Medical malpractice cases can be complex and end up taking years before a case could go to trial. Unfortunately, the best answer to the question, how long will my medical malpractice case settle? is…that depends. A simple medical malpractice claim with a limited demand for damages could settle in a few months. Some cases never settle and end up going to trial. However, most serious injury claims will take months or years before they end up getting settled.
Medical malpractice lawsuits can end in one of a few ways. The case can be ended before trial, it can be settled, or it can go to a trial where a jury will determine who is responsible for the injury and the amount of the award. Even though your attorneys should prepare the case as if it is going all the way to trial, the reality is that most medical malpractice lawsuits end up settling before a jury decides the case.
Settlement can occur at any time in a malpractice case. However, settlement may be more common at certain key points of litigation. Generally, a settlement could occur after the initial demand letter is sent, after discovery is completed, after an exchange of expert reports, or just before trial. Even if the judge is in the process of selecting the jury, there is still a high chance that the case will settle before a jury will decide the case.
The best way to understand when your medical malpractice case will settle is to talk to an experienced medical malpractice attorney about your individual situation. Your attorney can review your case, have medical experts review your medical records, and give you a better idea of how much your claim might be worth and when you can expect a settlement award.
What Is a Settlement?
A settlement is an agreement between parties in dispute to resolve the claim. In a medical malpractice case, this generally means the injury victim will release the claim against a doctor in exchange for a certain amount of money. It is important to understand the importance of signing a settlement agreement because it will release the defendants from further legal liability, even if your injury turns out to be worse than you realized.
The settlement is supposed to provide for your losses, including medical bills, costs of future care, loss of income, and pain and suffering. However, it may be in your interest to take a lower amount than you initially demand because a settlement is a known outcome. There are risks to taking your case to trial. A jury may decide that they believe the hospital instead of you and you may risk ending up with nothing. A settlement will also allow you to move on with your life and avoid the stress of trial and reliving the traumatic moments.
The decision to settle your case or pursue the case in court is up to you. Your medical malpractice attorney cannot agree to a settlement without your consent. Your attorney will likely have a good idea of how much your claim might be worth, as well as the risks of taking a chance in court. They can advise you of the settlement offers made but you get to decide whether to take it or not.
Finding Out About a Medical Injury
The first step in a medical malpractice case is finding out about your medical injury. In some cases, you may know as soon as you leave the doctor’s office that something went wrong. However, many medical injuries take time to figure out. Even if you know you suffered an injury caused by a medical error, it may take awhile before the full extent of the damage is understood.
For example, a surgeon could have left a surgical instrument inside your body after surgery. You may begin to feel ill and have pains that do not get better over time. It may take weeks, months, or even years before you find out what was causing the problem. Having a foreign object left behind inside your body is a clear case of medical malpractice. Left behind object injuries are events that never occur but for negligence.
Was Your Injury Caused By Medical Mistakes?
After you realize you suffered a medical injury, you may question whether it was caused by negligence. Medical malpractice generally involves a breach in the duty of care that causes the patient to suffer an injury and harm. If the doctor deviated from the standards of care and caused your injury, you may have a claim for medical malpractice. Types of medical injuries that may be caused by malpractice include:
- Surgical Errors
- Diagnostic Errors
- Prescription Errors
- Emergency Room Errors
- Birth Injury Malpractice
- Prenatal Care Malpractice
- Hospital Injuries
- Defective Medicine or Equipment
- Negligent Intubation
- Anesthesia Errors
- Plastic Surgery Malpractice
You may not be 100% sure that it was a doctor’s error or the hospital’s mistake that was the cause of your injury. You don’t have to be completely positive to bring your case to an experienced malpractice team. Even if you suspect something might have gone wrong, medical error lawyers can review your case to identify who was responsible for your injuries. In some cases, there may have been multiple breaches of care that lead to your injuries.
