What is the Medical Standard of Care?
What is the Medical Standard of Care?

When you are hurt or sick, you turn to medical professionals and trust that they will help you recover. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Doctors, nurses, and other medical staff members can make mistakes. Sometimes these mistakes can have catastrophic consequences. A medical error can cause a patient to suffer additional injury or sickness and/or to require more treatment, which can end up costing thousands of dollars.

In these cases, you might think a medical malpractice claim would be obvious. However, there are standards for what constitutes malpractice. When determining whether a medical mistake can be considered malpractice, it is important to identify the accepted standard of care. This is defined as “the reasonable degree of skill, knowledge, and care ordinarily possessed and exercised by members of the medical profession under similar circumstances” (Avivi v. Centro Medico Urgente Medical Center).

In California, a medical professional is considered negligent if he/she “fails to use the level of skill, knowledge, and care in diagnosis and treatment that other reasonably careful [practitioners] would use in the same or similar circumstances” (California Civil Jury Instructions). Juries deciding on medical malpractice cases are instructed to determine the level of skill, knowledge and care that other medical practitioners would use in the same or similar circumstances.

A jury must decide whether the medical professional’s actions were negligent, based on the medical standard of care. The law also states that the circumstances surrounding the incident must also be taken into account. For instance, if you failed to tell your doctor you were taking a medication and he prescribes you another medication, the doctor cannot be held liable for an adverse reaction due to the drug’s contraindication.

The Importance of an Expert Witness

In California, the testimony of an expert medical witness is almost always required to establish the standard of care for the practice area of the medical professional. The expert must be licensed and experienced in the same medical field of the practitioner in question. If the doctor in question is a specialist, the expert witness should also be a specialist in that same field for the testimony to be accurate and fair.

Types of Medical Malpractice

Negligence by a medical professional can come in many forms. Some examples of negligence that can constitute medical malpractice include:

  • Misdiagnosis by a doctor
  • Unnecessary treatments for your injury/illness
  • Surgical errors, such as operating on the wrong body part
  • Misread lab results, which led to not receiving the correct treatment

These are just a handful of possible causes for medical malpractice claims. These are mistakes that reasonably careful medical professionals would not have made, under the same circumstances.

If you prove that the doctor or other medical professional breached the medical standard of care, you have the first part of your case. The next step is to prove that you suffered injuries or damages as a result of the doctor’s negligence.

Statute of Limitations on Medical Malpractice Lawsuits

If you are considering filing a medical malpractice lawsuit, it is important to act as soon as possible. The statute of limitations on these lawsuits in California is one year from either the date they knew or should have known about the injury, or three years from the date the incident took place—whichever is sooner. Additionally, you must give the health provider 90 days’ notice prior to filing the claim. An exception for minors is that for children younger than 6, a malpractice lawsuit can be filed within three years of the incident, or before the child turns 8—whichever is longer.

Limits on Medical Malpractice Damages

One other thing to consider about medical malpractice lawsuits is the cap placed on non-economic damages in California. The state limits these damages to $250,000, no matter the severity of the injury. While unfortunate, it is the reality in California, and it something patients must consider before deciding whether to file a lawsuit.  

“Patients count on doctors to provide them with appropriate care for their injuries and illnesses. When a medical professional breaches the standard of care, the patient is entitled to compensation for the resulting damages,” said Attorney Walter Clark, founder of Walter Clark Legal Group.

Our firm has been handling personal injury cases throughout the California Low Desert and High Desert communities for over 30 years. With a 95% success rate, the personal injury attorneys at Walter Clark Legal Group will fight to hold those responsible for your loss accountable and win compensation to cover medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. If you have been injured and want to discuss your legal options, contact us today for a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer. We have offices in Indio, Rancho Mirage, Victorville, and Yucca Valley and represent clients through the entire California Low Desert and High Desert communities.

DISCLAIMER: The Walter Clark Legal Group blog is intended for general information purposes only and is not intended as legal or medical advice. References to laws are based on general legal practices and vary by location. Information reported comes from secondary news sources. We do handle these types of cases, but whether or not the individuals and/or loved ones involved in these accidents choose to be represented by a law firm is a personal choice we respect. Should you find any of the information incorrect, we welcome you to contact us with corrections.

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