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What Does ‘Standard of Care’ Mean in Medical Malpractice Cases?

This term is a key factor in determining if an Illinois medical practice case can move forward. 

The term standard of care is used frequently in personal injury law, and for a good reason: 

Proving whether or not a doctor violated the standard of care is a critical component of bringing a medical malpractice suit. Even if you were directly harmed by medical error, you do not have a valid lawsuit unless you can prove that the doctor violated Illinois’s medical standard of care. 

Unpacking this term, however, can be a little confusing. To that end, let’s explore what the term standard of care entails, along with how its definition can impact your medical malpractice lawsuit in Illinois. 

What Does Standard of Care Mean? 

It’s worth starting with the fact that standard of care is a legal term, not a medical one. In medical malpractice cases, it refers to a level of service that any reasonable, qualified doctor would provide in any given situation. 

These definitions can seem a bit confusing at an initial glance, so let’s look at an example to get a better idea of what failing to meet standard of care can look like. For instance, imagine someone falling off their bike and hitting their arm during the fall. Afterward, their arm exhibits swelling, bruising, and limited mobility—all common symptoms of a broken arm. A reasonable doctor would assume that a broken arm is possible when examining it and attempting to diagnose it accordingly.  

While these symptoms may not be the result of a broken arm, the possibility that it is would factor into most doctor’s administration of care. 

Suppose a doctor is only interested in trying to diagnose (or treat) this arm pain as a possible symptom of a rare blood disease from another continent. In that case, they may be failing to meet the standard of care because they are not approaching the problem with the same quality of care that another equally qualified doctor would.  

While this may sound outlandish, it can, unfortunately, be more common than you may think. Although doctors are both morally (and legally) obligated to act in their patient’s best interests, there is always the problematic possibility of receiving care from a doctor who is negligent in how they treat you.

It is important to note that violating standard of care is different from simply making a mistake. Unfortunately, even the most experienced doctors can make mistakes, and a well-intentioned mistake doesn’t necessarily mean that standard of care has been violated.

This distinction means that medical malpractice comes with a different set of rules for establishing negligence than an injury stemming from a car crash or dog bite. 

How Do I Know if the Standard of Care Has Been Violated? 

In Illinois, establishing that standard of care has been violated comes with a tricky burden of proof. As mentioned above, this is different from a doctor simply making a mistake. To prove that a doctor has failed to maintain standard of care, multiple questions must be answered.

First, would similarly skilled health care professionals have administered the same treatment under similar circumstances? In other words, if you asked ten different doctors to come to a diagnosis or treatment, would they approach it in the same way that the potentially negligent doctor has? If the answer to this question is no, then the standard of care may have been violated in a way that opens up a medical malpractice case.  

Second, did their substandard care inflict harm? To establish a valid medical malpractice case, you must prove their actions were directly responsible for further damage to a patient, either because of complications stemming from improper treatment or because they failed to address a pressing medical issue. While this sounds simple, proving it can be deceptively complex, and that is why we recommend hiring an experienced medical malpractice lawyer to ensure that your injuries are being properly represented when you pursue recourse. 

Medical Malpractice Cases at Zayed Law Offices

As a patient in Illinois, you should be able to seek medical care with the promise that a doctor will always be acting in your best interests. Since 2009, Zayed Law Offices have been fighting tirelessly on behalf of our clients to ensure that negligent medical professionals are held liable for any medical malpractice situations. With clients in Chicago, Joliet, Wheaton, Rockford, and Peoria, we’ve successfully secured millions of dollars in medical malpractice settlements. From failures to diagnose to surgical errors, Zayed Law Offices is here for you! Get a free case evaluation today!

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