Medical Malpractice: Defining the Standard of Care in Oklahoma
Standard of care: a legal yardstick
"Standard of care" is a critical legal yardstick used in medical malpractice litigation to determine responsibility – or lack of responsibility – on the part of a medical practitioner for negative medical outcomes. The standard plays a key role in establishing medical malpractice in Oklahoma and elsewhere.
Standard of care defined
The generally accepted definition of "standard of care" – and the one many statutes and court decisions cite – comes from Black's Legal Dictionary, which defines the standard as "the average degree of skill, care, and diligence exercised by members of the same profession, practicing in the same or similar locality in light of the present state of medical and surgical science." In other words, it reflects the practices and precautions that most members of the local medical community would consider a reasonable, normal and responsible level of medical care.
Standard of care in Oklahoma
Because each locality's standard is slightly different, some differences in the legal definition generally exist between states. The Oklahoma Supreme Court has provided a clarification of the standard to guide Oklahoma injury lawyers in litigating medical malpractice lawsuits. The court has explained, regarding Oklahoma law specifically, that the issue in malpractice lawsuits is not whether the physician made a mistake but whether that physician exercised "ordinary care" in treating the patient. The court held that a medical practitioner cannot be held responsible unless the specific error in judgment is "so gross that it makes the professional conduct substandard."
Other key considerations in establishing the standard
Several other key factors affect the interpretation of standard of care in Oklahoma and elsewhere:
- The testimony of expert witnesses, including their persuasiveness in establishing the local standard
- The statewide standard, which is considered the absolute minimum standard that any locale within a given state may adopt
- Whether or not the act in question is practiced by a "respectable minority of physicians" in the same field even if it is not in accord with the general medical consensus
As you can see, standard of care is subject to interpretation, making each state's standard a variation on a theme.