Legal Dictionary

standard of care

Legal Definition of standard of care

Related terms

Definition of standard of care


standard of care

  1. (law) In tort law, the degree of caution that a reasonable person should exercise in a given situation so as to avoid causing injury.

Further reading

In tort law, the standard of care is the degree of prudence and caution required of an individual who is under a duty of care.

The requirements of the standard are closely dependent on circumstances. Whether the standard of care has been breached is determined by the trier of fact, and is usually phrased in terms of the reasonable person. It was famously described in Vaughn v. Menlove (1837) as whether the individual "proceed[ed] with such reasonable caution as a prudent man would have exercised under such circumstances."

Professional standard of care

In certain industries and professions, the standard of care is determined by the standard that would be exercised by the reasonably prudent manufacturer of a product, or the reasonably prudent professional in that line of work. Such a test (known as the 'Bolam Test') is used to determine whether a doctor is liable for medical malpractice. The standard of care is not relevant in many cases and is only there to help the defendant.

Medical standard of care

A standard of care is a medical or psychological treatment guideline, and can be general or specific. It specifies appropriate treatment based on scientific evidence and collaboration between medical and/or psychological professionals involved in the treatment of a given condition.

Some common examples include:

  • Treatment standards applied within public hospitals to ensure that all patients receive appropriate care regardless of financial means.
  • Treatment standards for gender identity disorders

1. Diagnostic and treatment process that a clinician should follow for a certain type of patient, illness, or clinical circumstance. Adjuvant chemotherapy for lung cancer is "a new standard of care, but not necessarily the only standard of care." (New England Journal of Medicine, 2004)

In legal terms, the level at which an ordinary, prudent professional having the same training and experience in good standing in a same or similar community would practice under the same or similar circumstances. An "average" standard would not apply because in that case at least half of any group of practitioners would not qualify. The medical malpractice plaintiff must establish the appropriate standard of care and demonstrate that the standard of care has been breached, with expert testimony.

3. A physician also has a "duty to inform" a patient of any material risks or fiduciary interests of the physician that might cause the patient to reconsider a procedure, and may be liable if injury occurs due to the undisclosed risk, and the patient can prove that if he had been informed he would not have gone through with the procedure, without benefit of hindsight. (Informed Consent Rule.) Full disclosure of all material risks incident to treatment must be fully disclosed, unless doing so would impair urgent treatment. As it relates to mental health professionals standard of care, the California Supreme Court, held that these professionals have "duty to protect" individuals who are specifically threatened by a patient. [Tarasoff v. Regents of the University of California, 17 Cal. 3d 425, 551 P.2d 334, 131 Cal. Rptr. 14 (Cal. 1976)].

4. A recipient of pro bono (free) services (either legal or medical) is entitled to expect the same standard of care as a person who pays for the same services, to prevent an indigent person from being entitled to only substandard care.

Medical standards of care exist for many conditions, including diabetes, some cancers, and sexual abuse.


A special standard of care also applies to children, who, in a majority of jurisdictions, are held to the behavior that is reasonable for a child of similar age, experience, and intelligence under like circumstances. (Restatement (Second) of Torts ยง283A; Cleveland Rolling-Mill Co. v. Corrigan, 46 Ohio St. 283, 20 N.E. 466 (1889).) In some cases it means that more may be required of a child of superior intelligence. (Compare Jones v. Fireman's Insurance Co. of Newark, New Jersey, 240 So.2d 780 [La.App. 1970] with Robinson v. Travis, 393 So.2d 304 (La.App. 1980). An exception is for children engaged in "adult activity." (Robinson v. Lindsay, 92 Wash.2d 410, 598 P.2d 2392 (1979) (snowmobile); Nicholsen v. Brown, 232 Or. 426, 374 P.2d 896 (1962) (automobile); Daniels v. Evans, 102 N.H. 407, 224 A. 2d 63 (1966) (motor scooter); Neumann. v. Shlansky, 58 Misc. 2d 128, 294 N.Y.S.2d 628 (1968 (playing golf)) What constitutes an "adult standard" may depend on local statute, and some have arbitrary age distinctions.


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