Medical Malpractice After Hurricane Harvey


There has been a massive natural disaster.  Hurricane Harvey has been absolutely catastrophic for the people of Texas, Louisiana, and the southern gulf coast area.  The heavy rain, powerful flooding, and strong winds have caused very serious damage to the region.  Many people have been injured and even some killed.  It has been a catastrophic event.

A common question is if the medical standard of care is the same in a natural disaster like this.  It is an emergency situation for sure.  Can doctors here in a disaster area be held to the same standard of care of the doctors in a non-disaster area?

The answer is, it depends.

On one hand, the standard of care in medical malpractice is flexible.  Very flexible actually!  The rule of law is actually set in a case from the 1800s called Pike v Honsinger, which defines the standard of care as the “reasonable degree of learning and skill that is ordinarily possessed by physicians and surgeons in the locality where he practices.”  This is still the law today, and it automatically evolves with the way medicine gets better, education increases, and doctors get better.

Thus in a natural disaster, the standard of care is only what another healthcare provider can do in a disaster area.  If the hospital has been damaged and medical resources are less, that is the standard of care that a doctor is measured against.  This may be less than what a hospital with lots of medical equipment and safe may do.

There is also the emergency doctrine which further lowers the standard of care.  This is where there are serious emergencies going on and there must be quicker determinations made in a split second.  There may be less tie to ponder a result to save a life.  As long as the doctor did what another doctor may have under the same time constraints, there will be no medical malpractice.

It is not to say, however, that there is no medical malpractice caused in natural disaster areas.  There are plenty of issues that could arise that are below the standard of care which can hurt victims.  It is a really fascinating area of law that is very important.