What is standard of care?

Standard of care can be defined as how a reasonably competent medical professional or hospital would treat a certain type of patient or condition under the same or similar circumstances. Medical professionals receive a great deal of training and should have extensive knowledge regarding various medical conditions and treatments. In caring for patients, they must draw on their schooling and experience (Bal 2009). Deviation from the standard of care is considered negligence. Sometimes, negligent actions constitute medical malpractice, and the patient or a family member can sue for damages.

Medical Malpractice Law: A Brief Overview

In a medical malpractice case, the person claiming harm and initiating the lawsuit is called the plaintiff; the doctor, nurse, or organization being sued is the defendant. In order to win a case, the plaintiff must prove four things:

  1. The plaintiff (or a dependent they are suing on behalf of) was indeed a patient of the defendant.
  2. The defendant deviated from the standard of care/behaved negligently. This may also be referred to as a “breach of duty.”
  3. The defendant’s negligence caused harm.
  4. The harm is serious enough to merit compensation (Kass and Rose 2016, Moffett and Moore 2011).

Medical professionals are held to a much higher standard of care than, for example, a passerby trying to help someone who’s just been hit by a car. It is not only intentions that count, but also competence. Doctors and nurses must carefully consider various courses of action, communicate with their patients, follow protocols, and seek help when they need it.

In some cases, an institution (e.g. hospital administration) is liable rather than an individual staff member. An example of this would be when poor scheduling decisions result in an insufficient number of experienced physicians on duty, forcing patients to wait an unreasonable amount of time for treatment. In these cases, the hospital itself can be sued for malpractice if a patient is harmed.

Deviations from Standard of Care

There are many ways in which medical professionals or organizations may deviate from the standard of care and behave negligently. A few examples include:

  • Misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis
  • An inappropriate choice of treatment
  • Errors in the execution of treatment
  • Medication mistakes
  • Failure to follow up with a patient after treatment
  • Failure to obtain a patient’s informed consent prior to beginning treatment

Standards of Care During Pregnancy, Delivery, and the Neonatal Period

When a medical professional or organization deviates from the standard of care during pregnancy, delivery, or the neonatal period, it can result in lasting harm to an infant. Damages inflicted during these times are considered birth injuries.

Negligent actions that may result in birth injuries include:

Birth injuries can result in permanent conditions such as hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), cerebral palsy, seizure disorders, and developmental delays.

Reiter & Walsh, P.C. | Michigan Birth Injury Attorneys Helping Children Since 1997

Birth injury is a difficult area of malpractice law to pursue due to the complex nature of the medicine and medical records. The award-winning attorneys at Reiter & Walsh ABC Law Centers: Birth Injury Lawyers have decades of joint experience with birth injury cases. To find out if you have a case, contact our firm. We have numerous multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements that attest to our success, and no fees are ever paid to our firm until we win your case. We give personal attention to each child and family we help, and are available 24/7 to speak with you.

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Related Reading

Medical Malpractice Law: Ancient History to Recent Controversies

Medical Malpractice Attorneys for Babies

What Is a Statute of Limitations?

What Is Informed Consent?


Bal, B. Sonny. “An introduction to medical malpractice in the United States.” Clinical orthopaedics and related research 467.2 (2009): 339-347.

Kass, Joseph S., and Rachel V. Rose. “Medical Malpractice Reform—Historical Approaches, Alternative Models, and Communication and Resolution Programs.” AMA journal of ethics18.3 (2016): 299.

Moffett, Peter, and Gregory Moore. “The standard of care: legal history and definitions: the bad and good news.” Western Journal of Emergency Medicine 12.1 (2011): 109.