How Long Does a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit Take to Resolve?
March 27, 2021 by Spector Injury & Accident Lawyers
The healthcare system is an integral part of every community. It ensures citizens receive necessary medical attention when they need it, helping them to get well and continue being productive members of society. However, more often than one would hope, visiting the hospital causes patients further injury due to medical malpractice.
According to a John Hopkins study, approximately 250,000 people die in the US annually due to medical errors, making it the third leading cause of death after heart disease and cancer. When this happens, there’s often a significant psychological toll on the bereaved. This grief can be further compounded by large end-of-life medical bills and loss of household income that can create financial turmoil for the malpractice victim’s family.
If you find yourself in this terrible situation, filing a medical malpractice lawsuit may help alleviate some of your burdens, as you may seek compensation. In this blog post, we’ll describe the process of pursuing a medical malpractice lawsuit.
Length and Process of a Medical Malpractice Suit
Medical malpractice cases are amongst the most complex lawsuits you can pursue. Before you ever get in front of a judge, you must follow a strict process and both sides must have the opportunity to do a thorough investigation. This process, combined with the unique factors involved in each case, means that a malpractice case can take as few as six months, or it can last years.
If you suspect that you have been a victim of medical malpractice, consult a medical malpractice lawyer as soon as possible. They will assess your medical records, bills, history, and condition or injuries. If they believe you have a reasonable chance of winning your case, they can file a complaint on your behalf.
For a family that’s struggling financially, waiting years for compensation is not ideal. The same goes for health care facilities that generally want the matter resolved as soon and as quietly as possible. As such, it is often possible to reach an out-of-court settlement with the other party. However, in many cases, both parties still have to file motions and go through the discovery phase of the court process.
While you may receive compensation sooner by accepting a settlement offer from the at-fault medical facility or practitioner, it’s not always in your best interests to accept an early settlement. In any case, it’s important to fully understand the strength of your case and the extent of your damages before you accept a settlement. An experienced medical malpractice attorney can advise you about whether or not you should accept a particular settlement offer in light of these factors.
The medical malpractice case process is described below. Even if you end up settling your case before you get to trial, you may end up going through one or more of these five phases of the case.
After your attorney files a complaint against the at-fault party or parties, they will also serve notice to all the parties involved, initiating the discovery phase. At this stage, both parties gather evidence and request all the relevant information and documents related to the case from one another. As you build your case, your attorney will consult with other medical practitioners and possibly hire an expert medical witness.
Usually, both sides give a deposition (an official oral statement under oath), and trade written questions and documents. With all the back and forth information sharing, the discovery period can last up to one year.
2. Expert Medical Witnesses
To determine whether there is a genuine claim for malpractice, both sides usually hire neutral third-party expert medical witnesses. An expert medical witness will assess the case’s details, establish the duty of care the practitioner owed the patient, and determine if they breached that duty of care. An expert medical witness must also determine whether the practitioner’s breach caused undue injury or damage to the patient.
An expert medical witness may be a generalist, but some states require them to be a specialist in the field of medicine that is at issue in the case, if applicable. If both sides’ medical expert witnesses agree that medical malpractice occurred, the case can proceed.
3. Negotiating a Settlement
Once the case has been given the green light to proceed, the defendant’s attorneys will attempt to settle the case out of court. Being representatives of the medical malpractice insurance provider, they have two primary objectives: avoiding the cost of a trial process and reducing the amount their client will pay as settlement.
After assessing how strong your claim is, your attorney will advise you about what they believe is a suitable settlement amount. At this point, both legal teams will begin negotiations in an attempt to agree on how much the defendant will pay. If the other side does not make a reasonable settlement offer, your attorney will likely advise that you proceed to trial.
At the trial phase, both parties present their evidence before a judge or a jury. Depending on the complexity of the case, the trial phase can last months or even years. The defendant’s team is permitted to continue making settlement offers during the trial.
5. Collecting the Money
After you have accepted a settlement offer or if you receive a verdict in your favor at the end of the trial, you can generally either opt for a lump-sum payment or structured payments.
- Lump-sum payment. With this option, you receive the full amount in one single payment. Lump-sum payments are the most common as they are the least complicated method of collecting damages. It also generally makes it easier to settle your medical bill debt and set funds aside for future medical expenses.
- Structured payments. Should you opt to receive your settlement funds in a structured format, you will receive payments in an agreed-upon amount at agreed-upon intervals. This often suits people with birth injury cases, because it can help the family meet the injured child’s long-term or permanent medical care needs.
If you choose the structured payment method, some companies are willing to pay off the remainder of their payments in a lump sum if you change your mind. However, sometimes this means you will give up some of the full amount you recovered.
Legal Counsel and Support
Medical malpractice can be devastating, physically and financially. Even if the malpractice victim survives, they may be left with long-term, life-altering injuries. Going through this ordeal can be overwhelming. While compensation cannot reverse the situation, it can alleviate the financial burden that comes with it. To get a fair settlement, you’ll need the support of an experienced medical malpractice attorney. While they take care of filing your case, you can focus on your recovery.
If you need more insight on medical malpractice lawsuits or legal assistance, contact a medical malpractice lawyer near you, who knows the doctors and healthcare facilities that treated you.