Suing your doctor for medical malpractice is not a thing to be taken lightly. Malpractice suits are expensive, time consuming, and can open you up to public inspection. And, unlike most other types of personal injury claims, medical malpractice case trends show a tendency toward favoring doctors and other care providers, not injured plaintiffs. Settlement, too, is far more difficult in a malpractice case due to a doctor’s ability to refuse to settle, regardless of whether his or her insurance company wants to pay. Simply put, even the most winnable malpractice case is still an uphill battle with little or no guarantee of success. Should you sue your doctor for malpractice? Perhaps. But consider what follows before you do.
Does Your Case Meet the Legal Threshold for Medical Malpractice?
Before you sue your doctor for medical malpractice, take some time to consider whether you believe your case meets the threshold for a medical malpractice claim. Did your doctor breach the medical standard of care and did that breach cause you to suffer damages? Be honest with yourself. But for your doctor’s breach of the standard of care, would your injuries have occurred? If your answers are “yes” and “no” to those questions, your case may have a shot. If you can allege, with expert support, that your doctor breached the standard of care, and but for his breach your injuries would not have occurred, your case will likely not be immediately dismissed.
For articles on malpractice cases for various health care professionals, see "Health Care Professional-Specific Information on Medical Malpractice."
Was Your Treatment Merely Unsuccessful?
Many people mistakenly choose to file medical malpractice lawsuits because they are unhappy with the results of their treatment. However, a poor result -- even death -- does not always equate to malpractice. Medicine is an inexact science. Even the most routine procedure can result in complications both foreseen and unforeseen. There are no guarantees that any treatment, no matter how commonplace, will be successful. As such, it is possible -- and even common when it comes to some procedures -- for doctors to do everything right and still fail to obtain a good result.
How can you tell the difference between appropriate, but unsuccessful care and medical malpractice? Ask. Ask your doctor. Get second opinions if possible. Talk to lawyers, who may have medically trained staff that can give an informed opinion, or who may have dealt with the exact same issue (or doctor) you are dealing with. Do whatever you can to attempt to allay any misgivings you have about your care. But take any opinions with a grain of salt. Some doctors simply won’t accuse a “brother physician” of making a mistake. Some malpractice attorneys will exaggerate the potential of your claim in an attempt to make money. Use your best discretion when seeking opinions on your treatment, but be diligent in the pursuit of information. Until you file a lawsuit, you are your own best advocate and investigator.
Can I Afford Not To File Suit? Can I Afford To Lose?
Medical malpractice lawsuits are expensive, time-consuming and emotionally draining affairs. They are long, drawn-out and adversarial processes that often turn ugly. Before you decide to sue your doctor, make sure you are prepared to deal with the ensuing aggravation and potential financial ramifications.
Expert witnesses, copies of medical records, deposition and witness fees, medical exams -- all of these things cost money. And if you lose your case, you could very well be on the hook for thousands or tens of thousands of dollars in expenses. Is your case important enough to you that you feel the potential financial benefit outweighs the risk?
Do you have skeletons in your closet? Were you less than truthful about your health and/or physical condition? Are you prepared to subject yourself to hours of questioning from attorneys, both yours and likely several others? Are you prepared to make financial disclosures that will become public? When you file a lawsuit, particularly a medical malpractice lawsuit, your life becomes a very open book -- nearly everything is fair game.