Many people fail to come forward, even after they suspect they were injured because of a doctor’s error or because the hospital was cutting corners. A patient may put their faith in the healthcare system that the doctors and hospitals will do the right thing. If a doctor made a mistake, they should talk to the patient about it and help the patient get the best care going forward for the best outcome. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case.
If you complain about improper treatment, the doctor or hospital may take no responsibility or say it was just an unavoidable risk. Don’t rely on a hospital’s word that you don’t have a case. Talk to your own advocate who can make sure the hospitals and insurance companies are held responsible for their errors. You deserve compensation after suffering an unnecessary and avoidable injury.
How Long Do You Have to File a Claim?
The most important timeline you should be aware of after a medical injury is the statute of limitations. The statute of limitations is the time limit that a defendant has to initiate a medical malpractice claim in court. If you miss the statute of limitations window, you may lose your chance to recover damages. Even filing a lawsuit one day late can mean your claim will be denied.
You should contact a medical malpractice attorney as soon as possible to maintain your claim. Each state sets its own statute of limitations for medical malpractice lawsuits. Talk to your attorney about the time limit for your case.
For Chicago medical malpractice lawsuits, the statute of limitations for a medical malpractice claim in Illinois is two years. Under the discovery rule, the time limit does not begin to run until the injury victim knows about or reasonably should have known about the injury. However, there is still an overall time limit of four years and no claim can be brought more than 4 years from the date of the medical error, even if it is discovered after 4 years. The time limit is also extended for minor injury victims.
The time limit for medical malpractice cases in Maryland can depend on the age of the victim and when the injury is discovered. In general, a medical malpractice cause of action must be filed before the lesser of:
- 3 years from the date of discovery, or
- 5 years from the date of injury.
For medical malpractice victims who were injured under the age of 11, the time limit begins to run when the child reaches the age of 11.
In Pennsylvania, the statute of limitations for Philadelphia medical malpractice claims is two years from the date the injury occurred. However, the clock does not begin to run for minor victims until they reach the age of 18. If the injury could not reasonably have been discovered after the date of injury, the discovery rule may allow additional time to file a claim.
Why Does a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit Take So Long?
Why does it take so long for malpractice cases to settle? Medical malpractice cases can be very complicated. They often involve claims against multiple parties, including doctors, hospitals, and other healthcare workers. Each named defendant may be represented by their own attorney, meaning there could be dozens of lawyers handling the case. Even scheduling a simple conference with the court may take weeks because of scheduling conflicts.
Over time and through the litigation process, the claim generally becomes more focused and may be aimed at only a few defendants. For example, a negligent surgery claim may involve filing a complaint against the hospital, clinic, all surgeons involved, nurses and other healthcare workers, the anesthesiologist, and others. This is generally necessary to secure all named defendants, even if they are later dismissed. Each party may be represented by their own attorney.
Cases often begin with a number of hearings, motion filing, and conferences. This may involve balancing the schedule of the court, your plaintiff attorney, and a number of defense attorneys. If any party later has a conflict, then the entire hearing may be rescheduled. Not surprisingly, this can draw out cases in the early days of litigation for a year or longer.
Some medical malpractice clients may think their attorney is not keeping them up to date on their case or is not taking their case seriously. In many situations, your medical malpractice attorney is also subject to long delays, rescheduling court dates, and dealing with defense attorneys who do not want to cooperate.
When you initially meet with your attorney during a legal consultation, make sure you understand how your attorney will communicate with you and keep you updated on your case. This can go a long way to finding the right medical malpractice legal team that you can trust.
Process of a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit
Understanding the process of a civil lawsuit can help to see why a medical malpractice case can take so long. A medical malpractice lawsuit generally involves extensive litigation, including pleadings, discovery, and pretrial motions. If you have any questions about the timeline of your malpractice case, ask your medical malpractice lawyer.
