How to Navigate the Medical Malpractice Claims Process
When you have suffered injuries and harm because of a doctor’s medical mistakes, you likely feel overwhelmed and unsure of what to do. Many victims of medical malpractice hesitate to file claims because of the complex nature of the process. However, by filing a medical malpractice claim, you might recover full compensation for your losses while also holding the negligent medical provider accountable for their actions.
Medical malpractice claims are especially difficult because of the complexity of the science behind the practice of medicine. Pursuing a medical malpractice lawsuit requires an in-depth understanding of medicine and can be time-consuming because of the voluminous medical records and difficult terminology involved. Since the deadline for filing malpractice lawsuits in Pennsylvania is two years in most cases, this makes it important to start working on your claim with the help of the medical malpractice lawyers in Philadelphia at Raynes & Lawn as early as possible.
Many Philadelphia medical malpractice law firms need months to review the medical records and consult with experts as they fully prepare claims, making it critical to take action quickly. Here’s some information about the medical malpractice claims process from our Philadelphia malpractice lawyers to provide you with an overview.
What Is a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit?
A medical malpractice lawsuit can be filed by an injured patient or the surviving family members of a patient who dies because of the negligent actions of a medical doctor or another healthcare provider. To qualify as medical malpractice in Pennsylvania, the provider’s conduct must fail to meet the expected standard of care for professionals practicing in the same field in the same region and be the direct or proximate cause of the patient’s injuries.
Doctors and other healthcare providers are expected to provide care that meets the standard of care provided by reasonably competent practitioners in the same fields and who practice in the same geographic regions. If a medical provider’s care falls below this expected standard of care and causes the patient’s injuries, the victim has the legal right to file a medical malpractice claim to hold the negligent provider accountable and recover full compensation for all of their economic and non-economic losses.
Types of Medical Malpractice Claims
Medical malpractice lawsuits can be based on many different types of medical errors that lead to patient injuries. However, a patient won’t always have a malpractice claim simply because they are unhappy with the outcome of treatment. Similarly, even when a doctor is negligent, that won’t be enough to support a malpractice lawsuit if the patient was uninjured or the doctor’s negligence didn’t cause their injuries.
Some of the common types of medical negligence that might give rise to a viable claim include the following:
- Delayed diagnosis
- Failure to appropriately treat a patient’s condition
- Failure to provide or recommend appropriate follow-up care
- Prescription drug errors
- Surgical mistakes
- Anesthesia errors
- Missed diagnosis
- Birth injuries
Our Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyers can review what happened in your case and explain whether you have a viable malpractice claim. Each case is fact-specific, and we partner with medical experts to help determine whether the actions of a doctor or another medical provider failed to meet the standard of care and caused the patient’s injuries. If we determine that your claim is viable, we will accept representation and guide you through the malpractice claims process.
Timeline of a Medical Malpractice Case
Medical malpractice lawsuits usually begin when a patient suffers an injury due to a provider’s errors during a procedure or when they later discover that the underlying cause of an injury was a provider’s mistakes made during a past medical procedure. It can sometimes take years before a patient learns that a doctor’s negligence caused the adverse outcome they have experienced.
For example, a patient might not realize that a doctor left a sponge behind in their body following surgery until years later when the presence of the sponge causes an infection or other problems to develop. When a patient is injured or discovers their condition was caused by a provider’s negligent errors during a medical procedure, they can then move forward with a malpractice lawsuit. Below are the steps that malpractice lawsuits go through during the court process.
When a patient believes that their injuries were caused by a medical provider’s negligence and consults our medical malpractice lawyers in Philadelphia, our attorneys will first need to investigate what happened to determine the merits of the potential claim. This step will involve gathering all of the patient’s relevant medical records and carefully reviewing them with the help of a medical expert.
Medical records can include many documents, including doctor’s notes, nurse’s notes, laboratory reports, diagnostic paperwork, admission and discharge documents, and more. In many cases, medical malpractice cases involve voluminous medical records that must be carefully pored over and reviewed. It can also take time to obtain all of the relevant records that need to be reviewed. This initial investigation is important for determining the viability of a claim and can take several months.
The investigative process will require you to obtain copies of your medical records. You have a right to get and review your medical records but will need to submit requests with each doctor, facility, lab, and hospital where you received treatment. Once you receive all of them, you will need to bring them to your attorney’s office so they can begin their review.
2. Talk to the Provider or the State Board of Medicine
Before filing a lawsuit, you should consider speaking to the medical provider to learn about what happened and see whether there is anything the provider can do to remedy the situation. In some cases, a provider might take steps to correct what occurred and obviate the necessity of pursuing a legal claim. If that doesn’t work, you can file a complaint with the Pennsylvania State Board of Medicine. The Board regulates doctors and might take some disciplinary action against the physician who harmed you.
