What Is the Standard of Care in a Medical Malpractice Case?

If you or someone you love has been injured as the result of a recent medical procedure or substandard care, you might be considering hiring a Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyer and filing a medical malpractice lawsuit. In your research about medical malpractice, you’ve likely heard the term “standard of care.” What is standard of care, and how does it affect your medical malpractice claim?

Your physician’s standard of care is a straightforward, yet highly important concept. It will likely be the issue that provides appropriate context for your medical malpractice case.


A discussion about the standard of care begins with a definition of medical malpractice. It’s important to know that medical malpractice is more than an error in judgment. Even if a healthcare provider makes a mistake, it may not constitute medical malpractice. To successfully argue a malpractice claim, you must prove that:

  • Your medical treatment fell under a set standard of care.
  • Substandard treatment resulted in harm to you, the patient.
  • Harm led to specific and significant damages (i.e. medical bills, pain and suffering).

Even if the health practitioner provided substandard care, there is no malpractice unless it results in direct harm.


Standard of care is established by the level of care a competent, prudent health care provider would provide in similar circumstances, in the same community, given that person has the same experience or training as the accused.

To determine if you were provided a reasonable standard of care, ask yourself if a health care provider of similar experience and skill would have provided you with the same treatment, given the same circumstances? If the answer is yes, there are no grounds for a malpractice claim. However, if the answer is no, and you were harmed as a result, you might have a case for medical malpractice.

The 1974 case of Helling v. Carey helped change the legal definition of standard of care. Morrison P. Helling, the plaintiff, sued her ophthalmologist, Dr. Thomas F. Carey, for medical malpractice after losing her eyesight to glaucoma. Carey prevailed in the original trial and in appeals. However, when the case was turned over to the Supreme Court of Washington State, the verdict was overturned in favor of the plaintiff.

According to court reports, the defendant was found guilty even though customary procedures were followed. During that time, it was not customary to conduct tonometry testing on a patient younger than 40. However, the court found that the test was inexpensive and harmless and should have been offered to the patient. This ruling helped establish the idea that what is customary is not always enough, and that some actions that are not considered mainstream are still reasonable for the physician to perform.


You can’t walk into a courtroom and tell a judge or jury that your doctor provided substandard care. You must have an expert to testify on your behalf. This person is usually another doctor with comparable training and experience. The expert must:

  • Establish a standard of care.
  • Testify to how/why your treatment was below the perceived standard of care.
  • Testify to the harm you sustained resulting from said negligence.


Medical malpractice is a broad term and can take many forms. These are some of the most common examples of medical malpractice:

  • Anesthesia errors, such as failing to monitor a patient’s vital signs or the amount of anesthesia needed.
  • Mistakes in fetal monitoring during labor.
  • Surgical errors, such as failing to account for all pads and sponges prior to closing a surgical incision.
  • Failing to diagnose a medical condition.
  • Bedsore formation resulting from substandard treatment (i.e. failing to regularly reposition incapacitated patients).
  • Medication errors, such as dispensing the wrong medication or wrong amount, or failing to recognize a dangerous medication interaction.


An important aspect of your medical malpractice claim is the damages you may recover. These generally fall into three categories:

  • Special damages, or economic damages, cover specific things like medical bills, lost wages, and loss of earning capacity.
  • General damages are intended to cover intangible losses such as pain, suffering, emotional anguish, or loss of consortium.
  • Punitive damages are reserved for gross negligence and are intended to punish the defendant.

The success of your medical malpractice case will depend on you providing sufficient evidence for violation of the standard of care and evidence of damages. For sound legal assistance with your claim, call the office of Hill & Associates, P.C. at (215) 567-7600 today to schedule a free consultation with a personal injury attorney in Philadelphia, PA.