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California medical malpractice lawsuits turn on standard of care

When a medical malpractice case goes to trial in California, that case may be decided by a jury. Jurors may be unfamiliar with the intricacies of medical practice and terminology. Fortunately, California has adopted clear civil jury instructions. These instructions convey the legal standards which jurors must consider before determining that a practitioner has been negligent, which is particularly important as jurors evaluate potential doctor malpractice.

California specifies standards of care for health care professionals, medical specialists and nurses. The state's jury instructions require that jurors find a medical practitioner negligent if he or she has not used the skill, knowledge or care in his or her diagnosis or treatment that the same type of medical practitioner, being reasonably careful, would use in circumstances which are the same or similar. The level of skill expected of physicians is known as the "standard of care." Medical specialists and nurses are also evaluated within the same framework, though they are compared against other reasonably careful medical specialists and nurses, respectively.

Jurors may not be familiar with how other reasonably careful medical practitioners, medical specialists or nurses would behave in circumstances similar to a case they are evaluating. Evidence as to how the treatment at issue compares to the accepted standard of care is presented through the testimony of expert witnesses.

When a patient has suffered serious injuries at the hands of a doctor, nurse or other hospital staff, how that medical professional performed in comparison to the accepted standard of care is the key issue to be decided. An attorney can discuss with an injured patient whether his or her medical provider failed to meet the appropriate standard of care.

Source:, "Civil Jury Instructions," 2015 ed.

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