California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI)

502. Standard of Care for Medical Specialists

[A/An] [insert type of medical specialist] is negligent if [he/she] fails to use the level of skill, knowledge, and care in diagnosis and treatment that other reasonably careful [insert type of medical specialists] would use in similar circumstances. This level of skill, knowledge, and care is sometimes referred to as “the standard of care.”

[You must determine the level of skill, knowledge, and care that other reasonably careful [insert type of medical specialists] would use in similar circumstances based only on the testimony of the expert witnesses [including [name of defendant]] who have testified in this case.]

New September 2003; Revised October 2004

Directions for Use

This instruction is intended to apply to physicians, surgeons, and dentists who are specialists in a particular practice area.

The second paragraph should be used except in cases where the court determines that expert testimony is not necessary to establish the standard of care. See CACI Nos. 219–221 on evaluating the credibility of expert witnesses.

Sources and Authority

  • Specialists, such as anesthesiologists and ophthalmologists, are “held to that standard of learning and skill normally possessed by such specialists in the same or similar locality under the same or similar circumstances.” (Quintal v. Laurel Grove Hospital (1964) 62 Cal.2d 154, 159–160 [41 Cal.Rptr. 577, 397 P.2d 161].) This standard adds a further level to the general standard of care for medical professionals: “In the first place, the special obligation of the professional is exemplified by his duty not merely to perform his work with ordinary care but to use the skill, prudence, and diligence commonly exercised by practitioners of his profession. If he further specializes within the profession, he must meet the standards of knowledge and skill of such specialists.” (Neel v. Magana, Olney, Levy, Cathcart & Gelfand (1971) 6 Cal.3d 176, 188 [98 Cal.Rptr. 837, 491 P.2d 421].)
  • California imposes a “higher standard of care upon physicians with a specialized practice.” (Neel, supra, 6 Cal.3d 176 at p. 188, fn. 22.) This higher standard refers to the level of skill that must be exercised, not to the standard of care. (Valentine v. Kaiser Foundation Hospitals (1961) 194 Cal.App.2d 282, 294 [15 Cal.Rptr. 26] (disapproved on other grounds by Siverson v. Weber
  • (1962) 57 Cal.2d 834, 839 [22 Cal.Rptr. 337, 372 P.2d 97]).)
  • Psychotherapists are considered specialists in their field. (Tarasoff v. Regents of Univ. of Cal. (1976) 17 Cal.3d 425, 438 [131 Cal.Rptr. 14, 551 P.2d 334]; Kockelman v. Segal (1998) 61 Cal.App.4th 491, 505 [71 Cal.Rptr.2d 552].)
  • “[T]he standard of care for physicians is the reasonable degree of skill, knowledge and care ordinarily possessed and exercised by members of the medical profession under similar circumstances. The test for determining familiarity with the standard of care is knowledge of similar conditions. Geographical location may be a factor considered in making that determination, but, by itself, does not provide a practical basis for measuring similar circumstances. Over 30 years ago, our Supreme Court observed that ‘[t]he unmistakable general trend. . . has been toward liberalizing the rules relating to the testimonial qualifications of medical experts.’ ” (Avivi v. Centro Medico Urgente Medical Center (2008) 159 Cal.App.4th 463, 470–471 [71 Cal.Rptr.3d 707], original italics, internal citations omitted.)

Secondary Sources

California Tort Guide (Cont.Ed.Bar 3d ed.) § 9.2

3 Levy et al., California Torts, Ch. 30, General Principles of Liability of Professionals, § 30.12 (Matthew Bender)

36 California Forms of Pleading and Practice, Ch. 415, Physicians: Medical Malpractice, § 415.11 (Matthew Bender)

17 California Points and Authorities, Ch. 175, Physicians and Surgeons: Medical Malpractice, § 175.20 et seq. (Matthew Bender)