MEDICAL MALPRACTICE AND PERSONAL INJURY LAW BLOG

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How to Appeal a Medical Malpractice Verdict

Medical malpractice cases can take a lot of time before they ever get to trial. Even though most medical malpractice lawsuits are settled before they get to trial, even getting a settlement can take 2 years or more. The injury victim may be relieved after years of waiting and a long trial to finally get a jury decision in their favor. The injury victim may even receive a significant award that can help them recover after the injury. 

However, the end of a trial is not necessarily the end of the case. Many medical malpractice lawsuits are appealed. An appeal is a challenge to the trial court’s decision that seeks to change or reverse part or all of the decision. An appeal can add months or even years before the case comes to an end. In many cases, even the appeal will end in a settlement. 

If you lose your medical malpractice case, you may want to file your own appeal. The appeals process can be difficult and complex. It is important to understand how and when to file an appeal if you are looking to recover compensation for your medical injuries. If you have questions about whether you can file an appeal to your medical malpractice verdict, contact an experienced medical malpractice law firm

Statistics in Appealing Medical Malpractice Verdicts

The non-profit National Center for State Courts (NCSC) did a survey of medical malpractice appeals in civil court proceedings. According to data from a 2001 survey, the plaintiff win rate at trial in medical malpractice cases was 28%, with an 18% appeal rate. Cases more likely to be appealed generally involved more severe injuries, complex medical evidence, or expert testimony. For example, the medical malpractice cases with the higher rates of appeal included the following severe injuries: 

  • Loss of mental function
  • Facial scarring
  • Loss of sight
  • Loss of hearing
  • Death
  • Damaged muscles, tendons, or ligaments
  • Paralysis
  • Loss of limb
  • Nerve damage

Defendants were more likely to appeal when losing at trial. Defendants include doctors, hospitals, and insurance companies. When the plaintiff won, the defendants appealed 26% of the time. Unfortunately, some defendants use the costly appeals process as a way to increase their leverage in settlement negotiations, even after the injury victim won at trial. 

Not surprisingly, the insurance companies and hospitals were also more likely to appeal when the plaintiff won a larger award. In the survey, when a plaintiff won damages of up to $120,000, the appeal rate was only 17%. However, when the award was $321,000 or more, the appeal rate more than doubled to 35%. The appeal rate increased to almost 40% for trial awards of $1.8 million or more. 

What Can You Challenge in an Appeal?

In most cases, an appeal is not a chance to do the trial all over again. You can’t just appeal because you didn’t like the outcome. You have to have a basis for appeal or a reason why you think the case was improperly decided. The appeals courts defer a lot to the trial court and will generally not second guess the judge’s role as the finder of fact.

The appeals court generally only reviews whether the judge made an error of law or there were procedural problems with the trial. If the appeals court finds there was an error of law, it can reverse the trial court judgment. Examples of errors that could justify reversing the judgment could include: 

  • Judge admitted evidence that should have been excluded
  • A juror knew one of the people involved in the case but did not disclose it
  • Improper jury instructions
  • Judge incorrectly ruled on a motion

However, some errors may be considered harmless errors and the trial court’s ruling could stand. For example, if there was a technical error on a doctor’s name in a medical record but it was later corrected, that type of technical error might be determined to have no impact on the outcome. 

Even if the appeals court does reverse the judgment, it can send the case back to the lower court on remand. The case could be returned to review only a limited part of the trial or for a new trial. 

What an Appeal Is NOT For

An appeal is generally not a chance at a new trial or have the case to do all over again. Even if the court does reverse the decision, itwill often limit the scope of review to one or two issues. In most cases, an appeal will also not let you fix mistakes that you did not fix in time in the prior case. For example, if there was a problem with your original complaint or amended complaints and you want to go back and fix it unless there was an error in the trial court’s ruling on that issue, you generally cannot go back to the start and start all over again. 

Appeals cases are limited in scope. They generally only focus on a few issues. The court may narrow the issues even further, limiting what can be reviewed and limiting what should be reversed or remanded if the appeal does succeed. Talk to your medical malpractice attorney about your case and what an appeal can mean for your malpractice verdict. 

Difficulty of Winning Appeals

Appeals can be difficult to win. Only a small percentage of injury victims who lose their case end up appealing the verdict. There are a few reasons why appeals are not as common. First, an appeal is expensive and time-consuming. The appeals process is different from the initial trial court process. 

There are different legal requirements, laws, court rules, and procedures. It can take a lot of time to prepare an appeal and that comes with increased legal expenses. For example, in Maryland, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals and Maryland Court of Appeals are the appellate courts that hear appeals from the District Courts and the Circuit Courts of Maryland.

