Who determines standard of care in a medical malpractice lawsuit? | Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp

In a medical malpractice lawsuit, the determination of the standard of care is typically made by expert witnesses. The standard of care refers to the level of care and skill that a reasonably competent healthcare professional in the same field, under similar circumstances, would provide to a patient. It serves as the benchmark against which the defendant’s actions or omissions are evaluated to determine whether there was a breach of the standard of care. Here’s an overview of how the standard of care is determined in a medical malpractice lawsuit:

Expert Witnesses

Expert witnesses play a crucial role in establishing the standard of care in a medical malpractice case. These witnesses are typically medical professionals who have experience and expertise in the same specialty or field as the defendant healthcare provider. They are qualified to offer opinions on the appropriate standard of care and whether the defendant’s actions met or deviated from that standard.

Medical Specialization

The standard of care is evaluated within the specific medical specialization or field relevant to the case. Different medical specialties have different accepted practices and protocols. For example, the standard of care for a cardiologist may differ from that of an orthopedic surgeon. Expert witnesses in the same field as the defendant healthcare provider provide insight into the specific standard of care applicable to that specialty.

Expert Witness Testimony

During a medical malpractice trial, expert witnesses are called upon to provide testimony regarding the standard of care. They explain what a competent healthcare professional would have done in similar circumstances and how the defendant’s actions or omissions fell short of meeting that standard. Their testimony is based on their experience, knowledge, and familiarity with the medical practices and protocols relevant to the case.

Research and Peer-reviewed Literature

Expert witnesses may rely on medical research, peer-reviewed literature, professional guidelines, and established protocols to support their opinions on the standard of care. They review and analyze these sources to determine the accepted practices and prevailing standards within their medical specialty.

Professional Organizations and Guidelines

Expert witnesses may refer to professional organizations and their published guidelines or standards when assessing the standard of care. These organizations, such as medical boards or associations, often develop guidelines or codes of conduct that healthcare professionals are expected to follow. Deviations from these guidelines may be considered evidence of a breach of the standard of care.

Local Practice

The standard of care can also be influenced by local practices and customs. Regional variations or differences in healthcare delivery, resources, or patient populations may be considered when determining the standard of care. Expert witnesses may take into account the practices and norms followed by healthcare providers in the geographic area where the alleged malpractice occurred.

Jury Consideration

Ultimately, the determination of whether the defendant healthcare provider breached the standard of care is made by the trier of fact, typically the jury. The jury evaluates the expert witness testimony, evidence, and arguments presented by both parties to decide whether the defendant’s actions or omissions deviated from the standard of care, and if so, whether that deviation caused harm to the plaintiff.

It’s important to note that the standard of care can be a complex and highly debated aspect of a medical malpractice case. The involvement of knowledgeable expert witnesses helps provide an objective evaluation of the standard of care based on their professional expertise and industry standards. Their testimony assists the court in determining whether the defendant healthcare provider acted negligently and breached the expected standard of care.