Understanding Standard of Care in a Medical Malpractice Case

Posted on behalf of James Lynch on August 7, 2019  in Medical Malpractice News. Updated on September 29, 2022

standard of care in medical malpractice casesIf you believe that your injury stemmed from an instance of medical malpractice and are seeking to take legal action, much of your claim will center on the legal term “standard of care.”

Below, our devoted New Jersey medical malpractice lawyers at Lynch Law Firm, PC provide important information about the standard of care, including how this standard is established and how it may impact your case.

Defining Medical Standard of Care

The medical standard of care is the type and extent of care that is expected from a reasonably skilled medical professional with similar training and education in the same medical areas. In other words, the standard of care is the type of treatment a patient should expect and that the medical community recognizes as appropriate.

In a medical malpractice case, the key questions surrounding the standard of care are:

  • What was the standard of care in my situation?
  • Did my doctor follow the standard of care?
  • Would a competent medical professional have followed the same course of treatment under similar circumstances?
  • What should my doctor have done to follow the standard of care?

To establish the standard of care, it is usually necessary to retain the services of a medical expert witness who can testify about how your treatment failed to meet the standard of care. This expert witness is usually a doctor in the same practice area as the doctor in question. He or she will discuss the standard of care and particular ways that your health care provider failed to meet the standard.

The Duties of Doctors Towards Patients

Doctors owe various duties towards patients once a doctor-patient relationship has been established. This includes:

Duty to Properly Diagnose

Doctors are trained to assess a patient’s symptoms and properly diagnose patients. They can order tests, interpret the results and recommend expert evaluations to eliminate and narrow down the possible medical condition that ails the patient. Failing to properly diagnose, delaying a diagnosis or misdiagnosing a patient can form the basis of a medical malpractice case if a reasonably prudent doctor would have correctly diagnosed the patient.

Duty to Warn and Advise

A doctor also has a duty to warn patients about the possible treatment options, alternatives and the potential consequences of a particular course of treatment. Additionally, doctors must inform patients of the dangers associated with the medications they have been prescribed. Doctors must also provide warnings related to third parties, such as that a medication can make it dangerous to operate heavy machinery while taking the medication or that the patient may become drowsy after taking it and should avoid driving.

Duty to Care and Supervise

Doctors are expected to delegate duties to other health care professionals, but they have the ongoing duty to adequately supervise these professionals. However, if another doctor would not find it reasonable to delegate a particular task and the patient is injured as a result of the incompetence of the health care professional, this can form the basis of a medical malpractice case.

Doctors and Vicarious Liability

In some situations, a doctor who has not upheld the appropriate standard of care is not the only one who can be held responsible for medical malpractice. A hospital or clinic that has employed the doctor may be held vicariously liable for his or her actions under the theory of “respondeat superior.”

This legal concept holds the employer responsible for the negligence of its employees. However, this theory may not always apply because many doctors work as independent contractors or are not direct employees of the hospital or facility.

Although, if another health care professional was responsible for the harm, such as an assistant or staff of the doctor, the doctor may be held liable for the actions of his or her employees.

Contact a Malpractice Attorney for Help

If you suffered harm as a result of substandard medical care, an attorney from our firm may be able to help. We are familiar with common forms of medical malpractice and the factors that contribute to them. If you have a case and decide to move forward, we can investigate your situation and identify all parties responsible for your injuries and other losses.

Contact us to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation. Phone: (800) 518-0508 .

* Results may vary depending on your particular facts and legal circumstances.

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