In a legal context, “misfeasance” refers to the improper performance of a lawful act, resulting in harm or injury to another person or entity. It is a term primarily used in tort law, which deals with civil wrongs and the compensation for damages caused by such wrongs. However, misfeasance in some cases may also carry criminal punishment, depending on the specific circumstances and applicable laws in a particular jurisdiction.
Misfeasance typically occurs when an individual or a public official undertakes a duty or responsibility but fails to carry it out with proper care, skill, or diligence. While the act itself may be lawful, the negligence or improper execution of the act leads to harmful consequences. For example, if a doctor prescribes the wrong medication to a patient, resulting in an adverse reaction or worsening of the patient's condition, the doctor's misfeasance can be grounds for a medical malpractice claim.
In legal proceedings, a claimant must establish that the defendant owed a duty of care, that the defendant breached that duty through an act of misfeasance, and that the breach caused harm or damage to the claimant. Both the level of care required and the specific elements of misfeasance can vary depending on the jurisdiction and the nature of the case. For a full discussion on misfeasance, see the case of Shay v. Flight C Helicopter Services, Inc.
[Last updated in July of 2023 by the Wex Definitions Team]