Can a Doctor Go to Jail for Medical Malpractice?

Updated on May 27, 2021

Medical malpractice is now the third leading cause of death in the United States, but very few doctors go to jail after a patient in their care dies because of their negligence. Medical organizations argue that the criminal prosecution of doctors and other medical professionals would greatly hamper the quality of the medical act, as fewer doctors would take risks to save their patients’ lives when they know they would end up in jail if the patient dies.

Judges agree with medical organizations’ reasoning, but more and more law professionals believe medical doctors should not be able to escape criminal prosecution if their negligence in treating of a patient was a blatant deviation from the standard of care every medical professional owes to his or her patients.

What Is Medical Malpractice 

Medical malpractice is negligent behavior by a hospital or health care professional that injured or killed a patient. Medical malpractice should not be mistaken for criminal homicide when a patient dies because medical malpractice lacks the intent of killing the patient. The death usually occurs because of a medical professional’s negligence, inexperience, or recklessness.

That is why medical malpractice cases go to civil court, and the victims or their families get monetary compensation, while homicide goes to a criminal court, which usually means jail time for the author.

Medical error is considered medical malpractice, and the harmed patient can sue his or her treating doctor in civil court if none of these three critical elements is missing:

·         The doctor violated the standard of care: All medical professionals must meet a medical standard when treating patients in similar circumstances. If this medical standard was not reasonably met by the doctor, a negligent doctor might be held liable.

·         The doctor was negligent: In addition to the breached standard of care, the doctor’s negligence must also be proven by the patient in a medical malpractice case. In other orders, the patient needs to bring evidence that he would not have been harmed if the doctor were negligent.

·         The injuries caused to the patient are severe: A medical malpractice case can be successful if the patient can prove that the harm done by the medic’s negligence is significant. This means that the patient lost his job, was left disabled, experienced a lot of pain, had to shell out money for significant bills to treat his or her injuries, and so on. 

Can A Doctor Go to Jail for Medical Malpractice? 

Cases in which a negligent doctor gets indicted and criminally prosecuted have been quite rare over the last decades, but more and more doctors are now being prosecuted. One of the reasons is that an increasing number of doctors show depraved indifference to human life or are guilty of gross negligence or recklessness.

For instance, there were cases of surgeons and anesthesiologists who performed medical procedures under the influence of drugs and alcohol, which have led to the death of their patients. Other doctors criminally performed procedures without their patients ’consent which often led to gruesome injuries or even death of their patients.

Some doctors recklessly prescribe medication to their patients that they know or should have known that it might put their lives at risk. It was the case with Michael Jackson’s treating doctor and countless other medics, who never go on national TV.

But despite blatant negligence, doctors rarely go to jail for their negligent behavior. They might get their license revoked, reputation ruined, or lose their jobs, but extremely few spend time behind bars. Judges are adamant that without such protection against criminal prosecution, medical professionals would not be able to save lives if they constantly fear being criminally charged at some point.


It is highly unlikely for a doctor to end up in jail because of medical malpractice, but he or she might be held liable in civil court and be forced to pay for their maimed patients’ injuries and pain. Doctors do go to jail only when they had a criminal intent to maim or kill the patient, which has been extremely rare, but it does happen, especially if the medic is mentally unstable or intoxicated.

Medical malpractice cases, however, are not a walk in the park either. Injured patients need to prove a violation of the standard of care, the medic’s negligence, and significant damages to have a successful case.

If you or a loved one was injured due to a doctor’s or other medical professional’s negligence or incompetence, make sure to first talk to a medical malpractice attorney to see if your case has any merit. Many medical malpractice cases are so costly and hard to prove that they are simply not worth the effort. But when they have odds of success, and your attorney plays the cards right, they may result in millions of dollars worth of damages.

As a journalist, Leland D. Bengtson dedicated most of his career to law reporting. He aims to draw in the public and make people more interested in the field. He is active on multiple platforms to increase his outreach to the public. Leland tirelessly covers all types of legal issues, but he has a personal preference for medical malpractice. This is mainly because he witnessed the implications of medical malpractice on a family member.

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The Editorial Team at Healthcare Business Today is made up of skilled healthcare writers and experts, led by our managing editor, Daniel Casciato, who has over 25 years of experience in healthcare writing. Since 1998, we have produced compelling and informative content for numerous publications, establishing ourselves as a trusted resource for health and wellness information. We offer readers access to fresh health, medicine, science, and technology developments and the latest in patient news, emphasizing how these developments affect our lives.