Is Medical Malpractice a Civil Case or a Criminal Case?

A judge holds a gavel with a stethoscope on the table representing medical malpractice law

Medical malpractice can result in severe consequences to victims. Sometimes, it can even be fatal. Victims and their families are left feeling angry and helpless and wonder how to hold wrongdoers accountable. Our Tampa attorneys explain medical malpractice, civil claims, and criminal law.

Is Medical Malpractice Civil or Criminal?

Medical malpractice is a civil case. The victim initiates it on their own behalf. In some cases, for very severe misconduct, the party responsible for medical malpractice may also face charges for criminal negligence.

Can Doctors Be Held Criminally Liable?

Yes, doctors can be held criminally liable1. Most cases of malpractice do not rise to the level of criminal charges. If a doctor’s professional care falls below standards of negligence and reaches recklessness or intentional misconduct, they can be criminally liable for their behavior.

For criminal charges, the state must prove that the doctor’s conduct was extremely egregious2. They must satisfy the criminal burden of proof for the case.

Have you suffered injuries due to a doctor’s negligence? Contact our Tampa medical malpractice lawyers today for a free and confidential consultation.

Medical Malpractice and Criminal Charges in Florida

Usually, medical malpractice does not result in criminal charges. Most medical malpractice is seen as negligence or the absence of ordinary skill and care on the part of the healthcare provider. While it is inappropriate behavior and grounds for financial compensation for the victim, it is not typically seen as criminal.

However, there are some circumstances in which medical malpractice can result in criminal charges in Florida. The law recognizes culpable negligence as a criminal offense. Florida statutes § 784.053 says that a person is responsible for criminal negligence when:

  • They expose a person to a personal injury
  • They act with culpable negligence
  • Culpable negligence is a course of conduct showing reckless disregard for human life or the safety of persons
  • Actions of the offender show wantonness or recklessness, or indifference to the life of others

Culpable negligence is a misdemeanor of the first degree. Florida law § 775.0824 establishes a punishment of up to one year in jail for culpable negligence. In addition, an offender may face charges of homicide or assault and battery for intentional actions causing harm to a victim (See State v. Greene, 348 So. 2d 3 (Fla. 1977)5).

What Is Criminal Negligence in Healthcare?

Criminal negligence in healthcare occurs when a victim suffers a personal injury because a care provider shows a reckless disregard for human life or the safety of a patient. It is extreme indifference or reckless conduct that is likely to AND does cause harm to the victim.

Related: How to Sue for Medical Malpractice in Tampa

Can Doctors Go to Jail for Malpractice?

A doctor can go to jail for malpractice if they are charged criminally for their offense. A finding of legal liability in a civil claim alone is not enough to result in jail time. The defendant may be civilly liable, and they may owe compensation for the victim.

But for the doctor to go to jail, the state must file and prove criminal charges against them. Then, the court must determine that jail time is an appropriate sentence.

A patient in the hospital with an oxygen monitor on their hand

When Is Medical Malpractice a Criminal Act?

Most medical malpractice actions are based on negligence. Florida law § 766.1026 creates legal standards for medical negligence. It is a breach of prevailing professional standards of care by a healthcare provider. It is based on the level of care, skill, and treatment which is acceptable and recognized as reasonably prudent.

Of course, a healthcare provider can breach professional standards accidentally. They can fail to live up to standards because of negligence or a lack of training without showing a reckless disregard for human life.

There is a significant difference between negligence and recklessness standards. Most medical malpractice falls in the category of negligence and is not criminal. While it is rare for medical malpractice to rise to the level of a criminal act, it is possible in cases of extremely serious behavior.

Are you the victim of medical malpractice? Our Tampa personal injury attorneys can help. Call today for a free case evaluation.

To get criminal charges for medical malpractice:

  • File a police complaint.
  • The police investigate and create a report.
  • As a victim, any information you can provide to help the police understand the situation is helpful.
  • The police finalize their report and submit it to the state’s attorney.
  • If the state decides to charge, they pursue the case, determine whether to offer a plea agreement.
  • If necessary, take the case to trial.

Civil and Criminal Medical Malpractice Charges

A victim may bring a civil medical malpractice case regardless of whether the state authorizes criminal charges. In fact, a victim should speak with a medical malpractice attorney as soon as possible to begin their case. The statute of limitations still applies even if the state is considering criminal charges and even if criminal charges have been filed.

There are significant differences between criminal and civil cases. The victim has limited participation in a criminal proceeding. The victim’s input into plea agreements and case disposition is only one consideration in handling the case.

However, a civil medical malpractice claim focuses on harm to the victim and appropriate compensation. Damages may include economic and non-economic damages. The victim may choose their own attorney and determine how to pursue the claim. Some procedural requirements and rules are specific to civil cases that the victim must follow.

victim shaking hands with personal injury attorney

Attorney for Medical Malpractice in Tampa, FL

If you have been the victim of medical malpractice, we invite you to contact our medical malpractice attorneys to pursue your case. If a criminal complaint may be appropriate in your case, we can help you file a police report.

Our team of medical malpractice attorneys is experienced in all the steps needed to bring a claim for medical malpractice compensation. We ensure that you meet procedural requirements, gather the proof to bring your claim, comply with time deadlines, present a compelling case and negotiate a favorable result.

Contact Us today for a free and confidential consultation.


1Pandit, M. S., & Pandit, S. (2009). Medical negligence: Criminal prosecution of medical professionals, the importance of medical evidence: Some guidelines for medical practitioners. Indian journal of urology: IJU: journal of the Urological Society of India, 25(3), 379–383. Retrieved 18 November 2021.

2McDonald, Jeff & Davis, Kelly. (4 November 2021). Nurse charged with involuntary manslaughter in San Diego County jail death. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 18 November 2021.

3FLA. STAT. § 784.05 (2021)

4FLA. STAT. § 775.082 (2021)

5State v. Greene, 348 So. 2d 3 (Fla. 1977)

6FLA. STAT. § 766.102 (2021)