Understanding a doctor’s duty of care

This blog often discusses malpractice and how damaging it can be to unsuspecting patients. While a lawsuit often helps these victims recoup their losses and hold negligent medical professionals accountable, it may be difficult to understand the legal process. Many Massachusetts residents know that negligence must be shown, but how exactly is that done?

In a medical malpractice context, negligence occurs when a doctor breaches the duty of care he or she owes to his or her patient. First, it is important to note that a doctor establishes a duty of care only after he or she voluntarily renders aid to a patient. Therefore, a doctor who sees a person collapse in the street has no duty to help him or her.

However, once a doctor-patient relationship is created, then the duty of care arises. This duty requires a doctor to render treatment that conforms to the degree of skill, diligence and care held by or expected from a reasonably competent doctor in the same or similar situation. Therefore, when considering what constitutes a doctor’s duty of care, it may be pertinent to assess where he or she is practicing because major metropolitan hospitals may have access to advanced technology when compared to a doctor located in a small, rural town.

It is also important to consider the doctor’s area of practice, the accepted practices in that field and any exigent circumstances that may have existed at the time of the incident. Expert witness testimony is typically utilized to establish what degree of skill with which the doctor should have performed his or her duties.

Being injured by doctor negligence can be life-changing. A victim can be physically, emotionally and financially devastated, leaving him or her with disability, depression, worry, medical expenses and lost wages. Although the law may be complicated, seeking advice about their legal remedies might be able to help these victims navigate the legal waters and work towards a favorable outcome that recoups losses and brings much needed closure.

Source: FindLaw, “What is a Doctor’s Duty of Care,” accessed on Aug. 15, 2014

Source: FindLaw, “What is a Doctor’s Duty of Care,” accessed on Aug. 15, 2014


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