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Should I Care About the “Standard of Care” in My Medical Malpractice Case?

Jeffrey R. Davis

There are many steps in a successful medical malpractice case. These steps include proving that the healthcare provider failed to live up to the “standard of care” when they did, or failed to do, something that caused your injury. Depending on the circumstances, each side can have a different opinion of what that means.  

What Does Florida Law Say? 

Florida Statute 766.102(1) states: 

“In any action for recovery of damages based on the death or personal injury of any person in which it is alleged that such death or injury resulted from the negligence of a health care provider as defined in s. 766.202(4), the claimant shall have the burden of proving by the greater weight of evidence that the alleged actions of the health care provider represented a breach of the prevailing professional standard of care for that health care provider. The prevailing professional standard of care for a given health care provider shall be that level of care, skill, and treatment which, in light of all relevant surrounding circumstances, is recognized as acceptable and appropriate by reasonably prudent similar health care providers.” 

How does that translate to the real world? 

What is a Standard of Care? 

Like any other negligence case, you must prove the party you’re suing did something wrong. As a result, you were injured, and that party owes you compensation for the harm you suffered. If it was a car accident, the other party may have run a red light and hit your vehicle, which would’ve violated state law and resulted in an unreasonably dangerous situation caused by the driver. 

Regarding medical malpractice, the “rules of the road” are the “prevailing standard of care for a given health care provider.” The standard of care for a general health care provider is, according to the statute, “The prevailing professional standard of care for a given health care provider shall be that level of care, skill, and treatment which, in light of all relevant surrounding circumstances, is recognized as acceptable and appropriate by reasonably prudent similar health care providers.” 

That standard varies depending on who’s involved, such as a pharmacist, paramedic, nurse, endocrinologist, or thoracic surgeon, and the particular situation. Generally, most specialists and other practitioners are held to the standard they have implicitly professed as their own. A medical doctor should be held to the medical standard (by medical malpractice claims). A podiatrist or a chiropractor should be held to the standards held by those practices (by chiropractic or podiatric malpractice claims), not the medical standard.

The law doesn’t require perfection, and medical malpractice defendants are given some leeway for judgment calls and mistakes. However, they must at least fall within the standard of care. Sometimes, what the healthcare provider did or didn’t do isn’t disputed. The issue is whether they complied with the applicable standard of care. 

How Might This Play Out? 

You show signs of heart problems at your annual physical, and your physician refers you to Cardiologist A. They suggest you have a nuclear stress test, and you have it done. After watching you perform the test and reviewing the results, Cardiologist A tells you about some minor issues. However, they go on to say that you’re healthy, and there’s nothing to worry about. 

You have a major heart attack, emergency heart surgery, and lasting injuries a week later. You contact our office, retain our services, and we collect your medical records. We retain Cardiologist B, send them the documents, and ask for their professional opinion as to whether or not Cardiologist A violated the standard of care. 

Their report states the standard of care is that cardiologist A should’ve known about B, C, and D before the test, and when looking at its results, they should have discovered X, Y, and Z, which are all signs of severe heart problems. If they complied with this standard of care, Cardiologist A should’ve taken immediate steps to protect you from harm. 

We then file a claim with Cardiologist A’s medical malpractice carrier. Their expert looks at your medical records and concludes that B, C, and D are incredibly rare issues that Cardiologist A need not know about. They also assert that X, Y, and Z are not signs of heart problems. 

The issue then becomes what the standard of care for Cardiologist A is in your case. Should they have known about B, C, and D? Are X, Y, and Z signs of severe heart problems? If so, should Cardiologist A have seen them in the test results and taken immediate action to treat you? 

If the case goes to trial, each side’s expert would testify. A judge or jury would decide the applicable standard of care. We would lose the case if they see things the insurance company’s way. If they agree with us, we win the case. That’s why you should care. 

Are You the Victim of Medical Malpractice?  

If you think you’ve fallen victim to a healthcare provider who failed to meet professional standards, contact the Jeffrey R. Davis, P.A. law firm today!

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