What Is The Locality Rule? Kingston, New York Medical Malpractice Attorney Explains


I have been asked before what the locality rule is and I would like to just explain a little bit about it. It is an important rule in medical malpractice cases, and it nationally known. Moreover, it has ancient roots in New York and really has not been altered very much since then. Even though there is a slight national trend leading away from it to the “proximity rule,” New York has not—and likely will not—adopt such a massive change in jurisprudence anytime soon.

So the locality rule in New York is really born from a Court of Appeals—which is the highest court in New York (but not necessarily other states)—called Pike v. Honsinger; this case was decided in 1898. The court wrote that:

A physician and surgeon, by taking charge of a case, impliedly represents that he possesses, and the law places upon him the duty of possessing, that reasonable degree of learning and skill that is ordinarily possessed by physicians and surgeons in the locality where he practices, and which is ordinarily regarded by those conversant with the employment as necessary to qualify him to engage in the business of practicing medicine and surgery.

Basically what this means is that the physician is measured NOT against every single physician in the United States—which has been argued and even upheld on the theory that medical technology has advanced so far and should be leveling out everywhere—but only against physicians in the local area where they practice. In the purest of examples, it could be New York City physicians all measured together, or even tri-state physicians all measured together. Depending on the services and how particular hospital or state policies/regulations are, it could even be all northeastern physicians.

The main purpose of this rule is to protect small-town physicians from medical malpractice charges that might be unfair because they are held to the standard of big city experts. But the bottom line is, no matter the jurisdiction, negligence is negligence. If a physician does something blatantly wrong, it doesn’t matter the locality; they are liable!

But what do you think? I would love to hear from you! I welcome your phone call on my toll-free cell at 1-866-889-6882 or you can drop me an e-mail at jfisher@fishermalpracticelaw.com You are always welcome to request my FREE book, The Seven Deadly Mistakes of Malpractice Victims, at the home page of my website at www.protectingpatientrights.com.