What is Standard of Care in Medical Malpractice Lawsuits?

Standard of Care Blog Post Cover Photo

“Standard of care” is an important component of every medical malpractice case, because it comes into play in several parts of each case.

There are four elements we have to prove in order to pursue a medical malpractice case:

  1. Duty—the healthcare provider owed you a duty.  When a healthcare provider is involved in the treatment of a patient, they have the duty to comply with all applicable “standard of care.”
  2. Breach—the healthcare provider breached that duty by failing to comply with the “standard of care.”
  3. Causation—that breach of the “standard of care” caused physical harm that would not have occurred with proper treatment. The harm cannot be caused by the pre-existing condition that led to your treatment.
  4. Damages—you suffered damages (pain, medical bills, lost wages, etc.) because of the harm.

So what is the “standard of care”?  Healthcare providers are expected to give care in the same manner that all reasonable healthcare providers would do under the same circumstances.  They should act with ordinary prudence.  The “standards of care” include the list of steps that all reasonable healthcare providers would follow when treating a patient suffering from the same conditions.

For example, if a hospital or nursing home patient is completely bed-bound and unable to move or reposition themselves in bed, reasonable healthcare providers know that this patient is at risk of developing pressure ulcers or bedsores.  The standards of care require that: 

  • (a) any places where the patient’s bones put pressure on soft tissues must be padded;
  • (b) the patient must be turned or repositioned in the bed every two hours; and
  • (c) the skin in these areas must be kept warm and dry. 

Those steps are the “standard of care” for the prevention of pressure ulcers.

Reasonable doctors may disagree on the appropriate treatment.

A doctor who chooses one course of action over another – even when most doctors wouldn’t have made that choice – has not violated the standard of care. Even when the chosen treatment doesn’t work or another choice would have been better.  If the situation requires the exercise of judgment, there is typically no violation of the standard of care in the eyes of the law.

So, even though a medical provider may have made choices that, in hindsight, were not the right choices, it may not qualify as medical malpractice under the law.

Different standards of care apply to certain types of facilities or treatment.

To be successful in a Texas medical malpractice lawsuit, we must be able to prove to a jury that your medical provider’s treatment fell below the standard of care. In some cases, healthcare providers may disagree on what steps all reasonable healthcare providers would take under a particular situation.  Some standards can evolve over time, as technology improves and medical knowledge advances. This makes determining the standard of care subjective. We attempt to prove that the standard of care was breached by hiring medical doctors as experts who testify to what they would reasonably do in a similar situation.

However, not all medical providers are the same under Texas law. Chapter 74 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Codes outlines some different standards. For example, with emergency medical care, we have to prove that the provider acted with “willful and wanton negligence” when treating the patient. Since they are theoretically providing life-saving measures, they get a little more leeway when it comes to mistakes.

Additionally, skilled nursing facilities have a higher standard of care than assisted living facilities. Their patients typically need a higher level of care due to their poor health. So, a claim based on an unwitnessed fall for someone who was in an assisted living facility may not be as strong of a case as an unwitnessed fall for a patient in a skilled nursing facility who was supposed to be watched around the clock.

Proving breaches of the standard of care in Texas is difficult.

It takes a seasoned medical malpractice attorney who knows how to make the correct arguments in a lawsuit. In Texas, the burden is all on the plaintiff to prove medical malpractice occurred. This is why it’s important to contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney if you believe you’ve been a victim of medical negligence.

The attorneys at Powers Taylor have been working on medical malpractice and nursing home abuse cases in Texas for more than a decade. We have filed over 1,000 lawsuits related to medical malpractice and can help you determine if your case has merit.



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