There’s a lot of discussion about the quality of medical care in the United States. Costs are high, waits are long, and often, just getting an appointment can be challenging. But still, when we go to the doctor, we put our trust in the professional that they will provide adequate care and help us feel better. At a minimum, they should not make the problem worse.
Unfortunately, medical mistakes happen. And when they do, they can cause patients harm. If this has happened to you, you may question why this happened, who’s responsible, and what your choices are moving forward. And then there’s the looming question, “how long is this all going to take?”
When a healthcare provider betrays your trust, it can be devastating. You will likely want to resolve the matter immediately to move past the unfortunate incident. Below, we discuss some influential factors affecting the length of a medical malpractice case. If you have questions, contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney.
Medical Malpractice Claim Guide
- Four steps to take if you suspect medical malpractice
- How long can a medical malpractice case take?
- The timeline of a medical malpractice case
- Don’t wait. Take action now.
Four steps to take if you suspect medical malpractice
Winning a medical malpractice case is not easy. Statistics show that doctors win most cases that make it to court. Therefore, it is imperative to take the appropriate steps to preserve evidence for your case immediately.
Of course, every case is different, and you may need to adjust your actions based on the exact circumstances surrounding your injuries, but some of the basics include:
- Get a new doctor: If you plan on pursuing a medical malpractice case, there is a good chance your case will end up in front of a jury. From the average person’s viewpoint, no reasonable person would continue care with a provider they believe caused them physical harm. If you suspect your doctor made a mistake, switch providers as soon as possible for your health and your case. That said, do not call your doctor’s office and tell them why you are changing providers. Remember, this is a legal matter, and anything you say can be evidence used against you. Further, as discussed in a recent National Law Review article, in some cases, contacting your doctor about a potential medical malpractice case could constitute “pre-suit notice,” potentially jeopardizing your case.
- Start keeping detailed records: If you suspect your doctor made a mistake, keep a journal. Here you will document how you feel physically and emotionally, taking note of any new or worsening symptoms. Additionally, you need to record any care you received before and after the alleged incident. Write down the name of any doctors, facilities, medications, and diagnoses: the more detail you can provide, the better.
- Keep up with all medical appointments: The last thing you want to show is that you don’t take your health seriously. Once you meet with a new doctor, attend all medical appointments and follow their advice. It may be difficult to trust healthcare providers now, but you must try to focus on healing. Be open and honest with your care provider and let them know if you have any concerns.
- Contact an experienced medical malpractice lawyer: Hospitals have insurance. Doctors have insurance. Both will hire a lawyer. If you are considering a medical malpractice action, speak with a qualified medical malpractice lawyer. Your lawyer will explain the process and help you understand what to expect. Medical malpractice cases are complex: they rely on expert witnesses, timely filings, and extensive legal knowledge. Therefore, you do not want to take on this type of case alone.
How long can a medical malpractice case take?
You may want to settle a medical malpractice case quickly because:
- You need the money: If you suffered a severe injury because of a doctor’s mistake, there’s a good chance you will need continuing medical care and may need to miss time from work.
- You want to move past everything: Knowing that your doctor made a mistake can be traumatizing. It’s normal to want to move on and not think about it again.
- Court cases can be emotionally draining: There’s no sugar coating it; fighting a hospital or medical professional can make you feel defeated. They will try to defend themselves, and in turn, they may question you. Dealing with this stress can be challenging, and it’s okay to want it to be over.
Nobody can predict precisely how long a medical malpractice case may take. However, when you work with a medical malpractice attorney, their goal will be to get you a fair settlement as quickly as possible.
A few factors affect the duration of a medical malpractice case, including:
The degree and stability of your injuries
While one portion of a medical malpractice case focuses on if the doctor made a mistake, the other part focuses on you and your injuries or in other words, the consequences of that mistake. This process means it will be necessary for all parties to understand how your injuries happened, the degree of your injuries, and your prognosis.
Additionally, most attorneys will not accept a settlement until your current healthcare provider deems you medically stable. This declaration means your condition will likely not improve or worsen. It is usually wise to wait for this prognosis because it allows you and your attorney to better understand the actual costs of treating your injuries moving forward.
