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What is 'Standard of Care' Under Tort Law?

What is ‘Standard of Care’ Under Tort Law?

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Date Modified: September 9, 2023

Standard of care is the standard for which a reasonably prudent person in any given fact pattern would abide. The standard of care for a physician operating on someone would be greater than the standard of care for a non-physician operating on someone in an emergency, for example.

So if the physician were to do something for which he was sued for medical malpractice, he would be judged by the standard of care that was an objective standard in his field.

  • Video Transcript - What is ‘Standard of Care’ Under Tort Law?

    Video Transcript - What is ‘Standard of Care’ Under Tort Law?

    "0:00 What is standard of care under tort law
    0:03 Standard of care is the standard of care
    0:06 for which a reasonably prudent person 0:08 would act under any given fact pattern. The standard would be to abide.
    0:11 by. The standard of care for a physician
    0:13 operating on someone would be greater
    0:16 than the standard of care for a non
    0:19 physician operating on someone in an
    0:21 emergency, for example. So if a physician
    0:24 was to do something for which he was
    0:28 sued for medical malpractice, he would be
    0:30 judged by a standard of care that was an
    0:32 objective standard in his field. A common
    0:35 driver of a car who is not a racecar
    0:37 driver would be held to the standard of
    0:40 care for which a regular ordinary person
    0:43 on the road who would be held to to drive
    0:45 safely. Usually, those duties would mirror
    0:48 the duties in the California Vehicle
    0:50 Code, for example the standard of care.
    0:54 For a race car driver who’s out driving
    0:56 on the freeway, the standard may be higher if he was
    0:59 sued for negligence and causing an
    1:00 accident, because he knew or should have
    1:02 known how to avoid the accident better
    1:04 than an average person. [Music]"

A common driver of a car who is not a race car driver would be held to the standard of care for which a regular ordinary person on the road would be held to drive safely and avoid a car accident. Businesses and professionals generally have a duty to provide safe and knowledgeable services to their clients, suppliers, and customers. Citizens should be mindful of not acting in a way that harms someone they know, encounter, or come across professionally and daily.

Essentially, in order to create a system of care and vigilance to prevent harm to others, it’s crucial to abide by professional norms, laws, and reasonableness. Furthermore, in negligence proceedings, this level of caution in preventing injury to others is referred to as a standard of care. This article looks at the legal consequences of not upholding a duty of care or the appropriate standard of care.

How Does Standard of Care Apply in Our Everyday Lives?

A standard of care is the degree of care, caution, and judgment that a reasonable person would use in a specific situation. The standard of care’s scope and content will vary depending on a number of factors in tort law.

It is usually situation-specific, considering the parties’ relationship and the societal, legal, and professional norms imposed. Having stated that a standard of care will only be applicable when there is close proximity and foreseeability between the parties, creating a duty of care.

Essentially, a duty of care may exist where the relationship between the parties is:

Two factors must be proven in order to establish a duty of care: one of foreseeability (if the person who caused the injury should have reasonably foreseen the general consequences that would arise from his or her action) and one of proximity (the relationship between the plaintiff and defendant).

The following situations, for instance, can result in a duty of care between drivers on the road, a doctor and patient (professional liability), or an employer and an employee:

  • Drivers have a duty to take reasonable care to avoid causing foreseeable harm to other drivers on the road.
  • Medical professionals have a duty to take reasonable care to avoid causing foreseeable harm to their patients (this would result in medical malpractice cases).
  • Employers have a duty to take reasonable care to avoid causing foreseeable harm to employees.

How Is Standard of Care Determined?

After establishing a duty of care, the focus will shift to the degree of care that one party owes the other. Contextual factors, such as the nature of the relationship between the parties, are taken into account when determining the scope and nature of a standard of care.

For instance, determining the standard of care in the case of a medical practitioner will require understanding the professional context and identifying the doctor’s responsibilities. The answer may depend on the law, professional standards, advice from other doctors, employer manuals, and professional norms.

Usually, the type of behavior required to meet the standard of care is determined by a fact-based analysis that takes the following into account:

  • The likelihood of known or foreseeable care owed.
  • The gravity of that harm.
  • The cost that the party would incur to prevent the harm.
  • The ease with which foreseeable risks may have been avoided.

In essence, this is a standard of reasonableness. To determine whether a firm or professional has met their standard of care, it is essential to look into manuals, policies, inspection methods, and training.

Litmus Test for Everyday Decisions

It isn’t easy to create a one-size-fits-all test that will allow individuals, businesses, and professionals to determine the level of their standard of care because the standard of care is determined on a case-by-case basis. A few examples can be used to demonstrate how the duty of care and standard of care interplay in real-world situations. Drivers have a duty to drive safely around other vehicles, pedestrians, and passengers. In order to fulfill their duty of care, drivers must refrain from doing any actions that could reasonably be expected to harm other road users.

