Is It Better to Settle a Medical Malpractice Claim or Go to Trial?
When individuals experience medical malpractice, they often find themselves in a challenging predicament. Not only are they dealing with the physical and emotional toll of medical errors, but they must also make critical decisions about pursuing legal action. You may find that pursuing a settlement where you do not have to go to trial is the best option or vice versa. In such circumstances, having the guidance of an experienced Philadelphia medical malpractice attorney like those from Raynes & Lawn on your side can make all the difference in the outcome of your case, regardless of whether you decide to settle a claim or go to trial.
What is the Difference Between a Settlement and a Trial?
First, let’s discuss the differences between a settlement and a trial. A settlement is an agreement reached between the injured party (plaintiff) and the at-fault party or their insurance company (defendant) to resolve the medical malpractice claim without going to trial. Typically, you will arrive at a settlement after a negotiation between your medical malpractice lawyer and the defendant’s. Because these negotiations take place behind closed doors, they are private and confidential. The details of the settlement, including the amount, are not disclosed to the public. Generally, the plaintiff has more control over the outcome of the settlement than they would in a trial, because they have the ability to accept or reject the offer.
A trial, on the other hand, is a legal proceeding in which both parties present their case before a judge and, in some cases, a jury. The judge or jury determines the outcome and awards compensation if applicable. Unlike settlements, trials are adversarial in nature. Each side presents evidence, witnesses, and arguments to support their claim. From there, the jury or judge decides the verdict. The outcome is uncertain, and if the judge or jury happens to rule in favor of the defendant, the plaintiff may not receive any compensation.
Settlement vs. Trial: A Crucial Decision
A recent study published in the American Medical Association’s Archives of Internal Medicine revealed that more than half of medical malpractice claims lead to some form of litigation. However, the majority of these claims ultimately end in settlement agreements, even if a medical malpractice lawyer files a lawsuit to apply pressure on the defendant. Furthermore, data from Medscape states that roughly 12% of cases progress to a trial in a courtroom setting.
So, how do you decide to go to settlement or to trial? Let’s look at some factors that may influence your decision:
- Strength of Your Case: Evaluating the strength of your medical malpractice case is paramount. While a jury trial might offer higher damage awards, the odds of winning in court can be lower than those favoring the defendant. An honest assessment of your case’s strength is essential.
- Cost-Benefit Analysis: Alongside your attorney, consider the cost-benefit of going to a jury trial versus negotiating an out-of-court settlement. While a jury verdict might yield substantial compensatory damages, losing could leave you with nothing. A meticulous analysis is necessary to determine your best course of action.
- Speed and Security: Court trials can be lengthy, often stretching over months or years. If you’re grappling with mounting medical bills and expenses, the urgency to recover compensation is clear. An out-of-court settlement can provide quicker financial relief and a degree of certainty.
For this, having the aid of a medical malpractice lawyer in Philadelphia, like those at Raynes & Lawn, is essential. An experienced lawyer can thoroughly evaluate your case to see if pursuing a settlement or trial is best.
Benefits of Going to Settlement
There are several reasons why settling the matter out of court could be advantageous to you, including:
A Higher Chance of Compensation
According to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), the average compensation for a medical malpractice claim is around $329,565. This amount is typically lower than what you could receive through a successful trial verdict. However, the likelihood of obtaining compensation through a settlement is higher, especially if there is strong evidence to support your medical malpractice claim. Pair your evidence with an adept negotiator, and your chance of reaching a satisfactory settlement is attainable
That said, if the damage caused by medical malpractice has led to substantial medical expenses, the amount negotiated at settlement may not be enough.
Legal proceedings, especially trials, can be protracted affairs. For those facing mounting medical expenses and financial strain, a speedy resolution is often preferable. An out-of-court settlement offers a quicker path to financial recovery.
On the other side of this, however, is the risk that the matter is completely settled. Once you accept the settlement and receive your compensation, you forfeit the right to pursue any further legal action. This includes the ability to secure further compensation should unforeseen complications arise down the road.
Settlements often come with confidentiality clauses, preventing the disclosure of sensitive information about the case. This can be especially appealing to healthcare institutions and providers concerned about their reputation.
