable Harm: As with malpractice, there must be verifiable harm to the patient, although proving direct causation might be less stringent than in malpractice cases.

Legal Implications in South Carolina

Caps on Damages

In South Carolina, non-economic damages for medical malpractice are capped at $350,000 per defendant and $1.05 million in total. There are no caps for economic damages. Medical negligence may or may not be subjected to these caps, depending on how it is categorized in a legal context.

Statute of Limitations

For both medical malpractice and negligence cases, South Carolina law generally allows you to file a claim within three years from the date the injury was discovered or should have been discovered, with certain exceptions.


Recognizing the difference between medical malpractice and medical negligence is crucial for understanding your rights and potential legal pathways. While both concepts center around medical errors leading to patient harm, malpractice involves a violation of professional standards, while negligence involves unintentional errors or omissions.

Understanding the distinctions between medical malpractice and medical negligence can equip you with the necessary knowledge to navigate the legal landscape effectively, especially within the confines of South Carolina law.