Malpractice Versus Professional Misconduct: Understand The Difference

August 31, 2023
The Law Firm of J.W. Stafford

Most, if not all, licensed professionals provide services under the assumption that they will conform to the standards of their profession. For example, physicians must provide medical treatment that meets the standard of care. Lawyers must provide legal advice only after thoroughly investigating the facts and analyzing the law. When a licensed professional fails to provide services that meet their respective professional standards, they may be liable for malpractice or some other type of civil liability. However, their trouble may not end there. In addition to malpractice liability, they may have to face professional discipline as well. 

Both malpractice claims and misconduct allegations can be harrowing experiences. Whether you have already been charged with professional misconduct or are facing a malpractice claim and are worried about future disciplinary action, it is critical that you take action to protect yourself and your license. The best thing you can do for yourself is to contact an experienced professional license defense attorney

Malpractice is Between You and the Plaintiff

In a malpractice claim or other civil lawsuit seeking monetary damages due to your alleged misconduct, the claim is between you and your former client or patient. Generally speaking, the client or patient will allege that you have committed malpractice in some way and demand that you pay their monetary damages in order to avoid legal action. Ultimately, you or your insurance company may choose to settle the claim or take the dispute all the way to trial and beyond. The malpractice claim is resolved once you pay the claim or are found to be not liable by the court. 

Misconduct is Between You and Your Licensing Board

By contrast, a disciplinary proceeding is between you and your licensing board. The process is typically initiated by filing a complaint with the board. That complaint can be filed by just about anyone, including your patient or even a colleague. They conduct an investigation and decide whether or not to take action. If they decide to proceed, the matter will be scheduled for a hearing. The board may ultimately decide to impose a variety of penalties such as a public or private reprimand or suspension or revocation of your license. While the board may assess attorney’s fees or costs against you, you are generally not held liable for any financial losses.

Because the disciplinary process is less structured and in some ways, less transparent than the litigation process, many licensed professionals feel like they have very little control over the process. However, this is not entirely accurate. You have options. For example, you may be able to resolve the complaint by way of a consent agreement or similar settlement. A professional license defense attorney can help you understand your options and find the way forward. 

Malpractice Claims Are Independent of Misconduct Proceedings

Malpractice claims and misconduct proceedings have different purposes. The central issue in a malpractice case is whether you should be held liable for any financial losses that your client or patient may have suffered. The focus of a misconduct proceeding is determining whether you violated your professional responsibilities and should therefore be subject to discipline. 

Because these two proceedings have different purposes, they are independent of each other. As a result, you can face disciplinary proceedings regardless of whether or not you are accused of malpractice. In fact, you can face disciplinary proceedings even if you didn’t commit malpractice. In addition, you may face disciplinary proceedings even if you settle or otherwise resolve your malpractice case. As a result, you should reach out to a professional license defense attorney if you have been accused of malpractice and are concerned that you may face disciplinary proceedings. 

Misconduct Proceedings Could Do Far More Damage to Your Career

While a malpractice claim is not good for your professional reputation, most cases are resolved in some fashion and the professional moves on with their career. A misconduct proceeding can potentially carry much more serious consequences. A suspension of your license means that you will be unable to practice for as long as your suspension is in effect. You may be permanently barred from practicing if your license is revoked. Other jurisdictions may be unwilling to grant you a license to practice if your license has been suspended or revoked elsewhere. In other words, the damage you suffer to your career as a result of a misconduct proceeding may be permanent. 

Contact Professional License Defense Attorney J.W. Stafford

J.W. Stafford has extensive experience in helping licensed professionals protect their careers when faced with disciplinary issues. Whether you are worried about a potential allegation of misconduct or have already received the complaint, he can help. Contact us today at 410-514-6099 to schedule a consultation.