How Settlement Negotiations Work in Medical Malpractice Cases

by vtaylor
How settlement negotiations work in a medical malpractice case. Features a mallet and a stethoscope.

Medical malpractice cases are intricate legal battles that demand a nuanced understanding of both medicine and law. When patients suffer harm due to the negligence of medical professionals, pursuing justice often involves navigating a complex web of legal procedures. While the prospect of a courtroom trial may seem daunting, many medical malpractice cases are resolved through negotiated settlements. Let’s discuss how this happens, as well as the key aspects of settlements for medical malpractice claims.

Key Takeaways

  • Medical malpractice, involving deviations from accepted standards, leads to harm, including misdiagnosis, surgical errors, medication mistakes, birth injuries, and consent failures.
  • Human errors, communication breakdowns, inadequate training, fatigue, and systemic issues contribute to malpractice incidents.
  • Compensation factors include pain and suffering, loss of wages, and future earning capacity considerations.
  • Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations is typically two years, with a seven-year maximum limit from the negligent act.

What is Medical Malpractice?

Medical malpractice occurs when a healthcare professional or provider deviates from the accepted standard of care, resulting in harm or injury to a patient. This harm or injury may occur as a misdiagnosis of cancer, a surgical error, medication errors, birth injuries, or a failure to obtain informed consent. This breach of duty can take various forms, ranging from diagnostic errors to surgical mistakes, medication errors, and failures in communication.

The elements of medical malpractice include:

Duty of Care

Healthcare professionals, including doctors, nurses, and other medical practitioners, owe a duty of care to their patients. This duty involves providing treatment in accordance with accepted medical standards.

Breach of Duty

Medical malpractice occurs when a healthcare professional fails to meet the standard of care expected in their field. This breach can result from acts of negligence, errors in judgment, or deviations from established protocols.


There must be a direct link between the healthcare provider’s breach of duty and the patient’s harm or injury. Establishing causation is a critical element in proving medical malpractice.


Patients must suffer actual harm, injury, or damages as a result of the healthcare provider’s breach of duty. This harm can include physical injuries, emotional distress, financial losses, or other negative consequences.

How Does Medical Malpractice Happen?

Although medical malpractice is a breach of duty of care, this breach can happen in a number of ways, including:

Human Errors

Healthcare providers are human, and errors can occur. This includes mistakes in diagnosis, treatment, surgery, and medication administration.

Communication Breakdown

Inadequate communication among healthcare team members, or between healthcare providers and patients, can lead to misunderstandings and errors in treatment.

Inadequate Training or Resources

Healthcare professionals may make mistakes due to inadequate training, lack of experience, or insufficient resources and support.

Fatigue and Burnout

Long working hours, high patient loads, and stressful work environments can contribute to healthcare professionals’ fatigue, increasing the likelihood of errors.

Systemic Issues

Flaws in healthcare systems, such as inadequate record-keeping, faulty protocols, or insufficient oversight, can contribute to medical malpractice.

The Crucial Pieces of Proving Negligence and Causation

Before delving into the realm of settlement negotiations, it’s crucial to establish the foundation of any medical malpractice claim – proving negligence and causation. To succeed in a medical malpractice case, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the healthcare provider breached the standard of care expected in their profession, and that this breach directly led to the patient’s injuries.

Proving negligence involves collecting evidence that shows the healthcare professional failed to act with due care, deviating from generally accepted medical practices. This requires a thorough investigation into the specific standards of care applicable to the time and location of the incident. It’s important to note that proving negligence is a complex task, and legal representation becomes invaluable in gathering the necessary evidence.

Causation, the second crucial element, adds another layer of complexity. It involves establishing a direct link between the healthcare provider’s negligence and the patient’s injuries. Complications may arise when underlying medical conditions or contributing factors exist, requiring careful analysis to attribute the harm to the healthcare provider’s actions.

Settlement Negotiations

Given the challenges associated with proving negligence and causation at trial, many medical malpractice cases find resolution through negotiated settlements. Additionally, settlement is often the desired course for medical professionals and hospitals, as they have a reputation to maintain.

An experienced attorney can leverage their resources to thoroughly investigate the incident, collect compelling evidence, and present a strong case during negotiations.

Negotiating the Value of a Medical Malpractice Claim

Once liability is established, the focus shifts to determining the value of the medical malpractice claim. This value encompasses various factors, including:

  • Pain and suffering: Compensation for physical and mental anguish beyond what the patient experienced due to the original condition.
  • Loss of wages: Reimbursement for income lost due to the healthcare provider’s negligence, distinct from losses stemming from the underlying medical condition.
  • Loss of future earning capacity: Compensation for permanent injuries that impact the victim’s ability to earn income in the future.

Medical Professional Review

In medical malpractice cases, the medical professional often plays a pivotal role in the settlement process. Unlike minor incidents where insurers typically have the final say, medical professionals in these cases may have significant influence over whether a settlement is approved. The decision to settle can impact their malpractice insurance, making the negotiation process more intricate.

