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Establishing the Standard of Care With a Medical Expert Witness

Multiethnic staff in clinic or hospital. Diverse team of happy doctors, general practitioners, specialists and nurses in scrubs and white lab coat uniforms standing in office and smiling at camera

Expert witnesses are an important element of many legal proceedings. In some cases, such as medical malpractice matters, expert witnesses are all but necessary (and in many states, legally required). Winning a medical malpractice case requires establishing the medical standard of care and explaining how the defendant healthcare professional’s conduct failed to meet that standard. Continue reading to learn about the medical standard of care and how medical experts are utilized, and call a seasoned medical expert witness for help with an anticipated or pending legal claim.

What is the Standard of Care and Why Does it Matter?

The “standard of care” is a legal term of art that refers to how we expect a reasonable person in the defendant’s situation would have acted in the matter that gave rise to the legal action. In a general negligence case, there’s a general standard of care: How a reasonable person would have acted in the defendant’s situation. For example, if the case involves a car accident, the standard of care would consider how a reasonable driver would have acted in the circumstances giving rise to the accident. If the defendant driver blew through a stop sign and crashed in the intersection, that’s unreasonable behavior, demonstrating the driver was negligent and should be held liable.

In cases of professional negligence and malpractice, there’s a special standard of care: how a reasonable person of that profession would have, and should have, acted in the given situation. For a medical malpractice case, proving the healthcare professional should be held liable requires demonstrating the “medical standard of care.” The medical standard of care is typically defined as the level and type of care that a reasonably competent and skilled healthcare professional, with a similar background and in the same medical community, would have provided under similar circumstances to those that led to the legal claim.

Establishing the standard of care is essentially establishing what a reasonable medical professional would have done, or should have done, in a given situation. It might also involve demonstrating what a reasonable medical professional in a similar situation would not have done. That standard of care is then compared against what the defendant actually did (or didn’t do), in order to demonstrate that the defendant violated the standard of care, breaching the duty they owed to the patient, and thus committing medical malpractice. If a similarly skilled medical professional would have acted differently, making different choices and providing different treatment under the same or similar circumstances, then the defendant doctor may have committed malpractice.

Establishing the Medical Standard of Care Requires a Medical Expert

Proving the ordinary standard of care in a general negligence case typically does not require an expert opinion. In a car accident case, for example, the parties can look to the traffic safety laws and rules; reasonable drivers are expected to follow those rules. If the defendant violated traffic safety laws, they were acting unreasonably and should be held liable for any resulting damage. In other situations, the parties might argue over what a reasonable person would have done in a given situation.

In a case involving medical malpractice, however, a lay person cannot accurately define the standard of care. A layperson cannot demonstrate what a trained medical professional would have or should have done in a given situation. Demonstrating medical malpractice requires providing a medical expert’s opinion on the medical standard of care in the given situation, as well as an expert opinion on whether and how the defendant’s actions deviated from that standard of care.

In most states, proving medical malpractice requires providing an expert opinion from a medical expert in the same or a similar field as the defendant. Some states require the plaintiff to include an affidavit or sworn statement from a medical expert with their initial complaint for medical malpractice. The statement must assert that, in their professional opinion, the defendant violated the medical standard of care.

If you need a professional, dedicated, and talented expert witness in a personal injury, medical malpractice, or product liability case, contact the offices of Neurosurgery Medlegal Services, LLC, at 866-659-8051.

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