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What Is the Standard of Care in a Medical Malpractice Case?

Posted on October 31, 2022

If you get injured by a negligent healthcare provider in Alabama, you may be entitled to financial compensation. The failure of a medical practitioner to use an appropriate level of care when treating a patient is known as medical malpractice. This is a tort that can make an injured patient eligible for monetary recovery. When pursuing a medical malpractice claim, you or your lawyer must establish that the defendant was legally or ethically obligated to live up to a certain standard of care but failed to do so, resulting in your injuries.

Defining the Standard of Care

Most personal injury claims in Alabama are based on the argument that the defendant breached the duty of care. A duty of care is defined as a responsibility to exercise reasonable care. This is the amount of care and prudence that a reasonable party would exhibit under the same or similar circumstances.

A standard of care is higher than a duty of care. It refers to a specific set of standards that a defendant is obligated to follow due to his or her position, profession or relationship to the plaintiff. Due to the life-and-death nature of their jobs, licensed healthcare practitioners must meet extremely high standards of care when treating patients.

Physicians take an oath to do no harm and uphold a number of professional ethical standards when treating patients (the Hippocratic Oath). In essence, these standards ascribe a level of care that must be met by all licensed medical practitioners. A defendant may be found guilty of medical malpractice if a competent and skilled doctor with a comparable position to the defendant would have done something differently to adhere to the standard of care.

What Are the Medical Standards of Care?

While the law does not expect a doctor to be perfect or save every patient, it does expect a licensed healthcare provider to use an appropriate level of care when treating a patient to achieve optimal health outcomes. There are general and specific medical standards of care. The general standards have to do with ethics and the Hippocratic Oath; they include a promise to do no harm or injustice to patients and to keep private patient information confidential.

The specific standards of care that apply to a medical professional depend on his or her position and specialty. A brain surgeon, for example, does not have the same standards of care as a nutritionist. Determining the standards of care that apply to the defendant in a medical malpractice claim requires an in-depth analysis of the role that the defendant played in the patient’s treatment.

How to Prove a Medical Malpractice Case

Proving a medical malpractice case requires establishing that a healthcare professional with similar skills, experience and medical background would have done something different than the defendant – and that this more likely than not would have prevented the patient’s injury or death. Establishing these elements typically requires hiring a medical expert with comparable skills and background to the defendant to testify.

A medical expert can explain to a judge or jury what the medical standards were based on the circumstances, as well as what the appropriate actions and behaviors would have been for the defendant to take. Then, the medical expert can help establish that the defendant’s act or omission fell short of the accepted standards of care.

If it can be proved with clear and convincing evidence that the defendant fell short of the guidelines that are generally accepted in the medical industry, the defendant can be held financially responsible for a related patient injury, illness or death. The plaintiff in this type of case must establish not only the standards of care and a violation of these standards but causation for his or her injury, as well.

Evidence that may be necessary to establish a medical malpractice claim can include medical records, eyewitness statements, photos and videos, and expert testimony. For assistance establishing the elements of your medical malpractice case, including the standard of care, contact an attorney in Birmingham.