What is a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit?
A medical malpractice lawsuit is official legal action against a medical professional, a medical facility, or their insurance company to prove negligence and recover damages. Medical malpractice occurs when someone with a duty to provide professional care breaches that duty causing harm and damages.
Are There Alternatives to a Lawsuit?
If you believe a doctor made a mistake that caused you harm and related expenses, you can try to work with that doctor before taking legal action. The medical professional involved may be willing to work with you and provide free care to remedy the problem.
You can also try contacting the appropriate medical licensing board if your doctor will not help you. They cannot order them to provide more services, but they can begin disciplinary actions and provide advice. This may be enough to convince your doctor to be more flexible.
How Do I Know I Have a Case for Malpractice?
The best way to know if you have a valid case with a chance of winning a settlement or jury verdict is to talk to an experienced medical malpractice lawyer. They can estimate your chances but not promise you an outcome.
Both a settlement and a verdict depend on your lawyer’s ability to prove the medical professional in question was negligent in your injury or illness. Four points are necessary to prove medical negligence:
- That a professional medical relationship existed between you and the defendant
- That the defendant breached an accepted standard of care in providing you with medical care
- That the breach in care caused you harm
- That the harm resulted in damages, in other words, costs like more medical bills and emotional or physical suffering
Proving negligence can be complicated, especially when doctors have big insurance company legal teams behind them. For a medical malpractice case, you need the right lawyer to investigate, collect evidence, and prove negligence.
What Are the Steps in a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit?
Any lawsuit should begin with an attorney consultation. Find an experienced medical malpractice lawyer offering free case evaluations. Talk to them about the possibility of filing a lawsuit and if it makes sense in your situation.
If you proceed with a medical malpractice lawsuit, it will go through the following steps:
- The Complaint
The official start to a lawsuit is a complaint, which goes to the defendants and explains what you are alleging and why. Laws regarding malpractice cases vary by state, so there may be other steps here, such as a notification before the actual filing.
- Investigation and Discovery
Once notified, the defendant can respond or not, but both sides will begin investigating. Your lawyer will enlist experts to find evidence, analyze the situation, and prove that the defendant acted negligently and caused you harm. The defendant’s legal team will do the same to disprove negligence or even to prove that you are at fault. During discovery, each side can get information from the other to build their case.
- Settlement Negotiation
Many insurance companies enter settlement negotiations at this point. Going to trial is a risk for them. Jury awards are usually higher than settlements. Your lawyer will advocate for you to get a fair settlement if possible.
- The Trial
If you cannot agree on a fair amount of compensation, you can take your case to court. In a trial, you run the risk of getting nothing because the jury may decide in the defendant’s favor. Both sides present evidence and witnesses and argue for or against negligence. If the jury decides in your favor, it will also award you damages.
Collecting compensation can be complicated by additional factors. The defendants may appeal the decision, taking it to a higher court. You can keep fighting, but your payment will be delayed.
Is There a Time Limit on Filing?
All states have a statute of limitations on filing personal injury lawsuits. The time limit, usually a few years, runs from the time of the incident. Medical malpractice cases typically allow for exceptions, for instance, allowing more time for minors.
Another exception is for negligent harm that you do not discover until later. Malpractice may cause immediate harm or lead to an illness long after the statute has run out. If you could not reasonably have discovered the harm within the time limit, most states will allow for an extension.
How Much Can I Recover in Damages?
Recovering damages is the main reason to follow through with a medical malpractice lawsuit. Negligent medical mistakes cost pain, suffering, disability, and money. How much you can recover depends on many factors:
- State laws, which may cap the amount you can recover for non-economic damages
- The severity of your injury or illness
- Your past medical bills related to the incident
- Your expected future medical bills and related expenses
- Lost wages for time missed from work
- Lost or reduced ability to earn an income
- Permanent disability or disfigurement
- Damage to personal and intimate relationships
- Physical and emotional pain and suffering
Do I Need a Certificate of Merit or a Medical Review Hearing?
Some state laws require that you take preliminary steps before starting a medical malpractice lawsuit. These laws are designed to reduce frivolous lawsuits, which are costly and time-consuming.
For example, your state may require a certificate of merit. This is a statement by a qualified expert with similar credentials to the defendant. They must review the evidence and state that your case has merit, that negligence is possible.
Other states require a medical review hearing, which serves a similar purpose. Your lawyer takes evidence before the review board so they can decide if it has merit. Even without approval, you may be able to proceed with the lawsuit, but the board’s findings could impact the verdict.
A medical malpractice lawsuit is sometimes necessary to hold negligent medical professionals responsible and to provide victims with compensation. If you need to take this step, have the right lawyer on your side to advocate for you.