While most people may immediately think of a formal lawsuit when they consider seeking compensation for injuries caused by medical negligence, the fact is that in some situations, avoiding the expense and potential uncertainty of a formal lawsuit may result in a more favorable outcome. Others simply want to avoid "suing their doctor", but want to get compensation for their injuries. Read on to learn more about the options for resolving your medical malpractice case outside of the traditional court setting.
Many victims of medical malpractice are unaware that most doctors carry medical malpractice insurance. Insurance companies, in most instances, wish to avoid formal litigation. One of the most viable alternatives to medical malpractice litigation is negotiating a pre-suit settlement through a formal insurance claim.
If you have been the victim of medical malpractice, you may wish to file a formal claim with the offending doctor’s insurance company. Certainly, the doctor may be unwilling to provide you with insurance information, or you may require the assistance of an attorney to make a claim, but in some jurisdictions (particularly those without damage caps) you may find that an insurance company is willing to negotiate a settlement prior to a formal suit being filed. The expense and potential fallout of a formal, public lawsuit is a risk insurance companies are often unwilling to take.
Two of the most common alternatives to medical malpractice litigation are facilitative mediation and formal arbitration.
Facilitative mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution that utilizes a neutral facilitator who seeks to find common ground between the plaintiffs and defendant. The facilitator in a medical malpractice case is normally a medical malpractice attorney who understands the nuances of medical malpractice cases. The hope is that the facilitator can talk with each party frankly about the strengths and weaknesses of their case, and convince the parties to agree on a settlement amount that is acceptable -- particularly in light of the fact that the parties are avoiding the cost of litigation.
Formal arbitration is a contractual alternative to a lawsuit or trial. In a formal arbitration situation, the parties contractually agree to allow a panel of attorneys (usually one plaintiff-oriented attorney, one defense-oriented attorney and one neutral) to hear their case and adjudicate it on the merits. Liberated from the evidentiary requirements of a formal lawsuit, parties are afforded the opportunity to save a considerable amount of money when compared to trial, while still being allowed to present their case. Formal arbitration is binding and should not be undertaken lightly. Courts are loath to overturn or otherwise alter decisions made by arbitration panels, particularly when the arbitration awards are reasonable in light of potential jury verdicts.
There are rare occasions where doctors or other medical service providers will admit they have made a mistake and will seek to come to some kind of settlement with an injured party. Tread lightly in these situations, as you may be trading a quick resolution for a substantially lower amount of compensation. However, in cases that are not particularly serious -- specifically, cases worth $20,000 or less -- you may find that settling directly with a doctor is possible.
Medical malpractice insurance carriers generally require very large deductibles from their insured doctors. Furthermore, most states have laws that require doctors to report any claims of medical malpractice to a state-run board, which can result in higher insurance rates. Doctors may be willing to settle for an amount at or around the amount of their deductible, as it will abrogate the need for them to report the case. They are simply choosing to pay you the amount of the deductible instead of paying the insurance company. Seek counsel before accepting this type of settlement, as you need to be sure your future medical needs will be provided for.
There are many alternatives to litigation. Depending upon the jurisdiction you are in -- and whether there are caps on damages that may come into play in a formal trial -- you may wish to consider these options. Remember that in many cases alternative dispute resolution is simply part of the trial process and not the endgame. Your best first step might be discussing your options with an experienced medical malpractice attorney.