What Role Does Standard of Care Play in Medical Malpractice? March 1, 2023.

What Role Does Standard of Care Play in Medical Malpractice?

People who believe their doctor has harmed them may be curious about the medical malpractice standard of care. Medical malpractice can occur even if you have a good relationship with your doctor. However, sometimes telling the difference between medical malpractice and medical error can be tricky. Understanding how the law defines the standard of care can help.

Analyzing the Standard of Care Definition

What is the standard of care in medical malpractice cases?

The Ohio Supreme Court explains the standard of care as the same degree of care a normal medical professional of ordinary diligence, care, and skill would exhibit under similar circumstances. The Court acknowledges that while a medical professional's standard of care is heightened, it does not expect medical professionals to be omnipotent. 

However, medical professionals are expected to recognize certain symptoms and be aware of the risk of harm associated with those symptoms. This recognition and awareness should align with that of an ordinary medical professional.

Does the standard of medical care you received amount to medical malpractice?

Essentially, Ohio's Supreme Court has held that if an average doctor would have acted in the same way in the same situation and following the same medical standards, then you received the proper standard of care, and no medical malpractice transpired.

If you believe you were the victim of medical malpractice, you or your lawyer must convince the court that ordinary medical professionals would have acted differently.

How the Medical Standard Is Established

You can establish your claim through expert testimony to prove that your medical professional did not meet the standard of care. However, not every medical malpractice lawsuit requires expert testimony. 

For example, it is unlikely that expert testimony would be required to prove a physician failed to meet the standard of care when they amputated the wrong limb. The average juror can understand that a mistake of this magnitude would not occur without negligent actions.

However, other, less obvious cases often require the testimony of expert witnesses. 

Using Standard of Care To Determine Medical Negligence

To prove medical negligence, you must prove your medical professional owed you a legal duty to treat you with a certain standard of care, and their actions failed to live up to that standard. This is called a breach of duty.

You must prove other elements to establish medical malpractice, such as causation and damages. However, if you cannot prove the doctors or other healthcare providers failed to provide you with the minimum standard of care, you will not have a successful case.

Common Examples of Duty of Care Breaches

It is important to remember that not every medical error constitutes malpractice. Every day, heroic doctors go above and beyond what a normal doctor would do and still fail to diagnose every illness or save every patient. 

However, sometimes doctors make inexcusable, life-altering mistakes that violate best practices. These mistakes can leave patients suffering from harm that never should have occurred. 

Duty of care breaches can include:

  • Ignoring your laboratory results
  • Failing to make a clear diagnosis
  • Exhibiting poor judgment during surgery
  • Misinterpreting laboratory results
  • Failing to warn you of a surgery's known risks
  • Failing to provide you with adequate follow-up care
  • Causing you intentional harm
  • Discharging you from their care prematurely

If your medical professional has made any of these or other grave errors, they may have breached your duty of care. Speak with a medical malpractice lawyer to determine if you have a viable legal case.

Proving Medical Malpractice Occurred

Proving medical malpractice occurred requires you to prove each of the four elements of a medical malpractice claim:

  1. Duty
  2. Breach
  3. Causation
  4. Damages

You must prove that the medical professional owed you a duty to observe a standard of care and that they breached this duty by offering insufficient care. However, you must also prove that your doctor's breach of duty caused you to suffer an injury that resulted in damages.

For example, if your doctor prematurely discharged you, you could develop a serious infection that would not have developed under your doctor's care. The infection is your injury. If the injury costs you additional expenses in medical bills or causes you to lose the use of your leg, these effects of the injury are your damages. 

If your doctor makes an unforgivable error, but you are unharmed by this error, you will not have a viable medical malpractice claim. 

For example, imagine a doctor mistakenly wrote an amputation on the wrong client's chart. If a nurse notices the doctor's error and fixes the mistake before the surgery, the doctor's error causes no harm, and no damages are sustained. Therefore, a medical malpractice claim will not succeed. However, if the doctor proceeds with the erroneous amputation, the patient suffering the incorrect amputation could file a medical malpractice lawsuit.

Potential Compensatory Damages in a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit

If you lodge a successful medical malpractice lawsuit, there are several damage awards you may receive. These typically fall into three categories:

  1. Economic damages
  2. Non-economic damages
  3. Punitive damages

You can attach a dollar amount to economic damages with relative ease. These may include medical expenses, lost wages, and lost future wages. You should document any expense related to medical malpractice; save your receipts to help prove economic damages.

Non-economic damages are more difficult to attach a price to. These damages may include a victim's physical pain and suffering or loss of enjoyment of life. Ohio caps non-economic damages at the greater of $250,000 or three times the economic damages.

Medical Malpractice vs. Medical Errors

When your health deteriorates due to a perceived failure of your medical professional, it can be challenging to accept that your healthcare provider's actions may not constitute medical malpractice.

Medical professionals are human, and as such, innocent errors occur. The line separating malpractice from error can become blurred, but there are certain questions you can ask to determine if your case may be malpractice:

  • Did the medical professional's actions or inactions cause me to suffer harm?
  • Did this harm I suffered lead to damages, such as additional medical expenses, lost wages, loss of enjoyment of life, pain and suffering, or mental anguish?
  • Would other medical professionals have responded differently in the situation?

If you answered yes to these questions, you might have a medical malpractice claim. If you answered no, you are likely a victim of medical error. These errors may cause a medical complication, but if reasonable care was provided, it is unlikely medical malpractice occurred. A medical error is unfortunate, but it is not actionable.

Get Your Case Handled by Experts in Medical Malpractice Law

If you or a loved one have suffered from medical malpractice caused by a hospital, doctor, or other medical professionals, you may be eligible to receive compensation. An experienced medical malpractice lawyer can lodge a breach of standard of care medical malpractice lawsuit to help you recover the damages you deserve.

Mellino Law Firm can answer your questions and advise you on the strength of your medical malpractice claim. Contact us today for a free consultation.