Standard of Care

Medical malpractice or professional negligence claims focus on two closely related legal concepts:

      1. Did the defendant owe a duty to the plaintiff?
      2. Did the defendant breach the duty owed?

The plaintiff is the person bringing the lawsuit and defendant is the health care provider. The very first inquiry in all medical malpractice claims is whether the defendant owed a duty to the plaintiff. The issue centers on the question of whether a health care provider/patient relationship was established. To establish a health care provider/patient relationship, the defendant must first be licensed under the state public health code. Secondly, the defendant must be engaged in providing professional services to the plaintiff. Thirdly, the alleged harm must have occurred during the professional relationship and naturally flow from the relationship.

Assuming all the factors establish a health care provider/patient relationship, the issue centers on the standard of care. More precisely, the jury question is whether the health care provider breached the standard of care. The actual jury instruction generally reads like this, “did the health care provider provide treatment that was equal to or greater than what an average health care provider would provide under the same or similar circumstances.” This is known as a reasonableness standard. The physician or nurse or other health care provider is not required to be any more competent than the average health care provider with the same or similar training would be under the same or similar circumstances.

The best way to explain this is to think of a neighborhood with grass lawns. Some neighbors have meticulously manicured lawns with every blade of grass trimmed to perfection. Some neighbors simply cut their lawns every week to prevent overgrowth. Finally, some neighbors let their lawn grow out of control and never cut it. If you were to drive through the neighborhood you would conclude that some of the neighbors deserve an A, some a B or C, and some a D or E for effort. Those receiving a D or E fall below the standard of care. Those with a C represent the average, and the A’s or B’s represent care above the standard.

Following the same analogy, the A thru C homeowners did not breach the standard of care, while the D and E homeowners breached the standard of care because their lawns fell below the neighborhood standard. If this were a medical malpractice case, the jury would more likely than not conclude the homeowner with a D or E fell below the standard of care and, therefore, would be liable for all damages proximately caused.

Generally, standard of care is established with expert testimony. The expert generally must testify that he/she is similarly trained, board-certified in the same field, etc., and that based on his/her experience and training, the standard of care required the health care provider to do or not do something.

Medical malpractice defense is one of the most difficult litigation challenges an attorney deals with. If you are facing a medical malpractice lawsuit, please call the attorneys at Chapman Law Group. One of our experienced team members would be happy to talk with you. For over 30 years, Chapman Law Group has successfully defended hundreds of complicated medical malpractice claims with exceptional results. We understand the complexities of health care and work hard to defend your good name and the right to continue to practice your chosen profession.

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