“Medical standard of care” is one of those legal phrases that at first might be mystifying. Hopefully, it will make more sense as definitions, explanations, and examples unfold here.
Briefly, a medical standard of care defines a diagnostic and treatment process which medical professionals agree is the most appropriate one for patients with certain symptoms or a certain illness. The standard of care serves as a ground-floor minimum for what is acceptable, not what might be considered “average” care.
When it comes to lawsuits, a medical standard of care is compared with a doctor’s actions and becomes the basis for medical malpractice suits. If it can be demonstrated that the doctor did not follow the accepted standard of care, it could be shown that the doctor was negligent and guilty of malpractice.
Standards of care can vary according to location, but many states measure a provider’s actions against national standards rather than local ones. However, accommodations are usually made for local limitations such as the availability of medical equipment and facilities. States can also require different standards for specialists and for general practitioners.
Standards of care can also vary according to the illness or symptoms involved, and usually evolve over time. Finally, standards can come from clinical trials or other testing.
How Does a Breach of the Medical Standard Come About?
Four common ways a medical standard of care violation can occur are:
- A misdiagnosis, or a failure to diagnose symptoms correctly (seen most often with cancer or heart attack)
- Not administering the appropriate treatment
- The prescribing of inappropriate or incorrect medication, or inappropriate levels of medication
- Not fully informing a patient of treatment risks.
Additionally, sometimes cases are brought because of “unreasonable delay” in providing a diagnosis or a treatment. It is important to note here that a person who receives pro bono (free) medical care is entitled to expect and receive the same standard of care as one who pays for services.
The Question of Negligence and Standard of Care
A bad result from a medical treatment or action does not automatically imply negligence. Nor do errors of judgment necessarily imply negligence. In a medical malpractice lawsuit, one must demonstrate that it was the violation of the standard of care which caused the actionable problem or injury.
If negligence cannot be proven, even though it appears clearly to have existed, the injured patient might still be able to press his or her claim. For example, if a patient were unconscious during surgery and not directly able to attest to negligence, they would have to prove:
- They suffered injury that did not arise from an expected complication.
- That the injury they suffered generally only occurs in cases of negligence.
- That the doctor was the party responsible for the patient when the injury occurred.
Medical Malpractice Law in Maryland
Medical malpractice law in Maryland has a few wrinkles. First, patients under Maryland malpractice law only have the time allowed under the statute of limitations to file a suit. Generally, you must file a medical malpractice claim within either five years from the date the injury was caused or three years from the date the injury was discovered, whichever is earlier. For minors, the deadline clock for filing a medical malpractice suit does not start running until they turn 18.
Second, mandatory arbitration is in effect in Maryland for medical malpractice cases. Claims must be arbitrated before the Health Care Alternate Dispute Resolution Office as a condition that precedes bringing a lawsuit. However, arbitration can be waived at any time after filing the certificate of merit from a qualified expert, which must happen within 90 days of filing a medical malpractice claim.
Third, in Maryland you can collect several kinds of monetary damages, if the suit is decided in your favor. Compensatory damages are meant to pay for your medical bills, lost wages due to inability to work, and so on. In addition, you are also allowed to collect non-economic damages, meaning compensation for pain and suffering.
Non-economic damages are capped in Maryland. In 2015, the maximum amount that can be awarded is $740,000. The cap applies to all claims and parties from the same injury.
In certain situations, Maryland allows injured patients to collect punitive damages, which are meant to punish the medical practitioner. However, this usually means proving malicious intent at the time the medical practitioner violated the standard of care. It usually doesn’t happen and is extremely hard to prove, so punitive damages are rarely awarded.
How Can We Help You?
An experienced medical malpractice attorney will be able to listen to the facts of your case, conduct a thorough investigation, and help you devise a legal strategy for obtaining compensation for your injuries. Due to the involvement of insurance companies and defendants who can afford a strong legal team, it’s a good idea to equip yourself with an attorney who has extensive experience with the ins and outs of medical malpractice. Not every medical malpractice claim will hold up in court. However, the only way to determine this is through a thorough case review.
If you or a loved one has suffered as the result of what you believe to be medical malpractice, contact the law offices of Steven H. Heisler today to discuss your case at (410) 625-4878.