The Standard of Care in Medical Malpractice Cases
We all know that just because a person is a doctor does not automatically mean that he or she has the highest levels of skill. We all know that some house painters are better than others, as are some chefs, authors, butchers, plumbers and electricians. Certain other jobs, such as lawyers, accountants and doctors are licensed by the State (such as Illinois), required to have a certain level of expertise and required to meet certain standards to continue as a licensed professional.
We also all know that everyone makes mistakes - and when you're talking about a house painter, it's really not that big a deal. If the paint is applied poorly, all it takes it another coat of paint to fix things right up. If a chef makes a mistake, he just throws out the meal and begins again. But the human body is not a door or a wall, and certain things that happen can never be undone. It has often been said that "doctors must bury their mistakes" because some errors result in serious long-term injuries or even wrongful death. It is for this reason that courts of law hold doctors, nurses and other medical professionals to a certain standard. This is called the "medical standard of care".
What Is the Standard of Care?
The standard of care is the degree of skill and care of an average medical provider (a nurse, a midwife or a doctor, etc.) who practices in a specific specialty, while using available medical knowledge. The court will judge a medical provider's services by this benchmark to see if he or she has done what other medical professionals, who have been similarly trained and practice in a similar type of community, would have done. (The standard compares the type of community because a doctor who practices in downtown Chicago, for instance, most likely has a different type of practice than a doctor who practices in a more rural community where there are few doctors, fewer advanced hospitals and so on).
The standard of care compares apples to apples. It doesn't judge whether a general practitioner would handle a situation the same way a skilled heart surgeon would; rather, it only compares one general practitioner other general practitioners would likely do. As a result, the standard of care depends on the practices of an average medical provider and what similar practitioners would typically do under similar circumstances.
In this way, medical malpractice is different from most other areas of negligence law. Say that a jar of peaches breaks in the aisle of a grocery store, a person slips, and he or she becomes injured and sues the store. The judge or jury would need to decide if the store owners were negligent for not promptly noticing and cleaning the mess. Rather than determining negligence using the "standard of care", they would instead decide if the owners did what a "reasonable person" would have done. So if a "reasonable person" would have noticed the spill before someone slipped, they may be held liable for monetary damages. If a "reasonable person" wouldn't have noticed it, then they would be found not responsible or negligent.
Who Determines the Standard of Care?
The decision of whether the standard of care has been met is incredibly important in a medical malpractice claim. It is ultimately up to the Judge or, in the case of a jury trial, up to the jury to decide this all-important question. No matter what else has happened, no matter whether the patient has died, no matter whether the patient's life has been forever changed, if the Judge or jury decides that the doctor did not deviate from the standard of care and that he or she did what any other similar doctor would have done under the circumstances, then the doctor will be found not guilty of medical malpractice. If, on the other hand, they decide that the standard of care was not met and the doctor "dropped the ball," he or she will be found guilty and liable for damages.
How Does the Court Decide if the Standard of Care Has Been Met?
Judges and juries are not experts on medical questions and medical practices. So it only makes sense that they would need to have a medical expert explain to them what another doctor should have done under similar circumstances. Only then can they make a reasoned decision about whether medical malpractice occurred.
In most cases, this is done by hiring an expert witness such as another doctor, physician, nurse or medical expert to review all of the medical records and reports. They are almost always paid to do this work (the medical malpractice attorney will normally front this cost) and then the expert will spend a great deal of time examining the history of treatment and comparing it to what they believe another reasonable, skilled and competent professional would have likely done.
Both the plaintiff (you) and the defense (the doctor, hospital, insurance company, etc.) will hire such experts. Undoubtedly, the other side will find an expert who is willing to challenge your expert and testify at trial that the doctor acted properly, did what was required and did not commit medical malpractice. Your attorney will challenge and vigorously cross-examine their expert at trial to effectively and aggressively demonstrate to the judge or jury that their expert is wrong, and that medical malpractice did in fact occur.
Speak to Our Chicago Medical Malpractice Lawyers for Free
Doctors and hospitals are constantly being sued for their mistakes. As such, they have lawyers on retainer at all times to help defend them against such lawsuits. You need an experienced, aggressive and knowledgeable legal team to help you as well. Since 1990, Mitchell S. Sexner & Associates LLC has collected millions of dollars for our deserving clients and their families to help them get back on their feet. We are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Call now at (800) 996-4824 and let us explain to you how justice can be achieved.
- Medical Errors Identified as a Major Cause of Death
- Bad Medicine – When to file a Chicago Medical Malpractice Suit
- Doctors and Hidden Medical Mistakes
- Adverse Events, Near Misses, and Errors - Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality