Most medical care law is civil law.
Civil cases can be brought by the government or by private citizens.
Civil cases cannot be used to imprison.
Defendants have fewer rights in civil cases than in criminal cases.
Civil cases can result in huge damage awards.
Medical care practitioners must understand the civil law standards for
medical care to avoid medical malpractice litigation.
The U.S. legal system uses three models for legal proceedings. In criminal law
proceedings the government prosecutes individuals and corporations to punish
them for previous actions. In administrative law proceedings the government
seeks to compel individuals to comply with rules and regulations established by
government agencies. Civil law proceedings, which are the focus for this
section, are used to force compliance with either public laws or private
contracts, and to establish the liability and amount of monetary compensation
that must be paid to compensate for injuries. Civil law proceedings can be
brought by private citizens, corporations, and the government. The key
distinction between civil and criminal law is that civil law proceedings cannot
result in imprisonment. Administrative law proceedings are either done in the
agency or in special administrative law courts that follow different procedural
The civil law is concerned with the peaceable resolution of disputes between
individuals. Physicians often ignore the importance of this peacekeeping
function. Being sued for medical malpractice is an unpleasant experience, but
it is much preferable to being gunned down in the hospital corridor by an irate
patient. This is an extreme example, but it has occurred. The civil courts are
an imperfect but essential safety valve. It has even been argued that the
delays and rituals of the process, which decrease its economic efficiency,
increase its ability to cool passions and prevent violence.