Benefits of Going to Trial
Now that you have seen some of the advantages of settling a claim, let’s examine the benefits of taking your medical malpractice case to court.
Higher Damage Awards
Medical malpractice comes with a long list of damages for the injured party, including economic and non-economic damages. These can range from medical expenses, pain and suffering, disability and disfigurement, and wrongful death. When these damages are placed in the hands of a jury, there is a chance of receiving far greater compensation than you would through a settlement. In fact, the average jury trial award for a medical malpractice case is around $1 million. Compare that to the average of $329,565 for a settlement, and you have a compelling reason to pursue a trial, especially when the damage caused is extensive and expensive.
The one thing to consider when seeking greater compensation is the cost of going to trial. Unlike settlements, litigating a medical malpractice case is costly. The legal fees, expert witness fees, and court costs can be astronomical. The net compensation you receive will be reduced when paying for all of that in the end.
Clearing You Name
Too often, victims of medical malpractice feel unseen and invalidated during their experience. Going to trial allows you to vindicate your claims and hold the responsible party accountable for their actions. Being able to present your evidence and tell your side of the story helps to restore your reputation and validate your grievances.
Trials can bring about changes in healthcare practices, ensuring accountability and preventing similar incidents in the future. A public trial can shed light on medical errors and prompt improvements in healthcare delivery.
Why Do Doctors Choose Settlements Over Trial?
If you are filing a claim against a doctor or healthcare institution, you may find that they ask for a settlement rather than going to trial. There are a couple of reasons for this:
Cost and Efficiency
As mentioned earlier, medical malpractice cases can be exceptionally costly and time-consuming to litigate. The legal process can involve extensive discovery, the hiring of expert witnesses, and a protracted trial. All of these factors contribute to higher legal fees and the allocation of significant resources. By settling, both parties can avoid the financial burden and time commitment associated with a trial.
Going to trial carries inherent risks for healthcare providers. The outcome of a trial can be uncertain, as it depends on various factors, including the jury’s perception of the case and the effectiveness of legal arguments. Settling provides both parties with legal closure and eliminates the unpredictability associated with a court verdict.
Many healthcare providers carry medical malpractice insurance to protect themselves in the event of a claim. Insurance providers often prefer settlements because they can assess the potential costs of a trial, including legal fees, expert witness fees, and potential damage awards. Settling allows them to manage their financial risks more effectively.
The healthcare industry places a premium on maintaining a positive reputation. Even if a doctor is confident in their innocence, the mere fact of being involved in a lawsuit can tarnish their professional standing. Trials are often public events, and any negative media coverage can affect a doctor’s practice and reputation. Settlements, on the other hand, are typically private and include confidentiality agreements that prevent the disclosure of sensitive information.
What to Consider When Going to Settlement
For those who are considering settling a medical malpractice claim through a settlement, there are some key considerations to keep in mind. First and foremost, before engaging in a settlement negotiation, you will need to find a medical malpractice attorney who will conduct a comprehensive evaluation of your case. This involves a meticulous review of your medical records, expert opinions, and the circumstances surrounding the malpractice. The goal is to assess the strength of your case and estimate the potential damages you may be entitled to. This evaluation is critical in determining whether a settlement offer is fair and reasonable.
From there, you will need to strengthen your case. Generally, this means gathering more evidence and solidifying your position. Medical experts are called in to provide informed opinions on the standard of care in your specific situation, how the healthcare provider deviated from it, and the resulting harm to you. Their insights can bolster your case during negotiations and potentially lead to a more favorable settlement.
Once you have a strong case, your attorney will develop a clear negotiation strategy. This strategy should outline your desired outcome, including the minimum acceptable settlement amount. During the settlement negotiations, your attorney will negotiate on your behalf, advocating for your interests and ensuring that any settlement offer aligns with the damages you’ve suffered.
If you are concerned about confidentiality, be sure to discuss the inclusion of a confidentiality clause. Such agreements can be beneficial for both parties. They protect your privacy by preventing the disclosure of sensitive medical information, and they allow the healthcare provider to avoid public scrutiny. These clauses are common in medical malpractice settlements.
