Medical Malpractice Lawsuits: What to Know About Suing Your Doctor
You put a lot of trust in your doctor. When you are injured or ill, they’re who you turn to for help. This is a huge responsibility, but sadly, some doctors don’t take it as seriously as they should. If you were harmed as a result of their actions, you might have a case for medical malpractice. Not everything qualifies for a lawsuit, so save yourself from any additional pain and disappointment by learning about what does qualify.
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What is Medical Malpractice?
Medical malpractice is when your doctor’s action (or inaction) is the direct cause of your injury, provided that his or her decision goes against the common wisdom or accepted best practices of the medical community. This can include everything from prescribing conflicting medications to leaving a sponge inside of you after surgery. However, not every wrongdoing by a healthcare professional is enough to be described as “medical malpractice.”
Medical Standard of Care and Negligence
If you want to move forward with your case, your attorney will ultimately have to judge its validity. However, you can save yourself some time by objectively evaluating whether your case fits the following criteria:
- Your doctor had a professional duty towards you. You can’t just sue a doctor that happened to be walking by in the hospital hallway, for example. It needs to be your doctor.
- Your doctor violated that professional duty. Would other doctors act as your did?
- You were injured as a result and suffered.
The most crucial part is that your doctor acted in a way that other reasonable healthcare professionals would not. This is commonly referred to as “negligence.” If your doctor neglected your care, you could have a case.
Medical Malpractice Statute of Limitations
A “statute of limitations” is a period of time during which you can bring your case to court. If you file after the statute of limitations expires, your case won’t be considered.
The statute of limitation depends on the claim that you are making. For medical malpractice, it ranges from one to ten years, depending on the state that you are living in. However, most states also start the clock once you’ve become aware of the injury. Ask your lawyer for the specifics regarding your case and state.
Medical Malpractice Settlements
Keep in mind as you move forward with your suit that 93 percent of all medical malpractice cases do not make it to trial. Some of these are dismissed, but the vast majority of them settle out of court. Settling is a convenient way to end the dispute for all parties without having to suffer through a lengthy and expensive trial.
What is the Average Settlement for a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit?
An average court settlement is over $400,000. If you go all the way through the trial, you might get more than that, but not necessarily—you might get nothing at all. That could leave you on the hook for a large legal bill, with no settlement funds to pay it off.
However, if you have a legitimate case, then a medical malpractice lawsuit can be quite lucrative. Doctors have medical malpractice insurance, intended to pay out in exactly these cases. However, this also means you aren’t only combatting your doctor and his lawyers, but an insurance company as well.
What Determines Settlement Amounts?
Considering all the resources that go into a medical malpractice lawsuit, it can certainly be easier to settle. Whether or not it’s worth it is up to you. Obviously, part of this decision depends on how much you expect to settle for. A couple things determine settlement amounts:
- How bad was the injury?
- How much did you suffer?
- How egregious was the mistake?
- How much was the cost of the resulting medical care?
- What state are you filing in? Some states have passed laws to limit the amount you can receive from a medical malpractice lawsuit. Consult your attorney for more information.
Medical malpractice lawsuits can get complicated fast. These cases often take years to complete, even if you settle. However, given the level of trust that we place in our doctors and healthcare professionals, moving forward with a medical malpractice lawsuit is sometimes your best option. It’s ultimately a decision that you have to make for yourself, but it should at least be an informed one.
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Dayton is a chronic Wikipedia addict, which is detrimental to her social life but stellar for her writing. She resides in Boise, ID, surrounded by her own frantic outlines, highlighted encyclopedias, and potatoes. The latter was not by choice.
This post was updated February 28, 2019. It was originally published February 11, 2018.