Medical Malpractice Law (Washington Health Care Provider Civil Liability Law) – Part 9: Negligence Claims

By January 3, 2020 Recent Articles & Media

(Medical Malpractice – Part 9 in a Several Part Series)

(This is the 9th part in a multiple part series pertaining to Medical Malpractice Law in Washington State. To read part one click here. To read part two click here. To read part three click here. To read part four click here. To read part five click here. To read part six click here. To read part seven click here. To read part eight click here.)

Negligence Claims

RCW 7.70.040 sets out the standard of care for negligence claims as the failure “to exercise that degree of care, skill and learning expected of a reasonably prudent health care provider at that time in the profession or class to which he or she belongs, in the state of Washington, acting in the same circumstances…” Somewhat incongruously, RCW 4.24.290 also sets out a standard of care (of sorts) for claims based on negligence as “…the defendant or the defendants failed to exercise that degree of skill, care, and learning possessed at that time by other persons in the same profession, and that as a proximate result of such failure the plaintiff suffered damages…” WPI 105.01, the negligence instruction for a general health care provider, tracks RCW 7.70.040. RCW 4.24.290 specifically provides that the standard of care set out therein does not apply to a claim based on the failure to obtain the informed consent of a patient.

RCW 7.70.040 specifies the elements of proof in a negligence action against a health care provider based upon the failure to follow the accepted standard of care.  The statute provides:

(1)  The health care provider failed to exercise that degree of care, skill, and learning expected of a reasonably prudent health care provider at that time in the profession or class to which he belongs, in the state of Washington, acting in the same or similar circumstances;

(2)  Such failure was a proximate cause of the injury complained of.

The elements of an action for medical malpractice in Washington are merely “particularized expressions” of the concepts fundamental to any negligence action: (1) the existence of a duty owed to plaintiff; (2) a breach of that duty; (3) injury, and; (4) a causative link between the breach and the injury. Harbeson v. Parke-Davis, 98 Wn.2d 460, 468, 658 P.2d 483 (1983); Pedroza v. Bryant, 101 Wn.2d 226, 228, 677 P.2d 166 (1984).

The quality of care which a Washington State health care provider is obligated to provide is the degree of care, skill and learning expected of a reasonably prudent health care provider of the defendant’s profession or specialty in the same or similar circumstances, at the time the services are rendered, not the standard actually practiced.  Harris v. Groth, 99 Wn.2d 438, 442-447, 663 P.2d 113 (1983).  The standard is one of reasonable prudence, not that of the medical community or average practitioner.  Id., 447. As stated by the Court in Harris:

This legislative history strongly suggests that the Legislature considered adopting an ‘average practitioner’ standard and chose instead to adopt one of a ‘reasonably prudent practitioner’. We cannot, and will not, override that choice by construing the two standards to be the same. The legislature has chosen to impose on health care providers the same standard of care as is imposed on other members of society and we must implement that choice.

Id., 446-447. (Emphasis added).

The standard of care is a statewide standard; there is no “locality” rule. Pederson v. Dumouchel 72 Wn.2d 73, 79, 431 P.2d 973 (1967). A physician who specializes in a particular area of medicine is held to the standard of care of the members of that specialty. Dinner v. Thorp, 55 Wn.2d 90, 338 P.2d 137 (1959); Richards v. Overlake Hospital Medical Center, 59 Wn. App. 266, 796 P.2d 737 (1990).

In the next post, we will address some of the particular aspects of informed consent claims that may arise in the context of medical malpractice lawsuits.

(This article was written by Mark Johnson and Michael Sprangers. Mark and Michael’s practice focuses on medical malpractice, legal malpractice, and serious personal injury lawsuits. Their law firm Johnson Flora Sprangers PLLC is located in the Belltown neighborhood of Seattle, Washington.)  

Legal Disclaimer: The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice; instead, all information, content, and materials available on this site are for general informational purposes only.