Doctors go through years of intense schooling and training, and all those years of hard work help patients put faith and trust in their doctors. Patients put an extreme amount of belief in their medical providers, allowing them to examine and touch them in ways they wouldn’t allow others to. To protect patients from this inherent power imbalance, doctors take an oath and follow the law to uphold a certain standard of care. Malpractice occurs when these standards are purposefully or recklessly violated, and we typically think of malpractice as a botched surgery—but is doctor sexual misconduct considered medical malpractice?
First, let us clearly define what medical malpractice is under the law. In terms of a simple definition, medical malpractice occurs when a healthcare professional causes harm, death, or injury to a patient due to negligence or an act of omission. When we think of malpractice, we often think of egregious mistakes and injuries like a surgical tool left in a wound or negligent medical procedures. However, this isn’t always the case, and in truth, some of the most common malpractice cases are misdiagnosis and birth injuries.
For the law to consider a case as malpractice, a claimant must prove that the medical professional owed a duty of care and breached that duty. The claimant must also prove that they suffered some form of injury, financial loss, or an intangible loss, such as emotional or psychological damages.
Sexual misconduct is a broad term that encompasses various actions and behaviors. Most courts consider sexual misconduct any threatening, intimidating, or harmful sexual behavior. It can include sexual abuse, sexual assault, and sexual harassment. However, the problem with this term is that it lacks precision, as these actions do not have to be strictly erotic. Streaking and skinny dipping are both technically forms of sexual misconduct, but so is molestation or rape.
In terms of doctor sexual misconduct, the abuser may request or conduct unprofessional physical contact, sexually inappropriate behaviors under sedation, or request unnecessary details of the patient’s sexual history. However, these are merely examples, and if your experience doesn’t strictly fall under one of these categories, that does not invalidate what happened.
Ultimately, the answer is yes— the law considers doctor sexual misconduct as medical malpractice. If a medical professional in a doctor-patient setting performs a sexually deviant act, it is malpractice. This is because sexual misconduct often causes some form of intangible, physical, or financial damage, such as depression, anxiety, or PTSD. However, say you were the victim of sexual misconduct outside the doctor-patient setting, and the abuser just so happens to be a doctor—this would not get considered malpractice. While they can still get their license revoked, it doesn’t fall under the same category.
If you’re unsure whether your case falls under the medical malpractice category or you need help taking your case to court, contact the Law Firm of Tamara N. Holder today. We’ll put you in contact with one of our dedicated and experienced patient rights lawyers so you can get the representation and compensation you deserve.