Medical Standard of Care: What it is and What it Means in Medical Malpractice Cases

Though you may think medical malpractice cases depend on whether a health care professional was negligent, many rely on the medical standard of care. Medical negligence is measured by the medical standard of care present during the events leading up to the alleged malpractice.

What is the Medical Standard of Care?

The legal standard of care is tied to the concept of the ‘reasonable person standard’ according to the Legal Information Institute (LII). This standard compares medical professionals to a similarly qualified person and asks whether that person, when faced with the same or a comparable set of circumstances, would have acted the same.

Medical standards of care differ depending on the people and circumstances involved and when and where the alleged malpractice was committed. This is reflected by the average person against which an individual is compared.

For example, a child’s actions would be compared against the average person within that same age group. In the same way, a doctor or other medical professional would be compared to another individual within their field.

Who Decides the Medical Standard of Care?

A qualified expert medical witness typically testifies about the applicable medical standard of care in medical malpractice suits. A medical witness would also be able to explain how a doctor or professional’s care deviated from that standard and how that deviation impacted (i.e, harmed) the plaintiff.

However, in this case, an essential distinction is that a medical witness does not set the medical standard of care; they can only testify about it. In reality, medical standards of care are created over time by various medical professionals, including doctors, medical researchers, multidisciplinary experts, government regulators, and writers for medical journals.

Medical standards of care are fluid; they evolve as technology advances, new treatments become available, and common practices change. As such, there may not always be consensus on the medical standard of care for a specific case.

How Do Standards of Care Affect Medical Malpractice Cases?

There are three basic aspects to winning a medical malpractice case: a plaintiff must (1) establish the medical standard of care, (2) prove the defendant failed to meet that standard, and (3) that the defendant’s failure led to an injury. However, standards of care differ depending on who was involved, where the alleged malpractice happened, and when it happened.

Additionally, plaintiffs will have to contend with rules and jurisdictions of medical standards of care. These fall into three primary categories:

·      Respectable Minority – This rule states that care is not negligible if a respectable minority of doctors adhere to it; essentially, it means that care doesn’t have to be mainstream to be acceptable

·      Locality – This rule states that medical standards of care may be geographically influenced; therefore, malpractice is only present if the medical standard of the surrounding community has not been met

·      National – Though a national standard of care can be difficult to argue, this rule states that there are uniform procedures and field-specific standards that are the same for professionals across the country

These rules add another layer of nuance to medical standards of care. Compounding this complexity is that states each have their own laws regarding medical malpractice, standards of care, and the rules above. Please consult an attorney or legal professional to understand how they may affect your case or a potential malpractice suit.