3. Certificate of Merit
Pennsylvania law requires medical malpractice plaintiffs to file a certificate of merit at the time they file a malpractice lawsuit. This document is a certification that your case has been reviewed by a medical expert who can testify that the provider’s care failed to meet the expected standard of care and caused your injuries. If you don’t obtain a medical expert’s opinion, you won’t be able to file a malpractice lawsuit. Our Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyers regularly work closely with medical experts in a variety of practice areas and can help you find an appropriate professional to review the records in your case and provide an opinion about the standard of care and the cause of your injuries.
4. Pre-Suit Negotiations
Once your lawyer has consulted a medical expert and completed the initial investigation, your attorney will send a demand letter to the provider’s malpractice insurer. Your medical provider’s medical malpractice insurance company will defend against your claim. The demand letter will outline your legal claims and injuries and provide a demanded monetary amount to settle your case short of filing a lawsuit. The insurer can react in one of the following three ways:
- Accept your demand and make a settlement offer falling within the range of values your attorney has provided; or
- Deny your claim outright; or
- Make a counteroffer.
Malpractice insurers rarely accept the demand as written. Instead, they frequently either dispute the claim or come back with a counteroffer that is significantly lower than what is sought. Your attorney will continue negotiating with the company to try to resolve the case outside of court. However, if it becomes clear that the insurance company is not negotiating in good faith or is disputing the claim, it might be necessary to pursue the case through the formal court process.
5. Civil Complaint
If it is clear that your case can’t be resolved outside of court, your attorney will file a civil complaint in the court with jurisdiction to hear your claim. Depending on the facts and circumstances, your claim might be filed in state or federal court. The civil complaint is the legal document that must be filed to initiate a formal lawsuit. As previously mentioned, your attorney will also file a certificate of merit together with the complaint.
6. Answer to the Complaint
Once the complaint is filed, your lawyer will have it served to the defense together with a summons to respond. Once the provider has been notified of the lawsuit and has received copies of the complaint and summons, they will have a set period to file an answer to your complaint. In the answer, the provider can admit or deny each allegation.
After the complaint and answer have been filed with the court, your case will move into a phase called discovery. The discovery phase is the longest phase of the litigation process. During this phase, both you and the defense will be required to exchange evidence with each other, send and answer interrogatories, and conduct depositions of all of the witnesses. Your attorney will continue to negotiate with the insurer throughout the discovery process to try to resolve your claim through a fair settlement offer. If you reach a settlement agreement, your case will be over. However, if you can’t reach a settlement agreement, your case will proceed to trial.
If your case can’t be resolved during the pre-trial phases, it will be necessary to go to trial before a jury or judge. Malpractice lawsuits that do not settle before trial can take several years to reach the trial stage.
Your lawyer will work to build your trial case from the start of the litigation to ensure you have the most robust presentation to provide to the trier of fact. Before trial, your lawyer might file motions in limine and respond to those that are filed by the defense. These are motions that ask the court to keep out certain evidence, present specific jury instructions, and address how the trial should proceed. Your lawyer will also create exhibits, subpoena witnesses to attend and give testimony, and prepare the evidence so that it is ready for admission at trial. You will also be prepared for trial so that you understand what to expect.
Medical malpractice trials that are held before juries begin with jury selection, which is called voir dire. During this process, both attorneys and the judge will ask questions of potential jurors to identify biases that warrant exclusion. The questioning will continue until a jury and some alternates are selected and seated. Once the jury is seated and sworn in, both sides will have the opportunity to make opening statements to provide the jury with an overview of the case and the applicable laws.
After the opening statements, your attorney will then call witnesses and present evidence during your case-in-chief. The defense lawyer will be allowed to cross-examine each witness and make objections. Once you have rested your case, the defense will then be able to call witnesses, and your attorney will cross-examine any witness who is called.
Once both your attorney and the defense have rested, each side will present closing arguments to the jury. The court will provide jury instructions to the jurors, and they will receive the case and begin deliberations. Finally, the jury will return a verdict after completing their deliberations either in your favor or in the favor of the defendant.
9. Post-Trial Appeals
After the jury has reached a decision, and the court has entered the judgment, either you or the defendant can file an appeal. Appeals can be filed when prejudicial errors occurred during the trial. If an appeal is filed by either you or the other party, the process can take much longer. Once the appellate court reaches a decision, it can affirm the judgment obtained in the trial court or reverse it. If the judgment is reversed, the case might have to go through a new trial.
