Tort Claims against Private Parties
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 rules.
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.