When a physician or other health professional causes harm to a patient because they failed to perform their duties competently, a medical malpractice lawsuit may be an appropriate legal way to recover damages for serious and long-term injuries. In addition to a financial settlement or jury award, a medical malpractice lawsuit is designed to hold the medical professional responsible for the negligent care they provided. Each state has different rules regarding what action qualifies as medical malpractice.
When should I file a medical malpractice lawsuit?
A medical malpractice lawsuit should be pursued as soon as possible because all personal injury lawsuits have a statute of limitations. A statute of limitations means that you have a set amount of time from the date of the injury to file a claim or the case will no longer be accepted. In Washington State the statute of limitations is three years.
What kinds of damages can be recovered in a medical malpractice lawsuit?
Depending on the severity of the injury, medical expenses can be very costly. The type of injury will affect the damages awarded in a medical malpractice lawsuit. Some examples include:
- Medical bills
- Therapy, both physical and mental
- Lost wages
- Pain, suffering, mental anguish and disability
- In-home care
- Other medical treatments and expenses
Damages for wrongful death may include:
- Loss of love, affection and companionship
- Funeral expenses
- Lost future earnings/wages
In Washington State, punitive damages are not typically awarded; however, there are numerous statutory exceptions where punitive damages may be allowed.
How is a medical malpractice lawsuit won?
A medical malpractice lawyer expects the defendant to hire a defense attorney who will vigorously attempt to reduce or eliminate a medical professional’s culpability in the injury. A good medical malpractice attorney acts as an experienced and professional adversary who will overcome the common tactics used by defense lawyers. He will interview and retain witnesses, investigate and research issues and gather supporting documents.
Proving a medical malpractice case
The following four elements must be proved for a successful medical malpractice claim:
- Duty to exercise reasonable care – In order to be liable for an medical error, a health care professional must have a duty to exercise care. This is easily established by showing that the injured party was being treated by the defendant at the time the injury occurred.
- Failure to exercise reasonable care (negligence) – Next, a medical malpractice attorney must prove that the defendant breached their duty to exercise reasonable care. For example, a physician failing to order tests to confirm a diagnosis for symptoms.
- Causation – The third element that must be proved is causation. This means that there must be a direct link between the negligent behavior and the harm caused to the injured victim. At a minimum, the breach of duty must have at least contributed to the injury.
- Actual damages suffered – There is no claim unless the victim suffered damages. It’s also generally not advisable to pursue a personal injury claim if the injuries were minor. Recoverable damages include: medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, emotional trauma, loss of consortium, and disability.
A personal injury attorney can determine whether your case has the four elements required for a successful medical negligence claim. In addition, they can help you identify the damages involved in your case and what each of them is worth to give you a total valuation for a reasonable settlement.
What are the steps taken in a medical malpractice lawsuit?
A medical malpractice lawyer starts building a personal injury case by gathering all relevant documents and evidence required for a successful outcome. He or she will interview all witnesses, retain expert witnesses and may schedule medical evaluations of your injury to gather independent medical opinions.
After the information has been gathered and expert witness interviews have been conducted:
- The attorney will serve a “complaint” on the defendant. The complaint is an official, detailed document that describes the reason for the lawsuit and why the defendant is being sued. In Washington State, the defendant is typically allowed 20 days after the date of service to answer.
- In the pre- trial litigation phase (also called the “discovery” phase) your malpractice lawyer will discuss the details of the case with the defense attorney and the parties will decide if the case can be settled out of court or if it will continue to trial. This is typically the longest part of the case, sometimes stretching on for several months or years.
- Settlement or trial. The majority of medical malpractice lawsuits are settled out of court, sometimes right before a trial begins. Once a case is settled, the victim usually receives damages within a few months but it can vary depending on the state.
Patience is required for a medical malpractice lawsuit. In most cases attorneys are able to negotiate a settlement without going to trial but it can take several months or years to come to an agreement. A settlement is, however, the more desirable solution because a trial typically takes even longer, costs more and there is a chance that the other party will appeal the decision.
If you or a loved one is dealing with an accident or injury caused by the negligence of a medical professional, you have enough on your plate. Let an experienced medical malpractice attorney fight for the full compensation that you deserve. It is not uncommon to receive a settlement from the insurance company that is five to ten times bigger with the help of a lawyer. Contact the caring, tenacious medical malpractice lawyers at Tario & Associates, P.S. in Bellingham, WA today for a FREE consultation! We have been representing residents of Whatcom County, Skagit County and surrounding areas since 1979. You will pay nothing up front and no attorney fees at all unless we recover damages for you!