What is Professional Negligence?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 16 February 2020
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Professional negligence, which may also be referred to as malpractice, is negligence committed by someone who is presented with more skills and training than the average person. As a consequence of being more highly skilled, professionals are held to a higher standard and are expected to be able to complete tasks related to their training in a competent way. Failure to exercise due caution is considered negligence and clients can sue for damages if they have been injured as a result of negligent care.

One of the fields in which professional negligence comes up most often is the field of medicine. However, lawyers, contractors, and other professionals can also be accused of negligence if they fail to look out for the interests of their clients. Under the law, professionals have a duty of care to the people who hire them, because people are relying on their skills and expecting them to exercise reasonable caution.


Proving a professional negligence case can sometimes be challenging. Most laypeople do not have a clear idea of what the duty of care might be in a specific case, because they lack the skills, training, and experience which professionals have. Thus, they must rely on testimony from other professionals who can discuss the standards of care in similar situations. For example, if a nurse fails to double check a medication before adding it to a patient's intravenous line, this might be considered negligence because nurses are expected to exercise due care when administering drugs to clients.

The ability to sue people who commit acts of professional negligence can be important. Professionals are held to a higher standard of performance because they present themselves as more highly trained. When they make errors, the nature of the error can be very costly for a client; a doctor may kill a patient with negligence, a lawyer may fail to achieve the right outcome in a case, a contractor could build a house which falls down. People trust professionals to behave responsibly and need to have a recourse when they act with negligence.

One problem faced by professionals is that accidents happen, and even highly skilled, very conscientious people do make mistakes. Some professions come with a high potential risk of being sued for professional negligence because they are risky professions to begin with. For many professions, the cost of malpractice insurance which provides coverage in the event that a negligence suit results in an order to pay damages is very high. In some regions of the world, governments have recommended tort reform to change the way in which professional negligence is handled in court and to limit the total damages which can be paid.


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Are there any conditions where professional negligence may be applied to employer/employee situations? Example: Is a supervisor professionally negligent for failing to address a hostile work environment?

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