Structured vs. Lump Sum Payments

Once a settlement or verdict is reached, the method of payment becomes a crucial consideration. Medical malpractice victims may receive compensation through either structured payments or lump sums.

  • Structured payments: Commonly awarded in cases involving minors or birth-related injuries, structured payments involve setting up a fund to ensure long-term financial support for medical treatment.
  • Lump sum payments: Preferred by victims and their lawyers for its simplicity, a lump sum payment provides flexibility in managing funds to cover past, current, and future medical expenses.

Upon reaching an agreement, settlement payments are typically sent to the victim’s lawyer, who then deposits the funds into an escrow account. After settling outstanding balances, including legal fees and costs, the remaining amount is disbursed to the victim.

Medical Malpractice Statue of Limitations

Generally, the statute of limitations refers to the legal time limit within which a lawsuit must be filed. In the context of medical malpractice cases in Pennsylvania, the statute of limitations can impact the time frame within which a plaintiff can initiate legal action. If this time limit expires, it may bar the injured party from pursuing a claim.

In Pennsylvania, the statute of limitations for medical malpractice cases is typically two years from the date the injury occurred or was discovered, or should have been discovered through reasonable diligence. There is also a statute of repose, which sets a maximum limit of seven years from the date of the alleged negligent act, regardless of when the injury is discovered. However, certain exceptions and nuances may apply, so it’s crucial to consult with a legal professional to understand how these statutes may specifically apply to your case.

When engaging in settlement negotiations, the statute of limitations remains an important consideration. Initiating negotiations within the statutory time frame can provide both parties with a structured timeline for resolving the dispute. Failing to do so may result in the expiration of the right to file a lawsuit, affecting the leverage and options available during settlement discussions.

If you are considering pursuing a medical malpractice claim in Pennsylvania or any jurisdiction, it’s essential to consult with an experienced attorney promptly. They can assess the specific details of your case, including the timeline of events, and provide guidance on the applicable statutes of limitations. This early consultation is crucial not only for understanding the legal deadlines but also for initiating the necessary legal processes in a timely manner.

When Should You Not Go to Settlement for Medical Malpractice?

As mentioned previously, settlement negotiations are often the sought after solution in medical malpractice cases. Most doctors and hospitals do not want to go to court, as they seek to maintain their public image and do not want any attention drawn to the issue. For victims of medical malpractice, settlement can be a less stressful option than litigation. However, there are some scenarios when you may not consider settlement instead of going to court, such as:

Strong Evidence of Negligence

If you have compelling and well-documented evidence clearly establishing the healthcare provider’s negligence, you may be in a strong position for a trial. A robust case increases the likelihood of success in court, which might result in a more substantial award than what is offered in a settlement.

Serious and Permanent Injuries

If the medical malpractice has resulted in severe and permanent injuries, the long-term costs of care and ongoing impact on your life may warrant pursuing a trial for a more comprehensive compensation package.

Dispute Over Liability

If there is a significant dispute over liability, and the healthcare provider or their insurance company refuses to accept responsibility, a trial may be necessary to prove negligence and establish liability.

Precedent-Setting Case

In some instances, your case might have broader implications for patient safety or medical practices. Pursuing a trial could lead to changes in procedures or set legal precedents that benefit others in the future.

Unfair Settlement Offer

If the settlement offer does not adequately compensate for your losses, taking the case to trial may be a more viable option. This is particularly relevant when the offered amount does not cover future medical expenses, lost wages, or other significant damages.

Insufficient Insurance Coverage

If the healthcare provider’s insurance coverage is insufficient to cover your losses, a trial might be necessary to pursue additional compensation from the provider’s personal assets or other sources.

Contact Medical Malpractice Lawyers in Pennsylvania Today

Settlement negotiations, while challenging, often offer a more efficient and less adversarial resolution than a courtroom trial. With a seasoned legal team by your side, you can increase your chances of obtaining fair compensation for the losses incurred due to medical negligence. If you find yourself grappling with the aftermath of medical malpractice, reaching out for a free initial consultation with a legal representative is the crucial first step toward justice and recovery. At Raynes & Lawn, we are dedicated to protecting your rights and guiding you through the intricate process of seeking the compensation you deserve.

Get in touch with Raynes & Lawn by calling 1-800-535-1797 or by filling out the contact form today.



For the general public:  This Blog/Website is made available by the law firm publisher, Raynes & Lawn, for educational purposes. It provides general information and a general understanding of the law but does not provide specific legal advice. By using this site, commenting on posts, or sending inquiries through the site or contact email, you confirm that there is no attorney-client relationship between you and the Blog/Website publisher. The Blog/Website should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed attorney in your jurisdiction.

For attorneys:  This Blog/Website is informational in nature and is not a substitute for legal research or a consultation on specific matters pertaining to your clients.  Due to the dynamic nature of legal doctrines, what might be accurate one day may be inaccurate the next. As such, the contents of this blog must not be relied upon as a basis for arguments to a court or for your advice to clients without, again, further research or a consultation with our professionals.