Defining the “Standard of Care” in Malpractice Cases

Medical Malpractice Lawyer

Determining the operative standard of care is often the single most critical issue in medical malpractice cases.  Typically, the “standard of care” is defined as what a reasonably prudent health care provider in the field of practice or specialty would do under the same or similar circumstances.  A deviation from the standard of care is defined as negligence, whereas if a health care provider meets or exceeds the standard of care then he or she is not negligent. The standard of care is not what most health care providers would do, but rather what a reasonably prudent health care provider would do. 

Learned treatises and other authoritative sources can help define the relevant standard of care, including textbooks, certification materials, national examinations, national and local publications in the relevant field.  Most states impose a localized standard of care in many cases, so counsel will need to look at state-specific materials as well.   To be established as an expert witness (and thus able to define the applicable standard of care), a doctor or physician will typically need to be licensed to practice medicine in forum state or can meet the educational and examination requirements to be licensed to practice medicine in the forum state.

Defense counsel will try in many different ways to get your expert to state that they do not know the standard of care applicable to the defendant based on different factors (resources, experience, type of practice, and the like) and, consequently, Plaintiff’s counsel must emphasize that the standard of care applicable to the defendant is the same standard applicable to your expert in their practice.   For example, if the defendant health care provider does not have the necessary experience or resources, then the standard of care requires the health care provider to refer the patient to someone with adequate experience or resources.

A preparatory memorandum to your expert should include additional topics, such as: an explanation of the purpose of a deposition, warnings about specific words and questions frequently used by defense counsel, warnings about understanding the question, an explanation of the details of causation, advice on how to explain the issue of fees, a review of testimonial history, a review of qualifications, advice on handling medical literature, cautions about agreeing with opposing counsel, and advice on hypothetical questions, among other similar issues.

By working closely with your expert to define the operative standard of care on favorable terms, the Plaintiff goes a long way towards prevailing in highly contentious medical malpractice cases. Contact a Medical Malpractice Lawyer in Arlington, VA, like the Law Offices of Ryan Quinn, PLLC, for more information.