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How Is ‘Standard Of Care’ Determined?

When you get treatment from a doctor, you expect high-quality care. Sadly, this does not always happen. Medical malpractice remains a very serious public health issue in New York. To bring a successful medical malpractice lawsuit in New York, a patient must prove that they suffered harm because their doctor or health care provider was negligent. Establishing negligence requires proving that the defendant failed to live up the requisite standard of care. 

This raises an important question: What is the standard of care in a medical malpractice claim? The short answer is that it is the legal yardstick by which a doctor or health care provider is measured. In this blog post, our Rochester medical malpractice attorneys provide a more detailed explanation of the important things to know about the standard of care in a medical malpractice claim in New York. 

The Standard Of Care: Explained

A tort law concept, the standard of care is the degree of prudence and caution that should have been demonstrated by the defendant in a particular situation. In the context of medical malpractice cases, the standard of care can be thought of simply as the level of skill, knowledge, and attention that a medical professional or medical provider should have offered to the patient. Doctors and hospitals that fail to live up to the standard of care can be held liable for any resulting harm to the patient. 

Health care providers have a duty to offer care that is at least as good as an ordinary alternative provider would have offered under similar circumstances. In other words, the standard of care is the “yardstick” by which a doctor/hospital is measured. If they provided care that was substantially worse than the required standard, then they can be held accountable for resulting injuries, illnesses, or complications through a malpractice claim. 

How It Is Determined: The Standard Of Care Is Context Specific 

As noted above, the standard of care matters in a New York medical malpractice claim. You can only prove that a doctor or hospital provided substandard care when you have actually established the standard that they should have followed. The standard of care always varies based on the specific context. As a simple example, New York law recognizes that medical errors in a hectic emergency room are not necessarily equivalent to medical errors during a pre-scheduled annual physical. Physicians, nurses, and hospitals are compared to their peers. 

The Court of Appeals of New York articulated the standard well in the more than century old medical malpractice case of Pike v. Honsinger, which notes that the standard of care is the “reasonable degree of learning and skill that is ordinarily possessed by physicians and surgeons in the locality where he practices.” To determine the standard of care, a New York court will take a close look at the specific circumstances of the case, including the accepted methods and practices used by medical professionals and health providers under similar circumstances. 

Expert Witness Testimony Helps To Determine The Standard Of Care

New York law requires physicians, nurses, and other medical professionals to treat patients with adequate skill, knowledge, and prudence. Of course, in the abstract, those terms are somewhat vague. It is not always easy to apply them to a given medical malpractice case. Modern medicine is highly technical and highly specialized. For this reason, medical experts are often brought in to testify as to the requisite standard of care in any given situation. 

It is worth noting that New York law (CPLR § 3012-a) mandates that a medical malpractice claimant must seek something called a ‘certificate of merit’ to bring a malpractice claim. In most cases, a certificate of merit will be issued when a medical malpractice attorney certifies that they have personally reviewed the specific facts of the case and that they have “consulted with at least one physician” who is licensed to practice and is “knowledgeable in the relevant issues involved in the particular action.”

Call Our New York Medical Malpractice Lawyers For A Free Consultation

At Powers & Santola, LLP, our New York medical malpractice attorneys are highly-respected, results-driven advocates for patients and their families. We are prepared to put time and legal resources into your case. Results matter. If you have questions about the standard of care in a malpractice claim, our team can help. Contact us right away to set up your free, no strings attached case evaluation. From our law offices in Rochester, Syracuse, and Albany, our firm represents malpractice victims throughout New York, including in Saratoga Springs, Troy, and Schenectady.

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