What is the Medical Malpractice Standard of Care?
In order to prevail in a medical malpractice action, the plaintiff must show, by a preponderance of evidence, that the defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff, the defendant was negligent in providing that care, the plaintiff was injured, and the legal cause of the injuries was the negligent care. All four of these elements must be shown for the plaintiff to win.
The most compelling type of medical malpractice case is the failure to diagnose a life-threatening condition which results in the death of the patient. Certain types of diseases and injuries are extremely susceptible to life-threatening injury or death if the physician does not act accordingly. These include myocardial infarction, aortic dissection, certain malignancies, and neurological injuries. If the health care provider can show that he considered these types of conditions and he/she took steps to make a diagnosis, then the case will likely be thrown out.
There are false positives and false negatives for all diagnostic tests and the courts recognize this. Because of this, expert testimony is needed to confirm or deny that the provider did what a reasonable provider would do if faced with the same or similar circumstances. Expert testimony is required because most people do not have the knowledge or experience needed to make decisions on standards of care without some sort of help. As you may know, medicine is a very difficult and confusing subject with its own terminology. Under the law, an expert can be used to educate the jury to better understand the evidence or determine a fact in issue.
These experts explain what the standard of care is, whether the doctor adhered to it, and also whether or not they gave proper care. The standard of care is given to the jury during the jury instruction portion of the trial and is also stressed throughout the proceedings. The standard of care in Indiana is that doctors must exercise the degree of reasonable care and skill in providing health care to a patient as would a reasonably careful, skillful and prudent health care provider acting under the same or similar circumstances.