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What does “standard of care” mean in the context of medical malpractice?

You may have heard the term “standard of care” on television or from a law firm website. But what does it mean exactly? And what does it mean in the context of medical malpractice (also known as medical negligence)?

Before you can understand the term, it’s important to first comprehend the four necessary elements that comprise medical malpractice. In order to prove your medical malpractice claim, you have to establish the following: (1) there was a duty; (2) the medical professional breached that duty; (3) the medical professional’s breach of duty led to your injuries; and (4) you suffered injuries as a result of the medical professional’s actions (or inactions).

“Standard of care” arises in the context of that second element: breach of duty. It describes the skill, talent, knowledge, and expertise that is expected of the healthcare professional by fellow professionals in the medical community.

And standard of care applies in the area of specific medicine of the healthcare professional. In other words, the standards of care for a cardiologist (pertaining, for example, to reading EKGs and properly diagnosing heart abnormalities) are different from the standards of care of a pulmonologist (pertaining, for example, to reading chest x-rays and properly diagnosing a chronic cough).

Thus, when you are trying to prove that medical negligence occurred, you need a medical expert who practices the same field of medicine as the healthcare professional who harmed you. For instance, if your injuries occurred during gastrointestinal surgery, your medical malpractice attorney will likely discuss the case with an expert who is a gastrointestinal surgeon.

Assuming the gastrointestinal surgeon agrees that a medical error took place and caused your injuries, the expert surgeon will prepare a Certificate of Merit. A Certificate of Merit is a statement from an expert that says that the defendant healthcare professional you are suing deviated from the standard of care. In other words, her actions (or inactions) didn’t rise to the level of care expected of someone in her field of medicine. You must establish (with an expert) a deviation from the standard of care  – without it, you have not proved that necessary second element of your medical negligence claim: breach of duty.

Your medical malpractice attorney will file that Certificate of Merit along with the Complaint with the court, and thus begins your medical malpractice lawsuit.  

If you believe you or a loved one has suffered an injury as the result of a healthcare professional failing to meet the standard of care, contact the medical malpractice lawyers at VSCP Law.

How Do I File a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit?

If you believe you have been injured because of what a doctor has done (or has not done), then you might have a valid medical malpractice case. Now what? How do you file a lawsuit?

In order to file a medical malpractice lawsuit, you should contact an attorney who has substantial experience in medical malpractice law. There are some legal cases that people try to handle pro se – on one’s own behalf. This is not one of them. You should not attempt to handle your own medical malpractice case. This is not the kind of case that can be done properly without an attorney.

Pennsylvania medical malpractice law is highly specialized. Below are some of the important steps a medical malpractice attorney will take to file your lawsuit.

Review records

Your attorney will review medical records, health summaries, hospital notes, lab results, and all other necessary paperwork to fully understand the actions (and sometimes inactions) of the health care staff who may have been responsible for the medical mistake. It takes an experienced attorney to know how to analyze piles and piles of medical records and which pieces of evidence are key to the success of the case.

Comply with statutory requirements

Pennsylvania medical malpractice law can be complex. There are several important statutes that must be followed in order to successfully file your lawsuit. For instance, under Pennsylvania’s Statute of Limitations law, you have two years to file a lawsuit, starting from when you knew or should have known that your injury was the result of the defendants’ medical mistake. In the case of a deceased party, Pennsylvania law allows you two years from the official death date to file a wrongful death medical malpractice lawsuit. If you miss this crucial deadline, you lose the right to file a lawsuit. So, your medical malpractice attorney will have to figure out the best timing for filing the Complaint. In addition to the question of when to file the lawsuit, your attorney needs to figure out where to do so. Your medical malpractice attorney should spend considerable effort figuring out the best venue for your case. Several factors go into this analysis, including location of medical treatment and whether the county is typically supportive of medical malpractice plaintiffs.

Find the right expert

Not only do you need a medical expert to help prove that medical negligence occurred in your case – you need a medical expert who practices the same field of medicine as the healthcare professional who harmed you. For instance, if your injuries occurred during gastrointestinal surgery, your medical malpractice attorney will likely discuss the case with an expert who is a gastrointestinal surgeon.

File the Complaint and Certificate of Merit

Assuming the expert described above agrees that a medical error took place and caused your loved one’s injuries, the expert will prepare a Certificate of Merit. Your Pennsylvania medical malpractice attorney will file a Complaint along with the Certificate of Merit in court.

And thus begins your formal lawsuit against the defendants.

An experienced medical malpractice attorney in Pennsylvania will help you file (and win!) your medical malpractice lawsuit. Find one at VSCP Law.