Are Medical Malpractice Suits Hard to Win in Philadelphia? Understanding the Challenges
While medical malpractice falls under the umbrella of personal injury law, medical malpractice cases are known to be more difficult to prosecute and win for plaintiffs than other types of injury claims. To prove medical malpractice, plaintiffs must understand complex medical terms, partner closely with medical experts, and have access to extensive resources.
Because of the time commitments, necessary resources, and complexities involved with medical malpractice claims, many personal injury law firms do not accept malpractice lawsuits. To be successful, a medical malpractice law firm in PA must have strong relationships with networks of medical experts, extensive resources, and in-depth subject matter knowledge for the benefit of its clients. Many law firms do not have the resources or experience needed to pursue medical malpractice recoveries for injured victims and instead focus on less-intensive personal injury practice areas.
At the law firm of Raynes & Lawn, our medical malpractice lawyers in Philadelphia have more than five decades of experience representing people who have been harmed by medical professionals, hospitals, and practices. We have built strong relationships with medical experts in various practice areas and have resources available to litigate malpractice cases for our clients. While medical malpractice claims are never easy to pursue, We zealously advocate for our clients and take the time needed to help them achieve the most favorable outcomes possible.
Before you file a claim, you likely wonder about your chances of winning your case. There are multiple reasons why medical malpractice lawsuits can be challenging as discussed below.
Overview of Medical Malpractice Laws in Pennsylvania
It’s first important to understand what medical malpractice is and the Pennsylvania laws that apply to claims. Medical malpractice is a form of professional negligence that occurs when a physician or another healthcare provider delivers negligent or unskilled care to a patient and injures them. Negligent care must deviate from the medical standard of care and directly cause the patient’s injury to rise to the level of malpractice.
Legal Elements of Medical Malpractice
To win a malpractice case in Pennsylvania, a plaintiff will have the burden of proving the following legal elements by a preponderance of the evidence, which means more likely than not:
- Formation of a doctor-patient relationship
- The relevant standard of care
- Breach of the standard of care by the doctor
- Causation of the injury by the breach
- Calculable damages
As an initial matter, the patient and doctor must have established a provider-patient relationship before the patient will be able to pursue a malpractice claim. This means the patient sought treatment, and the doctor agreed to provide care. By contrast, making small talk with a physician at a social gathering does not create a provider-patient relationship.
All medical professionals must meet a medical standard of care when treating patients. The standard of care differs based on the doctor’s field or specialty and the community in which they practice. This means that a general practitioner in Philadelphia might have to meet a different standard of care than a rural doctor who practices in a small, Appalachian town without similar healthcare resources.
When a doctor provides care that falls below the expected standard of care, that constitutes a breach of the duty of care. This includes doing something a reasonably competent physician in the same community and with the same background would not do under the same treatment conditions. The following are some examples of deviations that could qualify as breaches of the medical standard of care:
- Failing to order appropriate lab tests
- Discharging someone who should have been admitted
- Failing to refer someone to a specialist
- Failing to monitor patients after the administration of anesthesia
- Prescribing a medication that the patient has a known allergy to
- Failing to perform an emergency C-section when needed
Proving the doctor-patient relationship, medical standard of care, and breach are not enough by themselves, however. You must also show the doctor’s negligent care caused your injuries. This means the doctor’s care or omission must have been a foreseeable, proximate cause of your injuries.
The final element, calculable damages, means you must prove that you suffered economic and/or non-economic losses because of the doctor’s negligence and your injuries. This might include the cost of getting additional medical treatment for the injuries you suffered at the hands of your doctor. It can also include missed work or spending more time in the hospital, among others.
Certificate of Merit Requirement
Pennsylvania requires medical malpractice plaintiffs to consult a medical expert before filing lawsuits. You must have a medical expert review your medical records and the treatment you received to identify the relevant standard of care and determine whether the treatment you received deviated from it and caused your injuries.
Within 60 days of filing a civil complaint, which is the initial legal document filed to start your malpractice lawsuit, your Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyer will file a certificate of merit. This is a document required by Pennsylvania courts to certify an expert has reviewed the documents and can opine that the doctor’s care was medically negligent and caused the patient’s injuries. If you don’t file the certificate of merit, your case will be dismissed.
Under Pa. R. Civ. P. No. 1006, the appropriate venue for medical malpractice cases is limited. Your case must be filed in the court in the county in which the malpractice occurred. For example, if you live in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania but received medically negligent treatment in Philadelphia, the appropriate court to file your claim would be in Philadelphia County instead of Allegheny.
Statutes of Limitation and Repose
Pennsylvania sets a deadline for filing medical malpractice claims found in 42 Pa.C.S. § 5524. Under this law, you have two years to file your claim after your injury. However, under Pennsylvania’s discovery rule, the clock doesn’t start running until you discover your injury was likely caused by medical malpractice or the date you should reasonably have discovered that fact.
