What is the “Standard of Care” in a Medical Malpractice Case?

Doctors and lawyers are often accused of using unnecessarily difficult or complicated terminology. As a result, those who do not work in the medical or legal fields may sometimes be confused by the information and materials they receive from these professionals.

For example, a doctor may refer to a bruise as a “contusion” or swelling as “edema.” Attorneys may speak of “proximate cause” to describe what caused an accident or “mens rea” when discussing criminal intent.

And in the world of medical malpractice, both doctors and lawyers discuss the “standard of care.” But what does that mean, and how important is the concept? We’ll discuss those issues in this article.

Medical Malpractice Is a Real Problem

The importance of medical professionals in our society cannot be overstated. Whether helping prevent illness or treating sick and injured people, doctors help improve the quality of life for thousands of people every day.

But sometimes medical professionals make mistakes. Unfortunately, when medical malpractice occurs, the consequences can cause devastating personal injuries and even death.

For example, MDLinx, a publication that aggregates medical news, recently published an article discussing horrible medical mix-ups. One example involved an Oregon man who underwent cardiac surgery. The surgeon directed that the patient be given 150 mg of a particular drug. Unfortunately, the anesthesiologist administered 2700 mg of the medicine. The patient suffered permanent brain damage. 

Proving Medical Malpractice and the Standard of Care

Like almost everyone, Oregon medical care professionals are required to behave with reasonable care. When they fail to do so and cause injury, they can be held liable for their negligence. By holding wrongdoers responsible for their actions, all of society is made safer. We see this in many other situations, such as when automobile or semi-truck drivers are held responsible for causing injury when they negligently crash their vehicles.

The law requires that a physician use the same degree of care used by ordinarily careful physicians under the same or similar circumstances in the same community or in a similar community. This level of care that is required is the “standard of care.” 

Medical malpractice, however, is frequently more complicated than other forms of negligence.  Oftentimes, the average juror simply does not have the medical knowledge necessary to judge the medical professional’s conduct and whether it was reasonable. Thus, the standard of care usually must be established by another health care professional. This is done by expert testimony at trial.

There are some important things to note about the standard of care. First, as noted in the definition above, the standard of care considers the circumstances at the time of treatment. Did the doctor have plenty of time to reflect, or was there an emergency that limited the physician’s alternatives? The answers to these types of questions can be important.

The standard of care also considers the community where the treatment took place. For example, a doctor in a small town may not have the same drugs and equipment available as a doctor in a hospital in a big city. The standard of care takes this into consideration.

Call with Questions

Evaluating medical malpractice, including a determination of the applicable standard of care, is complicated. The Oregon medical malpractice lawyers at Nelson MacNeil Rayfield are experienced at evaluating claims and holding negligent medical care providers responsible for their actions. If you have questions about an injury or death caused by medical malpractice, please give us a call today.


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