Initial Demand and Filing the Complaint
Your legal claim may begin with a demand letter. A medical malpractice demand letter will provide the basis of your claim, injuries suffered, and damages you are looking for. Unless the doctor wants to settle the claim right then and there, your lawyer will generally proceed to filing the lawsuit.
The civil lawsuit begins with filing a complaint. The complaint lays out the basis of your legal case, including listing any named and unnamed defendants. Adding other defendants or identifying “John Does” and “Jane Does” can be done through amending the complaint.
The complaint is “served,” or delivered to all the parties involved. The defendants will then have a chance to answer the complaint by filing an “answer.” This generally does not have much substance and will likely deny all charges or claim they need more information. The pleadings will likely be amended over the course of the litigation.
For a medical malpractice lawsuit, the plaintiff may have to provide an affidavit of merit or certificate of merit from an expert or medical professional to say that there is a sound basis for the claim. This is generally required to be filed within a certain amount of time of filing the complaint.
Discovery and Record Review
After the initial pleadings, the case will likely go to discovery. Discovery is the process of exchanging information between the parties. Discovery involves exchanging paper records, electronic medical records, interrogatories, depositions, and independent medical examinations. A patient who suffered a serious injury may have thousands of pages of medical records. This process can take a significant amount of time, especially if there are a lot of doctors, nurses, and health care personnel involved.
Medical Expert Review and Expert Reports
After all the relevant evidence has been identified and reviewed, your attorney will likely have an expert witness review the information and provide an opinion on the cause of the injury, extent of injuries, and whether the doctor deviated from the standards of care in causing the patient’s injuries.
Expert witnesses are used in medical malpractice trials to explain complex medical information to juries. Juries are made up of people from the community who may have any kind of background. Most juries in a medical malpractice case are not made up of people with an in-depth medical knowledge of the standards of practice for medical specialties.
Generally, the medical expert will be a doctor in the same medical field as the doctor who was alleged to have committed malpractice. Each party may have their own experts. Your attorney will find a medical expert to review your case and testify on your behalf in support of your claim for damages. The insurance company will try and find another expert who disagrees. It may be up to the jury to determine which expert they believe and how to decide the case.
Medical Malpractice Trial
Even before a trial begins, the parties may file pretrial motions. These motions may try to limit the issues involved in the case. The defendants may want to suppress evidence or keep expert testimony from the jury. Your attorney will respond to any motions and the judge may hold oral arguments to decide the issues.
The next step may be to select the jury. This is a process that involves the judge and the attorneys. Some jurors can be excluded for cause or peremptory challenges. Once a jury is selected, the trial may begin. In a trial, each side gets a chance to present their side, with the other side having a chance to respond. A complex medical malpractice case with a lot of issues in dispute can take weeks. The trial closes with closing arguments and the jury deliberates to make a final decision.
Initial Demand Letter Settlement
In some cases, an initial demand may result in settlement negotiations that provide a fair settlement amount for your injuries. This is more likely with minor injuries and lower dollar values. The more in damages the plaintiff is asking for, the more likely that it will not be settled without further exploration into the matter. Talk to your attorney about the chance of an early settlement and what it can mean for your case.
Settlement After Discovery Is Completed
After discovery is completed, your lawyer will have a much better idea of the strengths and weaknesses of your case, the amount that your case is worth, the chances of settlement, and the chances of winning if your case goes to trial. Your attorney will be in a better position to negotiate a settlement for your case and what amount of money you may be able to recover.
The defendants may also have a much better idea on the strengths of their case. In most cases, it is the insurance company that is behind the defendants’ decision to settle and how much to offer. If you can reach a settlement amount that works for you, your case will be over and you will know how much money you will receive with no risks of a surprise at trial.
Medical Malpractice Legal Team
At Gilman & Bedigian, we will use our experience, knowledge, and dedication to investigate medical accidents caused by medical errors or negligence. Our aggressive trial lawyers have helped our families across the country recover millions of dollars in compensation after a medical injury. Contact us online or call our law office today at (800) 529-6162 for a free consultation.