Even if you do decide to go forward with filing an appeal, there are limited issues you can challenge in the trial court’s judgment. In general, it is not enough to appeal just because you didn’t like the jury’s decision or you thought they decided something wrong. You need a basis for appeal, like an error of law or a procedural error. 

The appeals court defers to the jury’s decision-making abilities and is not likely to overturn the fact-finder in a medical malpractice lawsuit. After all, it was the jury that was there in the courtroom over the days and weeks of the trial, not the appeals judges. The appellate judges can only read the transcripts in front of them and the records in the case and do not get to experience what the jury did in the courtroom. 

Why Do Insurance Companies and Hospitals Get to Appeal?

Appeals court cases can end up delaying recovery for injury victims in medical malpractice cases. It may not seem fair that insurance companies and hospitals can so easily file an appeal when it is much harder for the injury victim. Unfortunately, it is a common tactic used by defendants in medical malpractice lawsuits. They can file an appeal as leverage to try and lower the jury award. This is likely why defendants are much more likely to file an appeal when they lose in a medical malpractice case than plaintiffs. 

How Long to File an Appeal in a Chicago Birth Injury Case?

As an example, if someone in a Chicago birth injury lawsuit wanted to appeal the court’s decision, they would have to act quickly to file the appeal. Under Illinois Supreme Court Rule 303, the Notice of Appeal must be filed with the clerk of the circuit court within 30 days after the trial court enters the final judgment in your lawsuit. If any party files a Motion to Reconsider or other post-judgment motion, then within 30 days after the Motion to Reconsider ruling.  

The appeal also has to indicate what kind of relief the appellant is looking for, like vacating the judgment, changing the judgment, or reversing the judgment. There are other requirements for proper filing of your appeal, and if you do not follow all the court rules, your case could be over. It is important to consult an experienced law firm that can help make sure your appeal is done properly and filed in time. 

What Is an Appeal in a Medical Malpractice Case?

An appeal is a legal filing that argues that there were problems with the trial court’s judgment, and that the case should be reversed or sent back to the court for further review. Some types of appeals can be filed during an ongoing case but most appeals do not come until after a final ruling or at the end of the trial.

Most civil lawsuits go through the civil court system. This includes personal injury, breach of contract, and medical malpractice claims. Medical malpractice and personal injury are known as “torts.” A tort is an old term for a wrongful act that gives someone the right to sue for damages. For example, if someone does not clear the icy walkway in front of their house and someone falls, the fall victim could sue the property owner for damages caused by the accident. 

These lawsuits are held in the trial courts, which is the direct court of access for civil lawsuits, including negligence and injury claims. Each state, and even each county or courthouse, may have its own court rules and procedures for handling lawsuits. However, in general, these cases start when the plaintiff files a complaint with the court. The case is given a docket number and put on the court’s schedule. The defendants get a chance to respond with an answer, and the lawsuit can begin. 

After a long period of exchanging information, settlement negotiation, and pretrial motions, if the case is not settled or dismissed, it can go to trial. The trial is similar to versions most people know from television but civil court cases are different from criminal court procedures. The trial can be heard before the judge or jury. After the evidence is presented, the judge will announce the verdict and determine any damages. 

Most lawsuits end with a winner and a loser. The loser may have a problem with the way the case is decided and want to file an appeal. Given the additional time and expense of filing an appeal, they may change their mind and just deal with the ruling. However, even the side that prevailed may want to appeal the decision. For example, the plaintiff could think the award was too low and did not take into account the full extent of their injuries. 

Find a Medical Malpractice Lawyer to Help Win Your Case the First Time Around. 

In most cases, it is faster and easier to win your case the first time instead of a win on appeal. On an appeal, the appeals court defers a lot to the trial court and will not second-guess a lot of their findings. The burden can be much higher on an appeal. This is why it is so important to find the right medical malpractice lawyer the first time around, to give you the greatest chance at success. 

Medical malpractice cases are not like just any civil lawsuits. Medical malpractice cases take a lot of time, investment, organization, and medical understanding. When you are looking for a medical malpractice attorney, take the time to ask them questions about their experience with these kinds of cases. You can also ask about the law firm’s reputation in the legal community as medical malpractice trial court lawyers. 

If you were the victim of a medical injury after receiving negligent medical treatment, you may be able to recover compensation for your injuries. Call experienced medical malpractice attorneys who can look at your case, answer your questions, and help you understand your legal options to file a claim against a negligent doctor. Contact Gilman & Bedigian online or at 800-529-6162 for a free consultation.

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