How We Approach Medical Malpractice Cases
At Raynes & Lawn, we understand the complexities of medical malpractice claims and work closely with our clients and with medical experts to develop a thorough understanding of what happened. Within our firm, our medical malpractice attorneys focus on claims involving medical negligence and focus on representing our clients instead of their cases. We take a careful and thorough approach when we represent our clients and focus on building the strongest possible cases of liability on their behalf. Over our more than five decades of practice, our approach has helped us recover billions of dollars for our clients and numerous awards and recognitions from our peers in the legal community.
Every time we accept a case, we tailor our approach to the unique facts involved. We develop relationships with our clients to understand what they are going through and determine the best way to achieve the most favorable outcomes possible.
A Note About the Statute of Limitations
The general statute of limitations for medical malpractice lawsuits in Pennsylvania is two years from the date the negligent act occurred and caused the injury or from the date your loved one died because of a provider’s medical mistakes. However, there are some exceptions to the general rule that can shorten or lengthen the statute of limitations, including the following:
- Minors – The statute of limitations doesn’t start to run for a minor until they reach age 18. The minor will then have two years to file a malpractice lawsuit. Alternatively, the parent or legal guardian of the injured minor victim can file a lawsuit on their behalf.
- Incapacitation – If a patient is incapacitated by their injuries and is not competent to pursue a claim, the statute of limitations will be tolled until they have regained capacity. They will then have two years to file a lawsuit. If a guardian has been appointed to an incapacitated person, the guardian could file a claim on behalf of the incapacitated person.
- Discovery rule – The statute of limitations is tolled when a patient could not reasonably discover the cause of their injuries until a later time. Once the injury and the provider’s negligence have been discovered or reasonably should have been discovered, the patient will then have two years to file a lawsuit.
- Statute of repose- Pennsylvania’s statute of repose sets a maximum deadline of seven years for filing a medical malpractice lawsuit. However, the Supreme Court has held that the statute of repose is unconstitutional. This means that in cases in which a provider’s medically negligent act is not discovered or reasonably could not have been discovered for longer than seven years after its occurrence, the plaintiff will still be able to file a lawsuit.
- Claims against the government – If the defendant is a government employee, facility, or hospital, you must send a notice that meets Pennsylvania’s legal requirements to the relevant government agency of your intent to sue within six months of the date of your injury. If you don’t file this notice within six months, you won’t be able to file a lawsuit.
If you have questions about the statute of limitations and how it might affect your case, talk to our Philadelphia malpractice lawyers.
If you miss the statute of limitations that applies to your case, your claim will be time-barred. This means that you won’t be able to pursue legal remedies to recover compensation or hold the provider accountable for their actions. If you do file a lawsuit after the limitations period is over, the defendant will file a motion to dismiss, and the court will likely grant the motion.
While two years might sound like a long time, it can go by quickly when you are dealing with your injuries and how they impact your daily life. Since the initial investigation can also take months, it’s best to contact an experienced malpractice lawyer as soon as you suspect that your injuries might have been caused by your healthcare provider’s negligence instead of waiting until the limitations period is nearly over.
Damages in a Medical Malpractice Case
Damages in a medical malpractice lawsuit refer to the monetary amounts that might be ordered or agreed to for various types of losses. Compensatory damages are designed to compensate malpractice victims for both the economic and non-economic losses they have suffered and might include the following types:
- Past and future medical expenses to treat the injuries caused by the provider’s negligence
- Past and future lost wages
- Past and future physical pain and suffering
- Past and future mental anguish
- Loss of the enjoyment of life
In a malpractice case involving a patient who died from their injuries, the surviving family members and estate might recover the following types of damages:
- The financial contributions the victim would have made if they had lived over their expected lifespan
- Loss of the victim’s household services
- Lost rights to an inheritance
- Reasonable funeral and burial costs
- Physical pain and suffering the victim experienced before succumbing to their injuries
- Emotional trauma
- Loss of consortium and guidance
Pennsylvania does not cap the compensatory damages that are available in medical malpractice lawsuits other than those that are filed against the government. If you file a claim against the government, you can’t recover more than $250,000. If your claim is not against the government, however, your ability to recover compensatory damages will be unlimited.
Punitive damages are another type of damages that are awarded in cases in which the defendant’s behavior was particularly outrageous. Pennsylvania does place a cap on punitive damages to no more than 200% of the plaintiff’s compensatory damages. However, these are rarely awarded in malpractice cases.
Talk to Our Firm
If you believe your doctor or another medical provider negligently caused your serious injuries, you should speak to the experienced legal team at Raynes & Lawn. Call us for a free consultation today at 1-800-535-1797.
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