One element of a cause of action for medical malpractice is proof of the standard of care by which the defendant physician's conduct is to be measured. The plaintiff in a medical malpractice action generally must establish the standard of care through expert testimony. The plaintiff must then prove that, judged in the light of these standards, the doctor is unskillful or negligent and that his want of skill or care causes the injury to the plaintiff.
The appeal involves malpractice against two doctors, Marvin Tiesenga and James Walsh. Plaintiff alleged that the doctors were negligent during an operation on the Plaintiffs thyroid gland. The plaintiff stated that during the surgery her left recurrent laryngeal nerve was cut. The case was tried before a jury in the circuit court of Cook County.
At the close of the plaintiff's case, the defendants moved for a directed verdict contending that plaintiff had failed to present evidence that the defendants' actions did not conform to the standard of care in the medical community. The trial court ruled in favor of the defendants and the appellate court affirmed on the ground that plaintiff had failed to establish the requisite professional standard of care against which the defendants' conduct was to be judged. (53 Ill. App. 3d 57.)
The higher court granted plaintiff's petition for leave to appeal. After viewing all the evidence in its aspect most favorable to plaintiff, the higher court agreed that the trial court did not err in directing a verdict for defendants.
Should a plaintiff establish a generally accepted standard of care in a medical malpractice case?
The court held that the patient was required generally to establish the standard of care through expert testimony. The patient was also required to prove that the doctor was unskillful or negligent and that his want of skill or care caused the injury. The evidence presented two conflicting opinions in the medical community concerning the proper procedure to be observed under the circumstances. No medical evidence was presented that indicated that the procedure used by doctors was unacceptable in the medical community. The court held that it was insufficient for the patient to establish a prima facie case merely to present testimony of another physician that he would have acted differently from the doctors. Without evidence of a standard of care that the doctors were bound to follow, there was nothing against which a jury could measure conduct or negligence.