Medical malpractice is an extremely diverse field of litigation, but one constant is the necessity that a doctor or nurse be required to conform to the prevailing standard of care in their field when treating patients. Despite the presence of this requirement, it can be difficult to define the appropriate standard; it is an entirely subjective standard, and yours may differ significantly from your doctor’s. This can have difficult consequences.
Defining “Standard of Care”
Common nomenclature in cases of this nature is to say that doctors must conform to a ‘prevailing’ or ‘reasonable’ standard of care in treating patients. In other words, a doctor must provide care that is in keeping with the common standard of other reasonable members of their profession. Medical professionals are, like anyone else, human; they cannot be clairvoyant. But their standard of care is necessarily higher than it would be for the public, simply because membership in the medical profession indicates a wealth of specialized knowledge.
The problem with this is, of course, that ‘reasonable’ will differ not only from doctor to doctor, but also from geographical location to geographical location. A busy city medical center may have access to equipment or expertise that a rural hospital would not. A court will have to make certain determinations that are difficult to arrive at, simply because they must be equitable (fair), but not necessarily equal. New York uses the locality rule in medical malpractice cases, meaning that physicians are measured only against other physicians in their locality, not across the whole country.
There is a rule referred to as the “respectable minority” exception that does allow for diversity of thought. Though not upheld by all states, some permit a defense to malpractice if a physician can show that his or her treatment methods are endorsed by a respectable minority of physicians in similar circumstances. This can fall prey to the same accusations of subjectivity as the “reasonable standard of care” idea, however – who, after all, decides what constitutes a respectable minority?
Medical malpractice is based in a negligence theory, meaning that normally, negligence must be proved affirmatively against a medical professional for the plaintiff to prevail. However, it is plausible sometimes to win your case if you can prove that there could be no other interpretation of events – for example, that an injury does not normally occur unless there has been negligence.
Either way, some of the best evidence regarding the standard of care in a community will come from expert witnesses. New York law is unique in that it still upholds the standard set out in Frye v. United States, 54 App. D. C. 46, 293 F. 1013 (1923), when most states have adopted the more recent and comprehensive Daubert standard. The Daubert case focuses on methodology while Frye focuses more on public opinion. The Frye standard states that for expert testimony to be acceptable in court, it must be “sufficiently established to achieve general acceptance.” The subjectivity problem rears its proverbial head again with the standard, however; even the original court opinion admits that the fine line between general acceptance and a theory on the fringe can be very difficult to determine.
Contact A Medical Malpractice Professional
If you or a loved one believe that you have been the victim of a doctor’s negligence, it is best to contact an attorney. The experienced medical malpractice attorneys at the New York Lawyers have a history of success, and we are ready, willing and able to fight for you. Contact our offices for a free initial consultation.