In some cases, patients might not discover their injury and likely malpractice for years after the fact. For example, if a surgeon left behind a medical sponge in your body, you might not know about it until years later when you develop a serious infection. Because of the discovery rule, the clock won’t start to run until you discover your injury. You will then have two years to file a lawsuit.
Pennsylvania has a statute of repose that ostensibly establishes a maximum deadline of seven years in medical malpractice late discovery cases. However, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled the statute of repose is unconstitutional, which means there is no outside deadline in malpractice cases involving injuries that couldn’t have been discovered until seven or more years later.
There is also an exception to the two-year statute of limitation for minors. A child who is injured by a negligent doctor will have until two years after they turn 18 to file a malpractice lawsuit under 42 Pa. Stat. § 5533.
Are Medical Malpractice Suits Hard to Win in Philadelphia?
If you look at trial statistics, you might come away with the idea that it’s nearly impossible to win a medical malpractice lawsuit. It’s true that physicians sued for malpractice win at trial more often than plaintiffs. However, the vast majority of medical malpractice claims are settled before trial.
Medical malpractice claims typically take months or years from the date they are filed until they reach trial. While you might think winning means going to trial and receiving a verdict in your favor from a jury, receiving compensation through a settlement offer should also be considered a type of win. In a settlement, both you and the defendant agree to resolve the case in exchange for an agreed-on amount of money.
In most cases, a settlement agreement can be the most favorable outcome for both the plaintiff and the defendant. If you settle your case, you won’t risk a loss at trial. Similarly, a defendant might want to settle a malpractice case because of a potentially unfavorable trial outcome.
Trials can be expensive, and it can take a long time to get there. The injured victim might be traumatized by having to relive their experience in court before the jury. Doctors might want to avoid trials because of the publicity and the harm to their reputation. If you settle for a fair amount, it can ensure you receive the compensation you deserve without the risks and vagaries of trial.
In many cases, malpractice cases that go further through the legal process result in higher settlement amounts. For example, if you settle your case right after you file your lawsuit, you might anticipate a lower settlement than if you settle right before a scheduled trial. This is because when a case goes through the discovery process, the insurance company will have more evidence to review. When the evidence is strong, the insurance company might then be motivated to settle instead of paying for the costs to defend the case and the potential verdict.
Throughout your case, your Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyer at Raynes & Lawn will negotiate with the malpractice insurer to secure a fair settlement offer. Even if an insurance company initially refuses to settle or makes an unreasonably low offer, your attorney might convince them later in the process of the wisdom of settling. However, your lawyer will never accept a settlement on your behalf without your agreement. Your attorney advocates for you, but you have the ultimate responsibility of deciding whether and when to accept a settlement or go to trial. Your attorney will provide you with advice and guidance during your case to help you make an informed decision.
What Are the Odds of Winning a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit in Philadelphia?
The following trial statistics might make you think your chances of winning a malpractice lawsuit in Philadelphia are low:
- In 2021, 343 malpractice lawsuits were filed in Philadelphia, a 71.5% drop since the average of 1,204 cases filed each year from 2000 to 2002.
- In Philadelphia malpractice trials that occurred in 2021, doctors won 30% of the verdicts.
- In malpractice lawsuits filed in Pennsylvania overall, doctors won 68.9% of the verdicts
- Only 10 medical malpractice cases were tried before a jury in Philadelphia in 2021.
- Of the seven plaintiff verdicts, one was for less than $500,000, one was between $500,000 and $1 million, three were between $1 million and $5 million, and two were between $5 million and $10 million.
- Only 45 medical malpractice trials reached verdicts in 2021 in Pennsylvania, and many jurisdictions had no trials at all.
- A total of 1,460 medical malpractice lawsuits were filed in 2021 in Pennsylvania.
While these statistics might make you hesitate to file a claim, they do not define your medical malpractice case or what its outcome might be. Remember that most medical malpractice cases settle, and these statistics do not reflect settlements. Cases that go to trial might do so for several reasons.
In some cases, a plaintiff might refuse to settle and want to litigate their case at trial. In others, a plaintiff’s lawyer might advise their client to go to trial because of a lack of understanding about how to properly value the case. In others, the plaintiff and their lawyer will decide to go to trial because the settlement offer was unreasonable or the insurance company refused to settle. In those, the decision to try the case might be reasonable and strategic.
Medical malpractice cases might also go to trial because a doctor or insurance company refuses to settle despite the evidence. When the evidence is strong, a defendant’s refusal to settle the case is a real risk for them at trial and could result in a sizable verdict in the plaintiff’s favor.
