What is Misfeasance? - Definition & Examples

Instructor: Lauren Johnston

I have a master's degree in Forensic Studies and have designed several courses for adult learners.

In this lesson you'll learn the definition for the legal term misfeasance. We'll also explore examples of misfeasance occurring in the healthcare field and in business.

Defining Misfeasance

Have you ever wondered what would happen if you were injured by someone else's carelessness, even if this person did not mean for you to get hurt and didn't actually do anything illegal? What happens when you need legal help for a situation that is not actually a criminal offense?

Sometimes actions can unintentionally cause harm to other people. While these actions are often mistakes, there can be legal consequences. Misfeasance is the legal term used for an act that is not illegal, but is performed in a way that harms another individual.

Generally, the person who accidentally causes you harm has to be under contract to provide care. If you were to take advice from a stranger on the street on how to do a new workout routine and you injured yourself, the stranger would not be liable for your injury. However, if you met with the same person in a gym and hired that person as your personal trainer, that would be a different story.

Misfeasance is not to be confused with malfeasance. In the case of malfeasance, a person intentionally harms someone through an illegal action.

Intentions Matter!

Often you hear the word negligence used when someone does not do his or her job and it hurts another person. Misfeasance, on the other hand, is when a person does his or her job but through carelessness or error, another person is affected. Intention is the key piece of this definition. Just like the personal trainer, a person who engages in misfeasance does not intentionally want to cause harm to someone else.

Tort Law

The legal term of misfeasance is used in civil cases because there is not a violation of a law or a statute. These type of cases are covered under tort law. A tort is an act that injures another individual through negligence or misfeasance. The person who is responsible is the defendant and the injured individual is the plaintiff. In tort law, in order to be legally liable for misfeasance, a defendant must be in a position where the defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff.

Example in Healthcare

Misfeasance can occur in medical practices. If a doctor prescribes a medication and unintentionally gives an incorrect dosage, then the doctor is legally liable for misfeasance. The doctor did not neglect to prescribe medication or intentionally try to harm the patient, but his or her action could result in further illness to the patient or even death.

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