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What is the “standard of care” in malpractice litigation? P.1

The ability to seek compensation from a negligent physician, hospital or nursing home is an important right patients have under state law, and those who have been seriously harmed as a result of incompetent and substandard medical, hospital or nursing home care should explore their options for seeking recovery, including malpractice litigation. At the same time, some malpractice lawsuits should never be pursued in the first place: some, for financial reasons; others, for legal reasons.

At the heart of any medical, hospital or nursing home malpractice case is the contention that a provider or institution failed to abide by an established standard of care and that this caused harm to a patient. A central issue in any medical, hospital or nursing home malpractice case is: what is the standard of care to which the physician, hospital or nursing home should be held? 

The standard of care in a malpractice case is the legal duty to which a provider or institution is held for purposes of determining whether they are at fault for harm the patient suffered. An important point to understand is that poor patient outcomes and patient mishaps don’t necessarily always qualify as breaches of a standard of care. Medical professionals and institutions are not legally obligated to provide flawless care, but only to uphold the standard of care.

Standards of care come from several different sources. These include:

  • State licensing laws and regulations which specify the standards of practice for professionals and institutions
  • Professional associations like the American Medical Association, which publish ethical rules applicable to professionals on a national basis
  • Publications which discuss standards of care within specific areas of practice

In our next post, we’ll continue looking at this issue and the importance of working with experienced legal counsel in building a strong malpractice defense case.

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