Medical malpractice lawsuits are certainly a part of our litigious times and nearly every healthcare professional has, to some degree, been affected by this phenomena. If not directly involved in a court action, at the least, practitioners have dealt with the rising costs of insuring against negative litigation. Many common questions from physicians include how to win a malpractice lawsuit and what are the components of an actual lawsuit. Mark E. Crane, a freelance writer from Brick, New Jersey, has interviewed a number of health care professionals and compiled a summary of the salient points of this issue. Following is a summary of the intricacies of this timely subject.
Every physician is abhorred by the thought of being accused of and brought to court in a malpractice lawsuit. The fact that nearly half of all physicians have been sued during their professional careers provides little relief for men and women in the field. Crane’s statistics from a 2010 American Medical Association survey reveals that over 42% of physicians have been sued, with OB/GYN’s leading the field, and ninety percent of general surgeons over the age of 55 have been sued. The average defense cost ranges from a low of $22,000 to more than $100,000 for cases that go to trial. Awards to plaintiffs average $200,000 for settled claims, and $375,000 for claims that go to trial.
Should a physician be contacted by a patient’s attorney seeking medical records, or to gather information, or if there is suspicion that a patient may seek legal assistance, it is strongly recommended that the physician immediately contact his or her malpractice insurance carrier. The claim representative can be an advocate for the physician and coordinate all aspects of the litigation.
If a case that is filed goes into litigation, and a good number of them never make it that far, interrogatories and depositions will occur. During this process, the attorneys for both sides have the opportunity to gather background information and determine, under oath, relevant facts in the case.
During this phase it is extremely important for the physician to keep emotions under control, as stressful as the situation may be, and to work very closely with the malpractice attorney in preparing responses for the various sessions. Being truthful in all matter is crucial, but never provide more information than is required. Again, the attorney will guide the client on giving testimony in a deposition or in front of a jury. The facts of the case, well represented, will be the best defense of any practitioner.
In the case of a malpractice accusation, it is good to remember that most claims, nearly 65%, are dropped or dismissed without going to trial. Twenty-five percent of claims are settled, and in the very small percentage that goes to trial, the physician prevails in nearly 90% of the cases. In any event, it should be pointed out that malpractice suits can take four years to resolve and the trial may not take place for two years after the suit is filed. The trial itself may only take a few days, but there is always the possibility of an appeal from either side. Medical malpractice representatives can be a tremendous resource to the practice of every health professional. Seek out their knowledge.