Standard of Care for Medical Malpractice

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 What Is the Accepted Standard of Care for Medical Malpractice?

In general, the standard of care for determining medical malpractice is based on what a similarly qualified practitioner would have done under the same or similar circumstances. The medical standard of care is typically determined by evaluating the performance and abilities of other practitioners in the same area as the professional who is accused of malpractice.

What Is Medical Malpractice?

Medical malpractice arises when a physician, medical professional, or healthcare organization fails to meet the standard of care that is required when they are managing, diagnosing, or treating a patient that results in injury to that patient. The deviation from the standard of care that is required of all medical professionals typically begins with an act of negligence.

It is important to note that a medical professional may be held liable for a patient’s injuries. However, this will depend on the facts of the case as well as the various laws governing medical malpractice laws that are enacted in the state. In addition, there are certain cases in which the standards and regulations for medical malpractice will vary within jurisdictions in the same state.

How Is the Standard of Care Determined?

The baseline for the standard of care may vary by state or location. One example of how this occurs is that the resources of a rural doctor will typically be less extensive than those of a metropolitan hospital.

Differences in the professionals’ situations are typically taken into account when determining the appropriate standard of care. Examples of the most commonly used standards of care include:

  • The national standard of care: This standard requires a physician to use the same degree of skill and care as a reasonably competent practitioner who is practicing in the same medical field and was under the same or similar circumstances;
  • The locality rule: The locality rule requires a doctor to possess the reasonable caliber of skill and knowledge that is generally possessed by surgeons and physicians in the locality in which they practice; and
  • The respectable minority rule: The physician may not have followed the same course of treatment that other doctors would have followed. If that is the case, they may be able to show that their course of treatment is accepted by a respectable minority of medical practitioners.

How Is the Standard of Care Proved?

Proving the medical malpractice standard of care is similar to proving negligence claims in general. There are four elements that a plaintiff must show in order to establish a medical malpractice claim and a violation of medical standards, including:

  • The medical professional owed the patient a duty of care to act reasonably and in accordance with the medical standard of care when overseeing the health of the patient, including their diagnosis, treatment, etc.;
  • The medical professional failed to meet this standard of care because they were negligent in managing an aspect of the health of the patient;
    • Essentially, they breached the duty of care that they had to that patient;
  • The medical professional’s negligent conduct was both the actual and proximate cause of the patient’s injury; and
  • The injury resulted in the patient suffering damages, or injuries, that are measurable.

In addition, a lawsuit may be filed against a medical organization or its clerical staff. If so, the plaintiff will be required to show that the medical staff was trained or supervised in a negligent manner. Examples of items that may be used for the plaintiff to use as evidence to support a medical malpractice claim include:

  • Medical records;
  • Receipts for medical expenses;
  • Documents that resulted in the misdiagnosis or mistreatment;
  • Costs associated with the injury, for example, additional hospital bills necessary to remedy a mistake made by a surgeon.

What if I Cannot Prove Negligence?

The negligence element of medical malpractice cases is typically the most difficult to prove. In simple terms, the plaintiff must show that the physician, nurse, or other medical professional made a medical mistake that another competent provider would not have made under the circumstances.

A plaintiff must prove all elements of their claim by a preponderance of the evidence. This means that the jury has to believe the plaintiff’s claims are more likely than not to be true.

Convincing the judge or jury that the negligence of a doctor contributed to the plaintiff’s injuries may be challenging. The defense will likely argue that there were many other factors that could have contributed to the condition.

The defense may also argue that the plaintiff’s injuries were known risks that they provided informed consent to prior to treatment. Even if negligence cannot be proven, even when it existed, the plaintiff may still be able to prevail in their claim.

For example, if a patient was unconscious during surgery, they may not be able to directly prove negligence. In these types of cases, the plaintiff would need to prove that:

  • The plaintiff suffered an injury that was not an expected complication of the specific medical care that they received;
  • The injury does not generally occur unless someone has been negligent; and
  • The doctor was responsible for the patient’s well-being at the time of the injuries.

Are There Any Defenses to a Medical Malpractice Claim?

There are defenses to medical malpractice claims that defendants may be able to assert, depending on the facts and circumstances of the case, including:

  • Statute of limitations: The time limit that an individual has to file a specific legal claim is known as a statute of limitations. The majority of states require that a plaintiff file a medical malpractice action within two years of the injurious incident;
    • If this time limit has expired, the plaintiff will be barred from bringing their lawsuit and will lose their chance to recover for their injuries;
    • It is important to note that these time limits will vary by jurisdiction, and an individual should consult an attorney for the exact rules of their jurisdiction;
  • Contributory negligence: In states that use contributory negligence theory, this defense will entirely prevent a plaintiff from recovering a monetary damages award for their injuries;
    • The defendant must show that the plaintiff’s negligent conduct contributed to their injuries in such a way that the defendant cannot be held solely responsible for the harm that resulted;
    • States that apply the doctrine in full will bar a plaintiff from recovering;
    • However, if a state follows a modified comparative negligence theory, a plaintiff who is less than 51% at fault for their injuries may still be able to recover a reduced amount of damages; and
  • Lack of proof or fault: Consider that the plaintiff fails to prove that a medical professional fell below the standard duty of care or if the plaintiff cannot show that the defendant was the party responsible for the patient’s injuries. If so, this may serve as a defense to a medical malpractice claim.

Do I Need a Lawyer for My Medical Malpractice Claim?

You may believe that you have suffered an injury due to a medical professional who fell below the standard of care and engaged in medical malpractice. If that is the case, it is important to consult with a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible.

As noted above, there are time limits in which to file these claims, and it takes significant time to gather all of the necessary medical evidence and expert witnesses that will be needed to prove your medical malpractice claim.

Your attorney can explain the specific medical malpractice laws in your state, including any possible defenses the defendant may use against your claim. Many of these cases settle outside of court, so it is important to have your attorney present during any negotiations to ensure your rights are protected. It is also important to ensure that you are offered a fair amount of compensation for your injuries.


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