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Medical malpractice lawyers represent patients who have been injured during or as a result of medical treatment, when those injuries are caused by the negligence of health care providers, including physicians, dentists, anesthesiologists, clinics, and hospitals. A medical malpractice attorney will meet with a patient, determine if a malpractice case is warranted, gather information from the patient and from medical experts, depose defendants under oath, and negotiate a settlement on behalf of the patient. If an out-of-court settlement cannot be reached, a medical malpractice attorney will litigate the case in court on behalf of the patient.
To have a medical malpractice case, a patient must have been injured when a health care provider, who had a duty of care to the patient, breached the accepted standard of care. An attorney looks for certain signs that medical malpractice has taken place, including:
According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health’s 20-year study of medical malpractice case outcomes, winning a suit largely depends on the strength of the evidence. Patients won just 10% to 20% of jury trial cases with weak evidence, compared to 30% of lawsuits with midrange evidence. Patients succeeded in 50% of cases with strong evidence. In addition to evidence, factors such as an attorney’s familiarity with the practice of medicine, and the attorney’s specialized background in medical malpractice law, may contribute to the success of the lawsuit.
Misdiagnosis can constitute malpractice if it's proven that a doctor has failed to meet the usual standard of care. These types of cases usually involve mishandling of testing or delayed diagnoses. They may also involve a doctor's failure to interpret test results, screen for a specific condition, provide a specialist referral, discuss symptoms a patient is experiencing, or investigate possible causes of reported symptoms.
Start by creating a short list of local medical malpractice lawyers specializing in plaintiff representation, then narrow it down by taking these steps:
Medical malpractice lawyers typically represent clients on a contingency basis, receiving payment only if the plaintiff receives a settlement. The standard fee is 33% of the amount awarded. Attorneys may also pay litigation expenses up front, such as filing fees and other case-related costs, before receiving reimbursement from the settlement. Contingency fee percentages, other litigation costs, and payment structures may be negotiable.
Statutes of limitations for medical malpractice lawsuits differ in each state. The limitations in three of the most populous states show how these laws can vary:
Taking these steps may get a medical malpractice issue resolved quickly or help when filing a lawsuit becomes necessary:
A consultation with an attorney is the first step in initiating a medical malpractice lawsuit. During the consultation, the patient will explain their case, including their injuries and the impact of those injuries on their life and well-being. The patient will identify the person or organization they believe breached the standard of care, and indicate how they believe that breach led to their injuries. The attorney will determine if the patient has a viable malpractice claim, and if so, will enter into an agreement to represent the patient. Next, the attorney will begin an investigation, reviewing medical records and consulting with medical experts. Following the investigation, the discovery process will allow the plaintiff and defendant to share information with each other about the case under oath. In the vast majority of malpractice cases, the settlement phase follows. During this phase, the doctor or facility will agree to pay the plaintiff a mutually agreed upon amount of money. If a settlement cannot be reached during this phase, the medical malpractice lawsuit will proceed to trial.
With the goal of enhancing the quality of care provided, while also limiting the risk of harm to patients, doctors can reduce the likelihood of medical malpractice lawsuits by adopting best practices, such as the following:
While it can be upsetting and stressful to be sued by a patient, medical malpractice lawsuits are actually fairly common. In fact, a recent American Medical Association benchmark survey found that more than one third of physicians in the U.S. have been sued for malpractice at some point during their career. In the event of a patient lawsuit, the doctor’s malpractice insurance provider will supply the doctor with a malpractice defense attorney to handle the case. If the doctor is not confident with the insurer-provided attorney—for instance, if they sense that their case is being passed along to less experienced associates, or if they feel like they are being forced into a settlement by their insurer—they can hire, and pay for, private counsel. In these cases, the private malpractice defense attorney can explain legal procedures, weigh in on case strategy and settlement possibilities, and suggest stronger defense action if warranted.