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About Medical Malpractice Law

What determines medical malpractice?

The issue is whether the medical practitioners provided the standard of care that reasonable or prudent medical practitioners would provide in similar circumstances. It isn't enough for a doctor to say: "I did my best. I just didn't know any better." If a reasonably careful and competent doctor of similar specialty in similar circumstances would have known better, then that doctor may be negligent.

But that doesn't mean that a doctor or nurse must always be right. The law recognizes that medical practitioners are forced to make decisions all the time in situations where it is not always possible to make the correct one. A doctor or nurse is not liable merely because he or she makes an error in judgment.

For example, let's say that you go to a doctor with a severe headache. The doctor is getting ready for a night out on the town, and isn't really paying attention. Rather than doing a proper examination, he tells you to take two aspirins and go to bed. It turns out later that you have suffered a mild stroke, and you collapse on the way home. You could have a successful malpractice case.

But now let's say that the doctor reviewed your medical history, examined you carefully, heard you describe your symptoms, and after all that, made a decision that you were suffering from a migraine headache, and prescribed 2 aspirins and bed rest. Again, you have suffered a mild stroke, and you collapse on the way home. Though the doctor was wrong, it was a mistake that any reasonable and careful doctor could have made. In this case, the doctor may not be liable.

In both cases the results are the same as far as the patient is concerned. The doctor in one case may be found negligent and in the other case not. A bad result does not always mean there has been malpractice.

More questions?

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This page last updated: October 19, 1999
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