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Medical Malpractice and Legal Definitions

Legal Guidance for Long Island Residents Suffering from the Negligence of Doctors

Most patients place substantial trust in their doctors and other health care professionals. When they voice a complaint and a doctor dismisses it, they often assume the doctor knows best and are unlikely to seek out a second opinion. It is all too common, however, for physicians to dismiss a patient’s complaints prematurely, misread test results, or make small errors in surgery or post-surgical care that have major consequences. Not all patients realize that a medical malpractice lawsuit offers them an opportunity to receive compensation for the harm that they have suffered. The experienced medical negligence attorneys at Duffy & Duffy can evaluate whether a health care provider on Long Island or beyond fell below the standard of care.

Definitions of Important Terms for Patients to Know


These are the primary damages available to a medical malpractice plaintiff, designed to compensate him or her rather than punish the doctor or other health care professional being sued. Compensatory damages can be both economic and non-economic. Economic damages include tangible losses that remain objective rather than subject to jury evaluation. They may include past and future lost wages, past and future medical expenses, out-of-pocket expenses, household services, and life-long care expenses. Non-economic damages may vary depending on the jury’s assessment. They can include mental anguish, emotional distress, disfigurement, loss of enjoyment of life, loss of enjoyment of particular activities, and pain and suffering.


Most medical malpractice and personal injury lawsuits are pursued on a contingency fee basis. This is a fee arrangement whereby the plaintiff’s attorney fees are a percentage of the judgment granted in the plaintiff’s favor, and the plaintiff’s attorney only gets paid if the plaintiff recovers compensation


Liability in a medical malpractice case is addressed through damages. This is money claimed as compensation by a person who has suffered an injury because of negligence or unlawful conduct.


This is the alleged practice of employing diagnostic measures in order to safeguard against medical malpractice liability. There is no proof for this claim as to practice “Defensive medicine” would constitute insurance fraud. The phrase is a little more than a political one.


Health court is a proposed special court system designed to handle medical malpractice disputes. It is proposed that specially trained judges would preside over each court, deciding the outcomes with the help of outside experts. Each court would award compensation to the victims according to a predetermined compensation schedule, based on the specific circumstances of the patient’s case and the severity of his or her injuries.

The design of health court is to protect doctors and limit a patients recovery.



Negligence is the basis of personal injury lawsuits. It arises when a plaintiff can prove the defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff that he or she breached, causing an injury to the plaintiff. In the context of medical malpractice, the doctor owes a duty to the patient because of the importance of this relationship. Medical negligence is the failure to exercise the degree of care that a reasonably prudent health care professional would have used under the same circumstances.


Punitive damages, also known as “exemplary damages,” are those that a jury awards as a deterrent or as punishment of the defendant. The goal of punitive damages is to send a message that the conduct that gives rise to the lawsuit is wholly unacceptable. These damages are only awarded in cases where the defendant has behaved egregiously with gross negligence, willful fraud, or a morally culpable state of mind. They are almost never available in a New York medical malpractice action.


A statute of limitations is a set time period within which a plaintiff must bring a medical malpractice lawsuit. In New York, in most cases, a plaintiff must bring a medical lawsuit within two and a half years from the date of the negligence or from the end of a period of continuous treatment rendered by the defendant.


Tort law is the area of law that addresses and remedies civil wrongs that do not arise out of contractual obligations. Medical malpractice cases usually fall in this category.


Tort reform is a set of ideas that proposes changes in the civil justice system that would reduce tort litigation or the amount of damages that plaintiffs can recover. In many states around the nation, tort reform has resulted in caps on noneconomic damages in the area of medical malpractice. New York does not have a cap on malpractice damages but has adopted another proposal from tort reform. The reform it adopted requires plaintiffs to consult an expert and file a certificate of consultation with an expert within 90 days of filing a medical malpractice lawsuit. The only goal of “tort reform” is to increase the profits of insurance companies.

Discuss Your Malpractice Claim with a Long Island Attorney

The medical malpractice lawyers at Duffy & Duffy are dedicated advocates for residents of Long Island and other communities throughout New York who have suffered serious harm as a result of a doctor’s failure to meet the standard of care required for the situation. Our attorneys understand the health care profession and consult with reputable expert witnesses on our clients’ cases. Contact us by calling (516) 394-4200 or submitting our online form to set up a consultation with a member of our staff. We represent injured patients in Nassau, Kings, and Suffolk Counties, as well as other areas of New York such as the Bronx and Queens.

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