How to Sue a Doctor: 8 Steps

Lia Kopin-Green
July 26, 2022

Doctors and other medical providers should help improve our conditions or injuries - not make them worse or create new ones. Medical malpractice cases, however, may be more common than you think. The Medical Malpractice Center estimates that 15,000 to 19,000 malpractice suits are filed against doctors each year in the United States.

This step-by-step guide will explain how to sue a doctor if you have been injured or lost a loved one because of your medical provider's negligence.

1. Document Your Injury

The first step in proving medical malpractice is to document any pain or injury caused by the provider's negligence. Any cuts, infections, or injuries should be photographed as soon as possible. The images should show your condition immediately after the negligent incident so that you can prove your case even if you are healed by the time your trial begins. Additionally, it is recommended that you keep a journal to record details about your symptoms, such as how severe and how long the pain lasts. Keeping medication containers and prescriptions for any medications you took for your injuries is also a good idea. Documentation of these damages is one of the most important pieces of evidence and will be analyzed by experts to help determine how much compensation you should receive, if any, following a malpractice suit. 

2. Act fast

The statute of limitations limits the amount of time a medical malpractice victim has to file a lawsuit against a negligent doctor or health care provider. Your claim will not be compensated once the statute of limitations has expired.  While you cope with the aftermath of your doctor's malpractice, it may seem tempting to put off filing your claim. However, you could run into serious problems if you delay your case for too long. Therefore, the sooner you file your medical malpractice suit, the better.

Generally, the "clock" begins ticking on the date on which the malpractice took place. 

The statute of limitations varies from state to state, but it usually lasts about 2-3 years. 

3. Hire a Lawyer

There are many complicated legal details to consider when handling medical malpractice cases, which is why a lawyer with extensive legal experience and knowledge is best suited to handle the case. At this stage, you should consult an attorney before taking further steps toward suing your doctor. As mentioned above, time is of the essence when it comes to medical malpractice suits. Having the assistance of a malpractice attorney will speed up the process of filing your claim before the statute of limitations expires. You can depend on your attorney to assist you in filing your claim and in completing the necessary paperwork, as well as to advocate for the best possible outcome for you. 

4. Request Medical Records

Medical records will serve as the foundation for your malpractice case, so it is essential to gather them as soon as possible. These records typically include notes from the doctor, lab results, radiology reports, and documentation of medications. Request the records from your doctor or hospital, or authorize your attorney to request them on your behalf by signing a document known as a release form. Since the right to obtain copies of your medical records is protected by law, your doctor should provide them within 30 days of your request. If he or she refuses, as soon as the lawsuit begins, you can issue a subpoena to demand that your doctor or hospital release the records.

5. Determine Who to Sue

As soon as you have gathered your evidence and you and your attorney have a clear understanding of what happened, it is time to decide who you would like to take legal action against. First, decide whether you want to sue the doctor or the hospital as a whole. It may be necessary for you to file an independent lawsuit against one doctor in some cases. It is also possible to file a lawsuit against multiple doctors that attended to you as well as nurses who helped you post-treatment. An experienced malpractice lawyer will help you choose the best option for your specific case.

6. Notify the Doctor and Your Insurance Company

Before you officially file your lawsuit, there are two important parties that should be notified: the medical provider or doctor involved, and your insurance company. In some states, it is required by law to submit a formal notice to the doctor before filing a medical malpractice lawsuit against them. Notifying your doctor also gives you and your attorney the opportunity to work out a settlement outside of court. Moreover, it is just as important to inform your insurance company that you intend to file a malpractice suit. Depending on your insurance policy, you might be able to receive an early settlement at this time.

7. Check Pre-Lawsuit Filing Rules

Several states have enacted pre-suit requirements that must be met before filing a medical malpractice claim. These procedural hurdles are put into place to prevent unnecessary or false claims against healthcare providers. "Certificates of merit" are among the most common requirements. In order to receive this certificate, you will need to consult with a qualified medical expert that will determine whether negligence was present in your case and if the treatment you received fell below the expected standard of care. 

Your lawyer will inform you about pre-suit requirements and guide you through fulfilling them.

8. File the Official Complaint

Finally, the lawsuit is officially initiated by filing a formal complaint. The complaint should include the allegations you wish to bring against your doctor as well as the injuries or losses you have suffered as a result of his or her negligence. Also included in the document is a "cause of action," which in a medical malpractice suit is the claim that your doctor fell below the standard of care for most doctors. A copy of the complaint in addition to a court summons will be served to the doctor or health care provider.

Despite the fact that your medical malpractice case has now entered the trial phase, settlement is still an option at this stage. In fact, most medical malpractice cases end up getting resolved before actually going to trial. Throughout the entire process, your attorney will assist you to maximize your chances of receiving fair compensation.

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