Physicians, nurses and other healthcare providers are held to specific professional standards. They are educated about these standards during their educational and licensing processes. Most of the time, these standards are upheld with thoughtfulness and meaningful integrity. Yet, sometimes consciously and sometimes subconsciously, these standards slip.
When a professional standard of care owed to a patient – as defined by law – results in harm, a living patient or a deceased patient’s surviving loved ones may choose to file a medical malpractice lawsuit in order to pursue compensation from an offending provider. Yet, it is important for both patients and professionals to understand that not every medical error is legally actionable.
Generally speaking, only conduct that deviates from a professional standard of care to the degree that a similarly educated and situated medical provider would have responded to the situation quite differently is actionable. When mistakes are made that aren’t evidence of a substandard level of care, they aren’t generally actionable as evidence of medical malpractice.
The complex nature of missteps
It can be tempting, as someone who cares about their patients, to assume responsibility for every misstep that you make while you’re exercising your job duties. Yet, some mistakes happen that are truly no one’s fault. Other times, mistakes happen that are someone’s fault but – because they were doing their job in accordance with professional standards of care – they are not actionable offenses.
By understanding that not all medical errors are legally actionable, medical providers can be more empowered to defend their actions under certain circumstances and to feel confident in offering heartfelt apologies to others. While it is critically important to take responsibility for one’s missteps, everyone makes mistakes and it’s important to understand that not all mistakes lead to viable litigation.