Criminal v. Civil Cases

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LNCtips.com: Criminal v. Civil Cases


I often meet with defendants in medical malpractice cases.   Sometimes they ask questions about "the prosecution." Sometimes they tell me they're "not guilty."   I know that the defendants are comparing their cases to criminal ones like those seen on Law and Order or other legal dramas on television. 

However, as a new legal nurse consultant, you need to know that "prosecution" and "not guilty" are terms that apply to criminal cases but not medical malpractice ones.   Medical malpractice cases are tried in Civil Court, not Criminal Court. Let's look at some of the differences between criminal and civil cases.

Category Criminal Civil
Types of Cases Misdemeanors and felonies are crimes, as defined by federal and state criminal statutes.  Felonies are serious crimes, such as murder, arson, and kidnapping.  Misdemeanors are less serious crimes, such as reckless driving, trespassing, and vandalism. Medical malpractice falls under tort statutes.  A tort is an injury due to negligence by a person or other entity.  In the case of medical malpractice,  the patient sues physicians, nurses, or other healthcare workers for medical malpractice.  The patient can also name other entities such as hospitals and health care organizations as defendants.
Parties in the Case Prosecution - The prosecution refers to the government, either state or federal, on behalf of the people.   Victims, if any, are not parties in the case.

Defendants - Defendants are persons accused of the crime.
Plaintiff - The person who has sustained damages due to alleged medical malpractice.

Defendants - The defendants are the healthcare providers who allegedly caused damages to the plaintiff due to the providers' negligence.
Burden of Proof Burden of proof refers to convincing decision makers in a trial which version of the facts is true.  In criminal cases, the burden of proof lies with the prosecutor; the defendant is assumed innocent.  The prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime.  Some people interpret beyond a reasonable doubt as 98-99% certainty of guilt. The burden of proof is on the plaintiff.   There must be a reasonable degree of medical certainty that: 1) the defendants did not meet the standard of care, and 2) deviation from the standard of care caused damages to the plaintiff.  A reasonable degree of medical certainty is defined as 51% or greater.
Verdict Sometimes a case finishes before a jury hears the case due to plea-bargaining.  If the case is tried, the jury finds the defendant either guilty or not guilty. Sometimes a case finishes before a jury hears the case due to settlement or other reasons.   If the case is tried, the jury finds for the plaintiff or for the defendant.
Outcome If the defendant is guilty, he or she receives a sentence.  If the crime is a misdemeanor, the sentence is a fine, probation, community service, or a jail term of less than one year.   Felonies carry a sentence of one or more years of prison or even death. If the plaintiff wins, he or she receives monetary compensation from the defendant and/or the defendant's insurance carrier.  If the jury finds for the defendant, the plaintiff receives nothing.

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...Katy Jones