Medical malpractice cases are notoriously difficult for patients to win. You might read about plaintiffs getting awarded millions of dollars after a successful medical malpractice lawsuit, but you'll rarely come across articles about plaintiffs who have lost their cases at trial, and that's the more common outcome.
The majority of medical malpractice lawsuits result in defense verdicts, meaning the doctor, hospital, or other health care provider won the trial after the jury heard and considered all the evidence.
Let's look at the challenges inherent in a medical malpractice case, and some of the things you can do to boost your chances of success, including the importance of finding a qualified lawyer who can present your best case.
Proving that the health care provider's actions (or inaction) amounted to medical negligence is the key to a medical malpractice case, but it's a difficult task. It often requires you (or your lawyer) to locate and work with a qualified medical expert witness who can:
Very few doctors are going to acknowledge that they made a mistake. Medical textbooks may list multiple ways to treat a specific injury, illness, or disease. The lawyer and the expert often need to work side by side and get creative in order to tease out the doctor's (or hospital's) negligence. Learn more about proving medical negligence.
Doctors win the majority of medical malpractice cases that go to trial. Lawyers and legal experts differ on why this is so, but one important reason seems to be the typical juror's understanding (or assumption) that:
Basically, unless the doctor made an obvious mistake, like leaving an instrument inside a patient after a surgical procedure, juries often give the doctor the benefit of the doubt. Here again is where your lawyer and a qualified expert need to paint a compelling (and easily-understood) picture of the doctor's wrongdoing.
There are are several steps you can take to boost your odds of putting together a successful medical malpractice case. Perhaps the biggest thing you can do on your own, and beginning as early on as possible, is to start keeping a record (written or digital) of:
But, given the discussion so far, you probably won't be surprised to learn that having the right medical malpractice lawyer on your side is the single biggest key to improving your odds of getting a good result.
Finding a qualified lawyer is often critical to the success of a medical malpractice case, usually much more so than in a standard personal injury case. Medical malpractice is a specialized area of the law, so you want a lawyer who specializes in medical malpractice, or who at least has extensive experience handling these kinds of cases.
The right lawyer will know how to locate, sift through, and analyze the immense amount of medical evidence that usually comes into play in a typical medical malpractice case. When a medical expert's help is needed (which is usually inevitable in these cases), the lawyer will have a network of qualified professionals to contact.
An experienced lawyer will also know how the game is played when it's time to talk settlement with the health care provider's insurance company. (Learn more about medical malpractice settlements.)
Finally, medical malpractice cases are expensive, primarily because of the cost of putting on the best case. Experienced lawyers know this and are prepared to bear the costs (which could easily reach tens of thousands of dollars) up front. And keep in mind that under a standard medical malpractice lawyer fee agreement, the client won't have to pay these costs unless the lawyer recovers a settlement or court judgment in the client's favor.