Perhaps the most difficult question for a medical malpractice attorney to answer is “how long will it take my case to settle?” The question is an important one, which is why patients ask it so frequently. But attorneys find it nearly impossible to answer, and for good reason. The best answer is probably that the patient should expect the case to last several years. Different studies have produced different results, but a 2006 New England Journal of Medicine study found that the average time between a health care-related injury and the closing of a medical malpractice case was five years.
In a medical malpractice case, there is no designated point in the process here settlement normally occurs. Settlement negotiations can take place at any point, and usually will occur on multiple occasions as the case progresses. A settlement agreement can happen very early on (before a medical malpractice lawsuit is even filed) or it can take place on the proverbial “court house steps” while the case is weeks into the trial phase.
Factors That Add Time to the Settlement Process
As a general rule, the more complicated a medical malpractice case is, the longer it will take to settle. Factors that make cases more complicated include:
- complex or novel medical issues
- complex or novel legal issues
- large numbers of witnesses (including expert medical witnesses), and
- multiple parties that may be responsible.
For example, imagine Susan is hit by a car when crossing the street. She is taken by ambulance to a hospital, where she has surgery on her back. The next day, she has another surgery on her leg, this time by a different doctor. At some point in the process, it is discovered that she acquired an infection.
Who is legally responsible for causing the infection? Susan will likely sue both doctors, the hospital, the ambulance service and the driver of the car. That means six parties (including Susan) will be involved in the case, and issues will range from liability for the initial car accident to potential medical negligence on the part of the different health care providers. If one party makes a motion, all five of the other parties will probably respond to it. All six attorneys may attend each deposition and ask different questions. All of the doctors and nurses that came in contact with Susan may be deposed on different days. Since doctors and nurses are very busy people, the depositions can be difficult to schedule and each may be a month or two apart. And let’s not forget about requests for production of documents and other time-consuming procedural steps.
In this case, somebody is responsible for Susan’s infection. But it is unclear who that is. Settlement is unlikely until the parties can gain a decent understanding of which party should be blamed for the infection. Thus, Susan will probably have a long wait before a settlement is reached among all six of the parties involved.
Process of Filing a Medical Malpractice Case
Medical malpractice cases are generally sought by patients who have been harmed or injured due to poor medical treatment or mistaken diagnosis from a medical provider such as a doctor, nurse, technician, hospital or medical worker. Typically, the measure of whether a medical provider was “negligent,” or failed to provide proper care, turns on whether the patient would have received the same standard of care from another medical provider under similar circumstances.
While the majority of health care providers aim to exercise the highest standard of care for all patents, there are times when things can go gravely wrong. If you or a loved one has experienced poor medical care, misdiagnosis, lack of consent, or breach of doctor-patient confidentiality that has resulted in harm or injury, you may be entitled to medical malpractice recovery.
Below are some basic first steps in bringing a medical malpractice case.
Contact the Medical Professional Involved
The first step is to contact the doctor or medical professional who works with you before you actually file the claim. Your goal is to get an understanding of what may have gone wrong and allow your doctor to determine whether it is something that can be remedied. In most cases, medical providers are willing to perform services (sometimes free of charge) to correct a problem or provide a solution.
Contact the Relevant Medical Licensing Board
If contacting the medical professional does not help the situation, you may wish to contact the licensing board that governs medical licenses. While licensing boards typically cannot order the professional to compensate you, they can issue warnings or discipline to the practitioner and may be able to provide you with guidance about your next steps.
Know How Long You Have to File a Claim
When deciding whether to file a medical malpractice claim, it is important to find out how much time you have to legally bring the claim. All civil claims, including medical malpractice cases, have time limits as to when they must be filed. These limits, called “statutes of limitations,” require you to file your claim within a certain time period from when the injury occurred, or risk waiving your rights to recover money for your injuries. Check the state laws in your particular state to ensure the time period for filing your claim does not run out.
Get a Medical Assessment to Confirm Your Case Has Merit
A growing number of states require patients to file what is commonly known as a “certificate of merit” to determine that the injuries you suffered was the result of negligence on the part of a health care professional. To file a certificate of merit, must first contact an expert, usually another physician, to review your medical records and certify that the original healthcare provider deviated from accepted medical practices, which resulted in your injuries. The attorney that you hire will now file the certificate of merit, which confirms that you spoke with a medical expert and that your action has merit.
Consider an Out-of-Court Settlement
Medical malpractice cases can be timely and costly, which is why most medical malpractice cases are settled out of court. In addition, because medical malpractice insurance companies reject a significantly large portion of medical malpractice claims, it may be in your best interest to settle out-of-court or risk having no case at all. Keep in mind, however, that if you believe you have a strong case, then you should seek a larger settlement.
Free Initial Claim Review from a Medical Malpractice Lawyer
Finding a qualified medical malpractice attorney can mean the difference between receiving compensation for your injuries and walking away empty-handed. An experienced Plymouth, MA, attorney will be able to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of your case and advise you on a course of action moving forward. A good first step in finding the right attorney is to get a free initial claim evaluation from a medical malpractice lawyer.