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Duty of Care and Medical Malpractice

You may have heard the term “duty of care” or “standard of care” and be unsure of what it actually means, or if the terms are the same. Duty of care and standard of care are the same and can be used interchangeably. 

Duty of care is what a person, or business, owes to another person; it is a duty to act in a way that is reasonably expected to prevent harm from coming to another. It is the way that a reasonable person would act under similar circumstances. Examples of how duty of care applies to everyday life include:

  • businesses and property owners owe their customers a duty of care. For example, grocery stores have a duty of care to their customers to keep them safe. Ways to accomplish this include securing shelving so it can’t fall, cleaning up any spills within a short amount of time, warning of a wet floor, maintaining the temperatures in the freezer and refrigerator cases to prevent spoiling. 
  • manufacturers owe consumers a duty of care. Manufacturers products should be safe. Where there are risks involved with using the product there should be warnings. For example, drug manufacturers routinely put warning labels on prescription and over the counter drugs, especially those that are considered highly addictive. 
  • drivers have a duty of care to drive in a safe manner. This includes getting regular car inspections and knowing and following the rules of the road. A Charlotte, NC driver who runs a red light and hits someone has violated their duty of care. 
  • medical professionals and healthcare facilities owe their patients a duty of care. 

Duty of Care and Medical Malpractice Claims

Duty of care is a key component of a medical malpractice claim. Proving a violation, or breach of that duty of care, is critical. Without a violation, or breach, there is likely no medical malpractice claim. 

Medical professional is a term that refers to people licensed to provide health care services. Examples of medical professionals include doctors, physician assistants, nurses, nurse practitioners, dentists, chiropractors, licensed therapists (physical and occupational, marriage, family, speech), pharmacists, anesthesiologists and midwives. 

Healthcare, or medical, facilities are where patients go to be treated by medical professionals. Examples of medical facilities include hospitals, clinics, doctors offices, rehabilitation centers, nursing homes, and treatment centers. 

A duty of care is what medical professionals and healthcare facilities owe to their patients. It is more than just the expectation that a medical professional or facility will act in the way that is best for their patients. It is a legal obligation. Medical professionals and facilities have a legal obligation to provide their patients with a certain level of care. That level must be what a reasonable person would expect under the circumstances. 

The duty of care can, and does vary, depending on speciality and location. An oncologist in Charlotte’s Atrium Health’s Carolinas Medical Center owes a cancer patient in that Charlotte hospital a different duty of care than a general practitioner would owe a cancer patient in a small rural town with no hospital or specialists nearby. 

The duty of care is the way in which a reasonable medical professional, or healthcare facility, would have acted in a similar situation. The following are examples of basic standards of care that all doctors are expected to follow: 

  • conducting a medical exam consistent with the patient’s complaints 
  • ordering tests to aid in getting a diagnosis
  • explaining treatment options, side effects and the risks of each
  • providing a timely diagnosis
  • explaining the side effects and risks of prescribed medications

Breach of the Duty of Care

Things go wrong all the time, treatments and surgeries don’t work, people get hurt, but unless there was a breach of the duty of care, there will be no medical malpractice claim. 

If a medical professional or provider breaches the duty of care, then you may be able to bring a medical malpractice claim against them. In order to have a successful claim you will need to show that: 

  1. a doctor-patient, and/or healthcare facility, relationship existed at the time of the treatment 
  2. the doctor, and/or healthcare facility, owed the patient a duty of care;
  3. there was a breach of that duty;
  4. an injury occurred; and
  5. the injury resulted from the doctor, and/or healthcare facility’s, breach of that duty; from their not following the normal standard of care. 

Proving breach of a duty of care can be hard. In a North Carolina medical malpractice case, the law requires that breach of the duty of care be established by expert testimony. A medical expert is a person who can identify and articulate the duty of care, examine the specific facts of the case in accordance with the applicable duty of care and then attest that that the duty of care was not met. The expert’s job is to opine that the treatment was not in accordance with the duty of care and therefore medical malpractice occurred. 

Common Medical Malpractice Claims

While medical malpractice happens in a variety of situations, some of the more common examples include: 

  • improper diagnosis or failure to diagnose. Failing to order tests which would lead to a proper diagnosis is only one issue.
  • prescription errors. A pharmacist may fill the prescription incorrectly. Or a doctor, or pharmacist, may fail to check how a newly prescribed medication might interact with a patient’s other medications.
  • childbirth and prenatal injuries to either the baby or the mother
  • procedural and/or surgical mistakes. One example of a surgical mistake which most people are aware of is leaving an instrument or a sponge in the body after surgery. 
  • anesthesia issues. Under, or over, medicating could lead to severe patient injury, even death
Let Our Charlotte, North Carolina Medical Malpractice Attorneys Review Your Case

If you have a medical malpractice case, the Charlotte, NC based lawyers at Rosensteel Fleishman, PLLC are experienced attorneys who can help you understand your rights and whether or not there is negligence to proceed with a medical malpractice claim. Please contact our office at 704-714-1450. There is no fee for an initial consultation. 

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