Other Things to Consider When Heading to Settlement
- Cost-Benefit Analysis: Consult with your attorney to conduct a cost-benefit analysis. This analysis involves weighing the potential trial costs, including legal fees and expert witness fees, against the likelihood of a favorable verdict. If the costs of going to trial significantly outweigh the expected outcome, settling may be the more prudent choice.
- Case Strength: If your case is robust and supported by strong evidence, you may be more inclined to push for a trial. However, even strong cases can benefit from negotiation to expedite the process and avoid the uncertainties of a courtroom.
- Closure: Settling may offer a sense of closure and the ability to move forward with your life. Lengthy trials can extend the emotional and financial burden on you and your family. Settling allows you to put the legal process behind you and focus on your recovery.
What Are The Damages of an Average Medical Malpractice Settlement?
There are a variety of damages that you can be awarded. Your compensation may encompass a broad spectrum and include payment for immediate and long-term issues, including:
- Medical Expenses: This category encapsulates a wide array of costs, ranging from necessary corrective surgeries and hospital care to routine doctor visits, rehabilitation therapy, prescription medications, assistive devices, home health care, and even the expenses associated with transportation for medical purposes. In numerous instances, victims of medical malpractice in Philadelphia may require ongoing medical care and bear the financial burden for their entire lives.
- Loss of Consortium: In cases where medical malpractice has negatively impacted a patient’s ability to engage in marital relations or maintain a loving and supportive spousal relationship, claims for loss of consortium may be pursued.
- Pain and Suffering: Patients who have experienced medical malpractice retain the right to seek compensation for the daily physical discomfort and emotional distress endured. This may encompass the loss of quality of life, the inability to carry out normal daily functions, and various forms of pain and suffering.
- Loss of Income and Benefits: Medical malpractice victims who find themselves unable to work or earn a livelihood due to their injuries possess the right to seek compensation for their resulting financial losses. This is particularly significant, as many malpractice victims experience permanent disabilities that profoundly affect their earning capacity.
- Punitive Damages: In situations characterized by exceptionally egregious conduct on the part of a hospital or medical practitioner, punitive damages may be pursued. These damages serve the purpose of punishing the responsible party for their conduct, such as instances involving medical professionals operating while intoxicated.
Do You Have to Prove Liability When Going to Court?
Yes, as the plaintiff, you must prove liability of the defendant when going to court. Unlike criminal cases where the prosecutor must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, medical malpractice cases require the plaintiff’s attorney to establish liability based on a preponderance of the evidence.
Proving liability by a preponderance of the evidence means that the evidence presented in court should demonstrate that it is more likely than not that the defendant is responsible for causing the plaintiff’s injury or illness. In other words, the plaintiff’s legal team must provide sufficient evidence to convince the court that it is more probable than not that the healthcare provider’s actions or negligence led to the harm suffered by the patient.
To achieve this, medical malpractice attorneys conduct thorough investigations into the circumstances surrounding the patient’s condition, seeking to identify who is responsible and gathering the necessary evidence to support their case. This evidence may include medical records, expert testimonies, and other relevant documentation that can establish a link between the healthcare provider’s actions and the patient’s injuries or illness.
A Medical Malpractice Lawyer in PA Can Identify the Right Path For Your Claim
Making the decision about whether to go to settlement or to court may be overwhelming, especially when you are trying to handle the issues caused by medical malpractice. You may also be worried that going to settlement means settling for less than what you deserve. This is where the experienced medical malpractice attorneys of Raynes & Lawn can help. Our team will know the value of your damages and can help you determine which path is right for you.
We will negotiate on your behalf or advocate for your financial recovery in court. Regardless of what you decide, our lawyers in Philadelphia will fight to provide you with the best possible outcome.
Contact a Philadelphia Medical Malpractice Attorney at Raynes & Lawn
In conclusion, the decision to settle or go to trial in a medical malpractice case is a significant one that should be made carefully, considering the unique circumstances of your situation. Both options have their advantages and disadvantages, and the choice should be based on a thorough evaluation of the strength of your case, a cost-benefit analysis, and your need for a timely resolution.
Having the support and guidance of experienced medical malpractice attorneys, such as those at Raynes & Lawn, is essential in making this decision. At Raynes & Lawn, you are a client, not a case. Give us a call today at 800-535-1797 or fill out our contact form to schedule a free consultation.
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