Most Common Types of Medical Malpractice | Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp


Patients must be able to trust doctors, nurses, pharmacists, hospitals, clinics and nursing homes. Already sick or injured, patients rely on skilled professionals to provide quality care and to not make harmful errors.

Too often, however, health care providers do act negligently and fail to meet their legally enforceable duty to protect patients. Medical malpractice is estimated to be the third leading cause of preventable deaths in the United States. Hundreds of thousands of other Americans survive despite mistakes by their medical care providers each year, but they stay ill or suffer irreversible injuries.


A comprehensive nationwide analysis of medical malpractice lawsuits between 2008 and 2018 identified 123,512 cases. A further cut of the data revealed just slightly more than 140 settlements and jury awards for medical malpractice victims in Virginia during 2017.

Based on this research and our own work in advising and representing plaintiffs in Virginia medical malpractice lawsuits since the mid-1980s, we see such cases arising from five causes. These are

  • Misdiagnoses—Failures to diagnosis everything from cancer to viral infections delay care, prolong patients’ suffering and lead to ineffective and unnecessary (and, often, expensive and painful) treatments. In too many instances, misdiagnoses shorten lives.
  • Surgical Errors—Procedures are performed on the wrong patients and the wrong body parts. Surgeons inadvertently damage organs near the surgical site. Members of the surgical team leave objects inside patients’ bodies. Infections develop due to insufficient sterilization procedures.
  • Medication errors—Even properly prescribed, dispensed and administered medication can produce debilitating adverse effects. Give a patient the wrong medication or the incorrect dose, and you put that patient’s life in danger.
  • Anesthesia errors—This a subset of both surgical errors and medication errors. The gases and drugs used to sedate, immobilize and block pain in patients must be dosed and administered very precisely. The smallest error can kill a patient or leave the person suffering from brain damage.
  • Birth injuries—Many things can go wrong during labor and delivery. Mothers can suffer from physical injuries and post-delivery infections. Newborns who have their oxygen supply interrupted can die or develop lifelong brain injuries. Improper technique by nurses and OB/GYNs can also permanently damage the child’s shoulder joints, head and neck.