Thus, drivers must follow the Highway Traffic Act (HTA) regulations as part of their duty of care. Another example could be the duty of care that nursing home organizations and staff have to their residents. The standard of care may be based on legislation, systems of vigilance, common sense, and industry-wide practices.

How Do I Respond When a Standard of Care Has Been Breached?

Ehline Law can assist you if you find yourself in a situation where a business, organization, or person has failed to fulfill their end of the contract. To assist you in deciding how to proceed with your case, we are pleased to offer you a free consultation.

Medical Standard of Care for a Reasonable Person

A standard of care is a guideline for medical or psychological care that may be general or specific. According to scientific information and cooperation between medical and psychological experts participating in the treatment of a certain condition, it describes the proper approach to treatment.

The reasonable person standard, or whether someone acted with the degree of care that a reasonable person would have under the circumstances, is the foundation of the standard of care. Additionally, the idea can be applied in some situations very easily.

In essence, an ordinary, cautious professional with the same training and experience who is in good standing in the same or a nearby community would practice at this level under the same or nearby conditions. As an example, if a drug induces hallucinations in 50% of its users, a reasonable person would not drive after taking it in the same or similar circumstances. It would not have been negligent for someone to operate a vehicle under those conditions. Other times, it’s more difficult to tell what’s going on. An argument may be made that a reasonable person could drive even if they had taken a drug that, in one in 1,000 cases, caused hallucinations.

The reasonable person’s standard of care is generally the only one that applies, but another standard may be necessary for some circumstances. Based on what a reasonable child of the same age would do, children receive a lower standard of care than adults. The standards of care for professionals and those in positions of authority are higher or broader.

A doctor, for instance, will be evaluated in accordance with the reasonable expectations of a doctor for their medical work. Furthermore, a doctor or lawyer would get away with many things if evaluated according to the reasonable person standard. Hence, this distinction is necessary.

Why Is the Standard of Care Important to Medical Malpractice Cases?

A medical malpractice case must assess the standard of care since it is essential in determining whether a doctor can be held accountable for a patient’s injuries.

The injured party or plaintiff will likely need to prove the following:

  • The standard of medical care that the physician owed the plaintiff under particular circumstances.
  • The doctor violated that standard of care.
  • The plaintiff suffered harm.
  • That the physician’s negligence caused or contributed to the plaintiff’s injuries.

To precisely identify whether or not a single patient was injured by a particular party’s act or omission, the standard of care can be difficult to determine. It may require the testimony of numerous expert witnesses. Furthermore, the standard of care is still a crucial issue in every single medical malpractice case.

The necessary standard of care is determined by assessing the performance and skills of medical practitioners working in close proximity to the accused doctor; each state determines the exact proximity. Additionally, the standard of care in a given instance is determined by the expert testimony of practicing medical professionals in the field where the physician is currently employed. A cardiologist, for instance, would be a suitable expert medical witness in a lawsuit involving unnecessary angioplasty but not in a case involving negligent spinal surgery.

The Standards to Which Doctors Are Held Liable

The “average practitioner” rule protects doctors while establishing a standard of care due to patients. According to this theory, a doctor is not held accountable for medical malpractice where he or she made a simple mistake in judgment, or mistaken diagnosis, or even just when a treatment causes an undesirable outcome if they acted in accordance with the accepted standard of care.

The “reasonable practitioner” standard also raises questions about the method used to set the standard. Essentially, the law has established rules for applying the reasonable practitioner standard in differing and the same circumstances. The “respected minority” or “two schools of thought” rule is an example of these types of rules. This rule is based on the understanding that, even if the majority of competent practitioners may have accepted some parts of medical practice, this does not necessarily imply that alternative approaches are inherently negligent.

A “minority approach” to medicine can stem from alternative sets of legitimate judgments and determinations as to how best to treat patients in specific situations considering the state of medical research. Therefore, the majority of states allow defendant physicians to argue the defense that the treatment paths they followed are recognized and respected alternatives for the common methods used by most physicians. The “respected minority” approach would not be negligent in any way.

For example, in one instance, a patient died due to a severe adverse reaction to oral antibiotics given to him by his doctor, who had prescribed the medication because he thought the patient might soon have a heart attack. The plaintiff called expert witnesses who stated that the medicine should be given after a heart attack in order to lessen the effects.

In response, the defendant brought his own witnesses who claimed that the medicine had preventative uses and could legitimately be provided before a heart attack despite the risks involved.

Contact Ehline Law Firm to Establish Tort Liability in a Civil Lawsuit and Learn More About Reasonable Care

If you or a loved one has suffered an injury as a result of negligence, it means that someone failed to act reasonably and is, therefore, liable for any injury that occurred. Discuss your case with a personal injury lawyer to determine how successful your case will be.

Michael Ehline is an inactive U.S. Marine and world-famous legal historian. Michael helped draft the Cruise Ship Safety Act and has won some of U.S. history’s largest motorcycle accident settlements. Together with his legal team, Michael and the Ehline Law Firm collect damages on behalf of clients.
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