What is the difference between Breach of the Standard of Care & Medical Malpractice?


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.

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