If you have ever been involved in a medical malpractice claim, you have probably heard your lawyer say the term “standard of care” more than once. But what does it actually mean and how can it affect your claim?

A Brief Explanation of Negligence

At the heart of every personal injury claim, there is a claim for negligence: the idea that someone did something that caused or should have done something that could have prevented harm to the plaintiff. Pursuing a successful claim for negligence involves proving three main components:

  1. Proving that the defendant had a legal responsibility to take steps to prevent harm to the plaintiff. More formally, this legal responsibility is referred to as a “duty of care.”
  2. Proving that the defendant violated their duty of care by action or inaction.
  3. Proving that the violation of that duty caused the damages suffered by the plaintiff.

The idea of a “standard of care” relates back to the first component – what duty of care did the doctor or medical provider owe to the patient under the circumstances. In other words, in order to prove negligence in a medical malpractice case in Massachusetts, it is necessary to prove what the standard of care was and that the medical provider failed to meet the “standard of care.”

How are medical malpractice cases different?

In the context of a medical malpractice lawsuit, the “standard of care” refers to the standard protocols and procedures that should be carried out by medical providers when faced with a particular medical situation. In malpractice litigation, defining the “standard of care” is critical to determining whether healthcare providers (doctors, surgeons, nurses, etc.) are liable for damages. To prove malpractice, it is not sufficient to point to a bad patient outcome – the plaintiff must show that the medical provider(s) deviated from or failed to meet the standard practice and caused the plaintiff harm. At trial, it is typical for both sides to present expert testimony to set forth what each side claims the standard of care to be and whether it was met.

What does Standard of Care actually mean in Massachusetts?

According to the Massachusetts Superior Court Model Jury Instructions, “Standard of care” means the degree of skill and care of the average doctor practicing in the same field during the relevant time period. This standard does not require doctors to provide the best care possible – it’s not what the best doctor or worst doctor would do under the circumstances, but rather what the average doctor would do.