What determines the standard of care for medical malpractice claims?

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In a malpractice case, establishing the standard of care is a crucial part of proving negligence. For a doctor or care provider to be negligent, he must have deviated from the expected action of a reasonable professional in his position.  Standard of care in malpractice claims

Defining the Standard of Care

The standard of care refers to the actions that should have been taken by a provider in the defendant's field of expertise, given the patient's symptoms at the time of treatment. The standard of care is sometimes referred to as the customary practices of the average physician.

Some examples of conduct that would be consistent with the standard of care include:

  • Checking for potential drug interactions before prescribing a new medication
  • Discontinuing medication if the patient reports dangerous side effects
  • Obtaining informed consent for a risky experimental treatment
  • Taking precautions to prevent falls in patients who complain of dizziness or fainting spells
  • Ordering an MRI or a CT scan to check for bruising or bleeding in the brain after a patient reports symptoms that could indicate a concussion
  • Ordering a biopsy of a suspicious mole or skin growth
  • Following up on abnormal lab test results
  • Monitoring a surgical wound for signs of infection throughout the recovery period
  • Referring a patient who expresses thoughts of self-harm or suicide for a full psychiatric evaluation
  • Referring a patient to a different care provider if the patient's condition is outside the doctor’s area of professional expertise

In a malpractice case, expert testimony is used to establish the standard of care. This means, doctors or care providers practicing in the same specialty will testify as to what tests should have been ordered, how a procedure should have been performed, or how complications should have been addressed. In cases where there is a difference of opinion among members of the medical community, several different experts will likely be called to testify on both sides.

Accounting for Complications in Standard Medical Treatment

When determining if you have a valid malpractice case, it's important to keep in mind that the term standard of care recognizes that even a well-trained doctor or care provider who does everything by the book can't guarantee a perfect outcome. Complications and poor outcomes are sometimes unavoidable given the limitations of modern medicine. A case only qualifies as malpractice if the defendant's action or lack of action is the cause of the plaintiff's condition.

Protecting Your Right to Compensation

To receive compensation in a malpractice case, you must establish the following four key elements:

  • The defendant owed you a duty of care while acting in a professional capacity as a healthcare provider.
  • The defendant violated the standard of care when treating your condition.
  • You have suffered an injury resulting in compensable expenses.
  • Your injury was caused by the defendant's violation of the standard of care.

If you can prove these elements, you're entitled to compensation for the following expenses:

  • Medical care related to the malpractice injury
  • Anticipated future medical needs, if your injury has left you permanently disabled
  • Loss of wages from the time you were unable to work due to your injury
  • Loss of future earning potential, if your injury has left you permanently disabled
  • Pain and suffering

If the malpractice resulted in a patient's death, eligible family members can file a malpractice claim seeking compensation for medical expenses up to the time of death, funeral and burial costs, loss of the decedent's future earnings, and loss of future companionship with their loved one.

Although the vast majority of malpractice cases are settled out of court, insurance companies are typically more interested in protecting their bottom line than in providing injured patients with adequate compensation. To protect your rights, hiring a skilled medical malpractice attorney is essential.

Neblett, Beard & Arsenault's legal team is committed to helping Louisiana residents who've been the victims of medical malpractice receive the maximum compensation they're entitled to under the law. Contact us online or call us directly at 318.541.8188 to schedule a free, no-obligation initial case review.


Richard J. Arsenault
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Recognized by several legal associations, Richard Arsenault has vast experience in complex litigation cases.