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What is “Standard of Care?” in Medical Malpractice


If you are facing a medical injury or suffered at the hands of a careless healthcare provider, then you are already dealing with a lot of uncertainty.  In some cases, people lose their spouses, children and other close relatives, simply because someone failed to follow standard guidelines. This is commonly referred to as malpractice. But what exactly does someone have to prove in order to succeed in a medical malpractice case in Georgia?

At the most basic level, an injured patient must prove (1) a violation of the standard of care by the defendant (2) that proximately caused the claimed injury or death.  All medical malpractice cases require expert testimony to prove the precise standard of care, the defendant’s violation of it, and resulting injuries.

Professional Negligence Explained 

Medical malpractice is actually a form of professional negligence, a special type of negligence that applies to those in society who have such specialized knowledge and skills that it can be difficult for lay people to recognize or understand if negligence occurred. Therefore, expert testimony is required to explain how the defendant’s actions or inactions deviated from what a prudent and reasonable professional would have done under the same or similar circumstances.  Therefore, the law treats medical malpractice cases differently from other forms of negligence such as car accidents.

Poor Outcomes are Not Necessarily Malpractice 

Another misconception people have about malpractice is that if a doctor makes a recommendation or performs a procedure and the outcome is unfavorable or even catastrophic, this must be medical negligence. A bad outcome does not necessarily equate to negligence. The exercise of medical judgment, even when the choice turns out to be the wrong one, is generally not enough to show a failure in the standard of care. Indeed, this is spelled out to jurors at the beginning and end of each case in jury instructions.

So, What is Below the Standard of Care? 

For a health provider to fall below the standard of care, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant’s conduct was outside what a reasonably prudent health professional who is trained in the same field would have done. So, for instance, a fundamental step in all surgical procedures is the “time out,” during which everyone in an operating room has a task to double check. Utensils are counted, medications are double checked, and a checklist is performed to make sure that everyone knows the correct body part, procedure, and patient are involved. If a physician or surgical team were to ignore this fundamental step and proceed to amputate an incorrect body part, or perform an unnecessary surgery on the wrong patient, then it would be a violation of the standard of care.

Ultimately, experienced malpractice lawyers who handle these cases everyday must work closely with skilled medical experts to build and develop cases and prove their theories to the jury. If you’ve been injured by a negligent hospital, physician or other health professional, contact our Atlanta medical malpractice attorneys at Carroll Law Firm, LLC today to set up a complimentary initial consultation with one of our dedicated malpractice lawyers.


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