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Settling Your Medical Malpractice Case

We’re somewhat conditioned to inherently trust and expect a certain level of care from medical professionals. In many instances, though, doctors, nurses and technicians alike remind us that they are all too human.

In a stunning report that sent shockwaves across the country, researchers with the John Hopkins University School of Medicine confirmed that medical errors are now the third leading cause of death in the United States.

Of course, not every occurrence of medical malpractice will result in a wrongful death, but many will lead to life-altering conditions for the victim.

What is medical malpractice?

The legal definition for medical malpractice is harm or injury caused to a patient by negligence from a hospital, doctor other health care professional.  

  • Surgical errors
    Data from the National Center for Health Statistics report that of the more than 234 million surgeries each year in the U.S., there are more than 4,000 preventable errors.
  • Misdiagnosis
    A study published in BMJ Quality & Safety confirmed that each year, about 12 million U.S. adults (1 of every 20 people) seeking medical care are misdiagnosed.
  • Medication errors
    The Institute of Medicine confirms that seemingly innocent mistakes with medication injure about 1.5 million people each year. Common mistakes with medicine include the wrong drug, the wrong dosage, and a bad combination with other drugs or an unanticipated bad reaction.

Do I have a medical malpractice case?

There are essentially four (4) components – each of which must be proven – that will determine whether or not you have a medical malpractice case.

  1. The existence of the doctor-patient relationship.
    While easy to prove, this is necessary because it provides a starting point of an obligation of a “standard of care” in terms of expected medical treatment.
  2. The medical professional was negligent in providing care.
    This component, often with the help of expert witnesses, should prove that the level of the provided care was less than what a reasonably competent professional would have given.
  3. Injuries suffered by the victim were caused directly by the negligence.
    It’s not enough to prove that doctor, nurse or other medical professional was negligent; rather, you must prove that you were injured.
  4. Proof of the harm to the victim.
    This can be in the form of independent physical examinations, proof of lost wages, medical bills incurred, etc.

What is medical negligence?

Medical negligence is but one component of a medical malpractice case. When a patient establishes a relationship with a doctor, it’s presumed that the patient is entitled to a standard level of care.

Medical negligence occurs when the health care professional fails to deliver that standard level of care.

Is medical malpractice a civil or criminal case?

It depends upon the individual aspects of the case involved. Cases that involve involuntary negligence are typically considered to be civil cases, and can be launched by a private party. In most civil cases, the punishment is typically in the form of monetary compensation.

If gross negligence – the conscious and voluntary disregard of providing reasonable care – is proven, the case will most likely be a criminal case, and brought by either the federal or state government. Punishment in criminal cases can involve imprisonment and monetary compensation.

How many medical malpractice lawsuits go to trial and how long do they take?

Statistics from the Harvard School of Public Health confirm that over 90% of medical malpractice cases are settled out of court. Among the numerous factors for this is that fact that cases that do proceed to court can often take years to resolve. In fact, another study from a Johns Hopkins affiliated hospital confirmed that the average wait time for a medical malpractice case to be resolved in court was 4.5 years.

Why should I settle my medical malpractice case?

Settling a medical malpractice case usually involves the defendant (hospital, doctor, nurse, etc.) and the plaintiff (victim) reaching an agreement to some or all of the plaintiff’s claims without taking their chances in court.

Among the benefits to settling a medical malpractice case out of court are:

  • the victim receiving compensation faster to cover medical bills, lost wages and other expenses;
  • avoiding the substantial expenses of going to court; and
  • the privacy afforded in settlement agreements rather than the public record of a jury or judge decision.

What is the average for a medical malpractice settlement?

A study from the New England Journal of Medicine confirmed that the average compensation for a medical malpractice claim is $521,560.

How much is my medical malpractice case worth?

Because all cases are unique, it’s not possible to predetermine how much your case is worth. Your lawyer, however, will consider a number of things before determining what’s felt to be a reasonable amount, including:

  • strength of the evidence;
  • costs of medical bills and treatment you’ve already received, and the amount of treatment anticipated in the future;
  • loss of earning potential; and
  • physical pain and suffering.

Are medical malpractice settlements taxable?

Medical malpractice lawsuits are personal injury cases. Settlements and jury awards are intended to compensate you for things like medical bills, lost wages, loss of consortium (the loss of one’s emotional and physical support from a spouse or partner), emotional distress, pain and suffering and lawyer fees – and are considered to be tax-free.

However, the key is for your case to be based on the incurrence of an injury. If your settlement is based on emotional distress, for example, your settlement will be taxable income.

Do I need a lawyer to negotiate a settlement on my behalf?

Because medical law is an incredibly complex topic, the smart move is to leverage the skills and expertise of a medical malpractice lawyer, who will rely upon a thorough understanding of the law to determine whether or not a settlement is in your best interest.

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