The extent of the mistake and the available evidence
If overwhelming evidence reveals that your doctor made a mistake, the provider’s insurance company may want to settle to avoid potentially higher costs. This approach may mean a quick resolution to your case. In the same regard, if there is little evidence or a question as to whether the doctor made a mistake, the process could take longer.
The number of parties involved
In some cases, a medical malpractice case may involve more than one negligent party. For example, if you had surgery and the doctor forgot a step, was another party responsible for catching that mistake? Did the hospital fail to provide proper training or verify the doctor’s qualifications?
When more than one party holds responsibility, your attorney must investigate each person or entity and their role individually. The more parties there are, the longer your case will likely last.
The willingness of both parties to settle
Medical malpractice cases are more likely to go to court than other personal injury matters. Still, most cases settle before they make it that far. How long your case takes depends on how much you and the other party(ies) are willing to settle. The other party may settle to avoid drawn-out litigation and costs if there is clear and convincing evidence.
On the other hand, you may choose to settle early because you need the money or want to avoid the risk of a trial. Ultimately, much of a medical malpractice case depends on what each party is willing to accept.
The timeline of a medical malpractice case
Knowing what to expect is one of the best things to help you move through a medical malpractice case. What will happen, when will it happen, and why? This understanding can help prevent frustration and give you realistic expectations. Every case is different but generally follows the same course:
Finding the right attorney
After you believe there has been a mistake, your first step is to talk with a medical malpractice attorney. How long this takes depends on how many attorneys you choose to interview and what qualities you want.
When considering an attorney, some of the things you want to look at include:
- Local connections
Taking on a medical malpractice case without an experienced attorney is not a good idea. The insurance company will try to fight your claims, and on the off-chance that they offer you a settlement, it will most likely be below what you deserve.
Once your attorney decides to take on your case, they will review the facts. During this process, they will request and review your medical records, talk to witnesses, and investigate the doctor’s professional and disciplinary history. The more information you provide, the quicker the process.
Things you can do to help include:
- Keep records of all current and past care providers, as well as their contact information
- Promptly sign any releases requested by your attorney
- Report any changes in your condition
Your attorney will probably reach out to expert witnesses and research applicable case law at this stage. Now is the time for your attorney builds a case to have a strong argument against the insurance company.
The goal of any legal matter is to resolve it promptly. The longer it drags on, the more it costs for both parties. At this stage, your attorney may begin to test the waters to see where the insurance company stands. If they are open to negotiations, you may settle without bringing the case to court.
Filing the case with the court
If you cannot agree with the insurance company, your attorney will file a complaint with the court. In Pennsylvania, have two years from the injury to file a medical malpractice case.
At this stage, your attorney will also prepare the certificate of merit, which is due within 60 days of the initial court filing. In Pennsylvania, a medical malpractice complaint must include a certificate of merit completed by a qualified medical professional. This document verifies that a medical professional believes there is a reasonable probability that your care provider acted outside expected care standards.
Depositions, discovery, and mediation
Once you file an initial complaint, both sides will prepare their court cases. At this time, both parties will continue to gather evidence and conduct depositions.
If negotiations continue to be unproductive, either party may request mediation. During mediation, a neutral party will guide negotiations and help provide strategies to allow the parties to agree. However, the mediator does not have the legal authority to force either party to come to a settlement or make a legal ruling.
If the parties agree, the mediator will draft a binding agreement, and the case is over. If there is no agreement, the case will proceed to court.
The overwhelming majority of medical malpractice cases do not make it to court. This fact is because both sides typically understand that going to court comes with extra costs and risks. If you choose to go to trial, a jury will have the final say on whether you have a case and how much it is worth. Once the court hands the decision to the jury, neither party will have a say in what happens. That said, the two parties can settle up until the point that the jury comes back with a verdict.
Don’t wait. Take action now.
Dealing with an unexpected injury can be a lot to handle. This is especially true when it is at the hands of someone you thought you could trust. If a doctor’s or another healthcare professional’s negligence injured you, an experienced medical malpractice attorney can explain your rights and help you establish a case.
If you have questions or need more information, contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney today.