The Locality Rule In Medical Malpractice Cases


Physicians who have been part of a medical negligence case, either as a defendant or expert witness, are familiar with the concept of standard of care. The trial testimony that relates to deviation from, or compliance with, the applicable standard of care can be the key to determining whether any medical negligence has occurred.

The conduct of a defendant physician is measured by the standard of care. The standard of care requires a physician to act as a reasonably well-qualified physician would in same or similar circumstances. In New York, the standard of care is restricted by the “locality rule” which imposes geographic limits on the standard of care.

Under the locality rules, a defendant physician required to provide care to the same degree required by physicians practicing in that community or a community that is similar. However, this rule can create two problems.

The first potential problem, though an unlikely one, is that all the physicians in the same locality could practice in a substandard way. The locality rules would allow these physicians, individually and collectively, to comply with a standard of care that is inconsistent with national standards.

Another potential problem is that the locality rule can create a serious obstacle to patients seeking to pursue a medical negligence claim. It can be difficult to find an expert witness physician from the community willing to testify against another physician from the same community. Under the locality rule, an expert witness from a different community may be barred from testifying against a defendant physician because the expert would not know the local standard of care. This rule protects physicians from the adverse expert testimony required to prove the elements necessary for a successful medical negligence claim.

Defendant physicians themselves can also experience problems with the locality rule jurisdictions. The medical negligence defendant also needs to retain an expert witness to testify as to whether the defendant complied with the applicable standard of care. Therefore, that expert witness must also have knowledge of the local standard of care.

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