You can’t rely on the trial verdict statistics from 2021 to determine the likely value of your malpractice claim. There are numerous facts about your case that you simply don’t know. The experienced medical malpractice lawyers in Philadelphia can help to properly calculate the potential value of your case by taking into account the factors courts and insurance companies consider. This process provides a more realistic benchmark than the outcomes of past cases at trial in Pennsylvania.
Most cases never go to trial and are instead resolved through settlements. According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, 93% of medical malpractice lawsuits are settled. This means that just 7% of all medical malpractice cases filed in the U.S. each year go to trial, so trying to determine the value of your case based on past trial verdicts is not a reasonable approach.
Why Medical Malpractice Cases Can Be Hard to Win
There are a few reasons why medical malpractice lawsuits might be more difficult to prove at trial than other personal injury claims as described below.
The Burden of Proof
Just like plaintiffs in other civil lawsuits, medical malpractice plaintiffs have the burden of proof at trial. They must present evidence proving their claims by a preponderance of the evidence, which means that they must prove there is more than a 50% likelihood that the incidents occurred as they have presented. While the burden of proof is the same as in other personal injury lawsuits, doctors, hospitals, and malpractice insurers typically fight against malpractice claims much more aggressively than defendants in other types of injury lawsuits.
Complexities of Medical Evidence
It can be extraordinarily difficult for plaintiffs and juries to understand the complex medical terminology used in a medical malpractice case. In many cases, the injured victim won’t understand all of the terminology involved. If the medical experts, other witnesses, and the malpractice lawyer can’t relay the information in a way the jury can understand, it can be much harder for plaintiffs to receive favorable verdicts.
In many cases, it can be hard to differentiate between the symptoms a patient has because of an underlying condition and those caused by the doctor’s negligent treatment. This can be an issue in cases involving diagnostic errors. Proving to a jury that your symptoms were caused by your doctor’s diagnostic failure instead of your underlying condition can prove challenging. Further, it can also be hard to communicate which symptoms were caused by your condition and which were caused by your doctor’s medical malpractice.
Jury Bias and Perceptions
Juror bias in favor of doctors has been well documented. Research conducted over 20 years and reported in the journal Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research found that doctors win a majority of malpractice trials. In cases in which the evidence was weak, doctors won from 80% to 90% of the trials. Those in which the evidence was stronger but still considered borderline resulted in wins for the doctors 70% of the time. In cases in which the evidence was strong, the doctors won 50% of the time.
Juries tend to view doctors favorably and perceive them as trusted, learned professionals. Because of this, they can tend to be biased in favor of doctors who have been sued for medical malpractice. To overcome potential bias, you must build the strongest possible case. Even if you don’t go to trial, insurance companies know that juries tend to be biased and use that to their advantage in negotiations. By presenting strong evidence to the insurance company, you could convince the company that it is not worth the risk of taking the case to trial and losing. If your case does go to trial, you must have the strongest possible case prepared to increase your chances of winning your case.
It is difficult to build a strong malpractice case and take it to trial. If a trial results in a verdict in favor of the defendant, you could be in a worse position than before. Because of this, it is crucial to choose a respected medical malpractice law firm in PA for consultation. An experienced attorney can review your case and advise you about your options. If the lawyer and firm agree to accept representation, your attorney can advise you about whether you should seek a settlement or head to trial.
Time and Resources
The time involved, resources, and need for experts in medical malpractice cases often make them more expensive than other cases. Medical malpractice lawsuits often take much longer than other personal injury claims, and it can be expensive to retain medical experts.
Because of this, medical malpractice law firms in PA must have enough resources to support medical malpractice cases while they are pending. At the law firm of Raynes & Lawn, we have extensive resources and can cover the costs while malpractice cases proceed. We accept cases on a contingent-fee basis, which means you will not have to pay anything until and unless we recover compensation for you through a settlement or trial verdict. Firms without sufficient resources might be unwilling to take on a medical malpractice case because of the expenses and time involved.
Benefits of Choosing a Medical Malpractice Lawyer in Philadelphia
While an attorney can’t guarantee you will prevail in your medical malpractice lawsuit, retaining the right lawyer can increase the chances of success. A knowledgeable, experienced attorney can guide you as your case proceeds and partner closely with medical experts to build the strongest possible evidence to support your claim.
While your case might ultimately be resolved in a settlement, your lawyer should have extensive trial experience and be prepared to litigate your case at trial. When your attorney has a strong track record of achieving successful trial results, doctors and insurers are much likelier to make fair settlement offers instead of risking a verdict in your favor at trial.
Consult Our Medical Malpractice Law Firm in PA
If you think you might have a medical malpractice case but are worried about your chances of winning, you should start by consulting an experienced attorney at the Philadelphia law firm of Raynes & Lawn. With more than 50 years of experience and tens of billions of dollars in recoveries for our clients, we can provide an honest assessment of your claim’s legal merits. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation at 1-800-535-1797.
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