What is a standard of care, and why is it higher for doctors?

On Behalf of | Apr 3, 2024 | Medical Malpractice

Most people are familiar with the “reasonable person” standard that applies in general negligence cases. Personal injury laws require you to act with the same care that a reasonable person would use under similar circumstances. If you fail to live up to this standard, you may be liable for any resulting harm. For example, if you drive at an excessive speed in bad weather conditions, you have likely breached the reasonable person standard of care. A reasonable driver would slow down to account for poor visibility and slick roads.

While the reasonable person standard governs most negligence cases, laws hold professionals like doctors to a higher standard or a “professional standard of care.” Doctors must exercise the degree of skill, care and diligence that other reasonably competent doctors in their field would use under similar circumstances.

Why the higher standard of care matters

Doctors receive extensive training and have specialized knowledge that average people lack. You cannot reasonably expect the same level of medical expertise from your neighbor as from your surgeon. Therefore, healthcare professionals and providers are held to a professional standard of care, not just a reasonable one.

Holding doctors to the professional standard of care protects patients by incentivizing doctors to remain current on current practices and continuously develop their skills. The higher standard ensures patients get quality and professional service when seeking medical advice or treatment. It is not just about avoiding harm but also about promoting the best possible health outcomes.

Proving a breach of a professional standard of care

In medical malpractice cases, plaintiffs must show that the doctor breached the applicable professional standard of care and that this breach caused the patient’s injury. Proving this often requires expert testimony because only a legally qualified health care provider has the experience and authority to determine whether the defendant breached a professional standard of care.

You do not go to the doctor’s office for just any advice. You are asking for medical and professional advice, for which you pay. It is only natural to expect professional care from them and to want to hold them accountable when they fail to provide it.


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