If you have been injured or experienced some sort of loss because of the negligent behavior of a health care practitioner or institution, you may have grounds for a medical malpractice case. If you decide you want to pursue a lawsuit to seek compensation for your losses from a doctor or hospital, this guide will offer the steps you need to take to do so.
If you wait too long to file a medical malpractice lawsuit, you may miss the statute of limitations, a legal time limit on how long you have after an incident to take legal action. The statute of limitations for medical malpractice cases varies from state to state, but it can be as short as one year after the mistake happened. For this reason, you shouldn’t hesitate too long before deciding whether or not you want to move forward with a claim.
As soon as you consider filing a medical malpractice lawsuit, it’s important to get in touch with an attorney. Medical malpractice cases are a particularly complex type of personal injury lawsuit, and you most likely won’t be able to navigate them on your own. An experienced lawyer can help you prove your case in order to get the best compensation possible while understanding all of the hoops you have to jump through along the way.
Choosing to sue a hospital versus a doctor can be two very different things. The hospital itself cannot always be held responsible for the actions of an individual doctor, who is most likely designated as an independent contractor and not an employee of the institution. In this case, you’ll need to pursue legal action against the doctor themselves. If the doctor was an employee, however, you can sue the hospital. It’s also possible to file a lawsuit against more than one party. The important thing is to understand who is legally responsible for the medical error.
Medical records can be a key piece of evidence in a medical malpractice case, so you and your legal team will want to obtain them in order to be able to build your case. You can make an official request to the hospital for copies of your records, for which they may or may not charge a fee. However, they legally must release your records to you if you ask for them.
In addition to your medical records, you and your legal team will also want to gather all relevant evidence that proves that the doctor or hospital was indeed negligent. You will have to be able to prove that they did not meet the expected standard of medical care, that their failure to do so caused your injury, and that your injuries led to the damages you are seeking. Evidence for a medical malpractice case may come in the form of:
An important thing to determine early on is exactly how much money you are asking to be compensated for. This sum is called damages. There are many types of losses and harms that can go into medical malpractice damages, including:
You and your legal counsel should have an exact figure in mind of the damages you seek to recover, as well as a figure you would be willing to settle for in a negotiation.
Because of tort reform, there are usually some legal and procedural hoops you will be required to jump through by your state before you can file a medical malpractice lawsuit. You may have to file an affidavit of merit, which is when a medical expert affirms that you have a valid case. You may also have to submit a claim to a medical review board before being allowed to file a lawsuit in court, or agree to a pre-lawsuit alternative dispute resolution. Your medical malpractice lawyer should know all of these requirements and help you meet them.
Once you have completed all of the above steps, you should be ready to have your lawyer draft and file an official complaint for you. This should indicate your name, the names of the parties you are suing, a detailed description of the negligent act(s), the harm that they caused you, and the damages you are seeking to recover. This complaint will be filed at the office of the local branch of the state court’s clerk.
From here, the case will have to be litigated. Most of the time, the doctor or hospital will prefer to settle with you privately rather than going to court in order to save time and legal fees. However, if you do not manage to come to an agreement on your own, you will wait until your case goes to court and a jury makes a final decision about the damages you can be rewarded.