A doctor's license can be revoked for incompetence but negligence isn't necessarily incompetence. Most physicians who are found legally negligent never lose their licenses.
I guess part of my point is, that if the doctor is not acting in such a way that he will lose his license (i.e. Incompetence or Extreme Negligence), it's just part of the dangers one accepts when they go in for health care. It is a risk the person takes and has to live with. In other words, if the Doctor has committed a sufficient transgression of the expectations of his practice to be sued, he has committed a transgression for which he should lose his license. And the logical inverse: if he has not committed a transgression for which he should lose his license, he should not be subject to a lawsuit.
Forgive me for giving a brief lesson on medical malpractice law (I'm getting published on this topic!).
Congratulations, I have no doubt you are more competent in the current laws than I am. However, I observe the results of the law, and I see an abuse of the System that I believe needs to be Corrected, and I believe there is a better alternative to the system that we have. (Personally, I advocate socialized medicine like what we see in the UK, but I'm trying to stay within the context of reasonable changes to US law.)
Under negligence law, the plaintiff has to show four things: duty, breach, causation and damages. Duty, or duty of care, can be described as the standard of practice. For most defendants, the duty of care is reasonableness meaning that stupidity is not a defense. We are expected to act like a reasoanble person would have acted. In the McD case, the jury concluded that a reasonable company would have known from the prior complaints that coffee that hot could injure someone.
Physicians are unlike other professions in that they are allowed to determine the standard of care (there are exceptions but I won't get into it). In medmal case, a plaintiff needs a physician expert witness to testify as to what physicians handle that specific situation. That's the standard of care. It's not reasonableness or even the best way to do the procedure. This is highly deferential to the medical profession.
So in a medical malpractice case, the physician breaches the medical community standard of care.
My understanding is that any physician can question any other physician's standard of care? If this is correct, perhaps this is what needs to be addressed within our system. Perhaps a national association of doctors (I fear I dont know what organizations are currently established, but I assume some unified entity issues medical licenses) needs to choose a select few doctors who are allowed to testify in this regard, eliminating the chance that a lone doctor will testify against another doctor, but that all doctors allowed to testify to this extent are extremly respected members of the medical community, approved by an overwhelming majority of doctors nation wide.
But our tort system is based on providing redress for injured plaintiffs. If you see a physician and his negligently treats you and as a result you are injured, shouldn't you be compensated? If the physician's insurance company doesn't compensate you, then society bears the cost. If you can't work, then you go on welfare. If you have to take sick leave then your company has to hire a replacement. The tort system simply shifts the risk to the person who was careless. It makes perfect economic sense.
Frankly, I think all medical issues should be state run anyway. But putting that aside, no. The liability does too much damage to the medical community, as I said before only if there is incompetance or gross negligence should the doctor be liable; otherwise, it is a risk you take when you choose your doctor.
Having a bad result is not grounds for medical malpractice. As I explained above, medical malpractice occurs when the doctor does something that the medical community does not do which causes the patient's injury. If the doctor acts reasonably and you still have a bad result, there's no malpractice. Conversely, if the doctor screws up but you're not injured, there's no malpractice.
Let's take a standard example, the doctor leaves a sponge inside a patient after surgery. Accepted practice is to count the sponges before the patient is closed up. But say the doctor is careless one day and doesn't count the sponges and it is left in the patient. That's clearly malpractice, i.e. (s)he breached the standard of care. Let's give another example, it's now accepted practice for physicians to doublecheck the x-rays and all the records before surgery to make sure they operate on the right limb. But say the doctor doesn't do. The patient was supposed to have the right leg amputated and the doctor (without following proper procedure) cuts off the right leg. No injury so malpractice. There's breach but no injury.
The issue of the sponge seems to me to be gross negligence, though I'm not a doctor, so I dont know how easy it is to do such a thing. If, by the medical community, it's only considered minor negligence, the doctor should do what he can to the rectify the situation, but should not be liable (save maybe to do the surgery to remove the sponge).
Spilling is negligent? Negligence isn't an accident. It's carelessness which is different. It's knowing there's a risk and failing to take proper precautions to prevent the risk. For example, if I'm driving in my car and following the laws and paying attention to the conditions on the road and hit another car, I'm not negligent. But if I'm speeding, i.e. ignoring a known risk, I'm negligent.
If spilling is negligence, then is an accident negligent? What if the person was in the restaurant and tripped and spilled the coffee on another person, does that mean that the 'tripper' is automatically negligent?
The person who tripped and spilled would technically be at fault. But it is just an accident, ultimatley no one should be able to collect damages in court, regardless of the extent of the injuries. Sometimes accidents just happen, and that's part of life, you should be SOL...same thing with the McDonalds issue (not that I'm trying to defend the corporation in general, I'm not a capitalist by any stretch of the imagination, I'm just discussing this particular case (though I dont think serving fatty foods is reason enough to go after them either)) but in that case, the woman is the person at fault, she actually spilled the coffee on herself, if you order hot coffee and that's what you get, don't complain, especially if you didn't specify a temperature as part of the purchase, if you spill it you're SOL. With medical malpractice, If the doctor preformes with a reasonable level of competency and is not grossly negligent and something goes wrong, that's part of the risk, and you're SOL. I personally consider this common sense, the difficulity is in exactly how to legislate it (and, no, I dont think we can leave issues of common sense to the courts, they have demonstrated themselves unable to exercise it).