Could a Doctor Be So Negligent That it is Considered Murder?


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Losing a loved one is never easy, especially when the loss could have been avoided. Often in cases of medical malpractice, those who are left behind after a loved one's passing wonder why the doctor is not going to jail for murder. Is it possible for one to charge a doctor with murder when their treatment of a patient was so poor as to result in death?

From a very technical standpoint, it is possible, though it rarely happens.

Generally, most crimes require an element of intent. For example, one must intend the death of another in order to be charged with most forms of murder. In most cases, a doctor or other medical professional does not intend to kill a patient, so absent some unusual extenuating circumstances that would establish a motive, intent is usually not present and thus, most forms of murder will not apply.

It is possible, however, to commit a criminal homicide based on wanton or reckless behavior. In other words, if someone acts with such disregard for the safety of others that death or serious injury is almost a given, this is often enough for certain types of criminal charges. However, doctors and other medical professionals are highly trained, very knowledgeable individuals. They are heavily regulated to prevent those with serious problems like substance abuse or mental disorders from causing harm. They are also under constant scrutiny and required to undergo continuing education to ensure that they are not engaging in techniques that could imperil a patient's life.

Nevertheless, it has been known to happen.

Usually these cases are handled as civil matters, because the doctor lacked the requisite intent or did not act in a completely wanton and reckless manner. Additionally, the doctor may face disciplinary proceedings against his or her license, and could be fire by any institution for which he or she works. This could result in an enormous judgment against the doctor, loss of a professional license, and unemployment. The loss of a patient is not likely to be handled lightly, even though it may only result in civil penalties.

Still, in a few cases, it is possible to say that the doctor or other medical professional acted so poorly that their behavior was actually criminal. The most common instances are those in which doctors or other medical professionals issue prescriptions to patients in dosages that they know, or should know, could be dangerous. An example of such a prosecution was the doctor who prescribed pain medications to famed pop singer, Michael Jackson. Other examples of criminal misconduct by doctors include surgeons attempting procedures while impaired by drugs or alcohol, or so-called “pill mills” that prescribe medications in volumes that could only be used for illegal distribution.

If you believe you have lost someone due to the actions or inactions of a doctor or other medical professional, you should contact an attorney immediately. If the attorney determines that the doctor's actions were so inappropriate that criminal charges may be appropriate, he or she can guide you through the process of contacting law enforcement and filing a police report. However, in most instances the attorney will simply assist you in making a monetary recovery to provide for those your loved one has left behind.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.

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