Burnett & Williams

The Cost of Medical Malpractice

The Cost of Medical Malpractice

The last place anyone wants to go after leaving a hospital with a disappointing medical outcome is an attorney’s office, but for some there is no other choice.

Patients who feel that a physician has committed malpractice usually need the advice of a personal injury attorney to determine whether there is a valid claim for damages as a result of negligent care. By definition, a malpractice case exists if a provider’s negligence causes injury or damage to a patient, and the patient can demonstrate that the health care provider deviated from the applicable “standard of care” in the treatment of the patient.

The law in this area has evolved over time to discourage negligent behavior by medical personnel, and to provide relief for those who suffer as a result of poor care. Some claim this system is overly burdensome for doctors. Others claim it is overly burdensome for injured patients. Our experience with numerous medical malpractice cases over the years has made it clear that the deterrence provided by legal claims and the compensation for injured patients made possible by these cases, are essential in our healthcare system. There are times when even the best doctors need incentive to check their decisions carefully, and it is a long-established standard of fairness in our legal system that the party at fault for an injury should bear the costs associated with making the victim whole. Typically these include lost earnings, medical bills, and “pain and suffering.”

While big medical malpractice lawsuits tend to get a lot of publicity, statistics show that only a small fraction of patients who are victims actually file claims. According to the Civil Justice Resource Group, hospital records indicate that close to 1% of patients become victims of medical malpractice, but only 2.9% of the patients in that group actually file claims. That means that 10 out of every 1000 patients falls victim to wrongful practice, but only 1 out of 34 victims seek legal recourse. A study from the Journal of the American Medical Association found that medical negligence is the third leading cause of death in the U.S. – right behind heart disease and cancer — at nearly 200,000 deaths per year. The number of patients significantly injured is likely much higher, and those victims need experienced legal help to have any chance of recovering the costs of their injuries.

When considering a medical malpractice case, it is important to realize that these cases tend to have high award amounts relative to other personal injury cases, but they are also some of the most costly to pursue. Moreover, a high percentage of malpractice cases go to trial, compared to other personal injury cases, and a substantial percentage of tried cases result in defense verdicts. These are important considerations, because expert witness fees and other trial expenses routinely exceed $50,000. While most personal injury law firms work on a contingency basis – the attorney gets paid only if there is an award – the expenses of the case advanced by the attorney are ultimately the responsibility of the client, regardless of the outcome at trial.

Because of this, we carefully evaluate each case. The first step of the process is to determine whether the patient was a victim of malpractice. The second step is to determine whether the quantum of damages and cost of proving malpractice warrant the time, money, and effort required to take the case to trial. Most experienced attorneys will offer their evaluative opinion free of charge, but typically the advice of a medical professional familiar with the applicable standard of care is required to clearly establish the merits of the case. If the case is deemed to have merit, the expert witness will provide advice to the attorneys during negotiations, and will be available to testify at trial that the provider did indeed act negligently.

The justice system provides compensation for those who’ve suffered damages from the negligent acts of another, but medical malpractice cases rarely settle easily. The companies that provide malpractice insurance to physicians and hospitals always fight hard to defend themselves and their clients from claims. Because of the high costs and the legal complexities involved, great care goes into the decision of when to pursue a malpractice claim. As one of the oldest and most experienced personal injury law firms in Virginia, our years of experience can be invaluable in helping to make that decision.

Works Consulted

1. Cheeks, Demetrius. “10 Things You Want to Know about Medical Malpractice.”Forbes Magazine 16 May 2013: n. pag. Print. https://www.forbes.com/sites/learnvest/2013/05/16/10-things-you-want-to-know-about-medical-malpractice/
2. Docteur, E., and R. A. Berenson. “How Does the Quality of U.S. Health Care Compare Internationally?” Research and Publications. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 9 Aug. 2009. Web. 15 Sept. 2014. https://www.urban.org/sites/default/files/publication/30596/411947-How-Does-the-Quality-of-U-S-Health-Care-Compare-Internationally-.PDF
3. Medical Malpractice. . . By the Numbers. Civil Justice Resource Group, n.d. Web. 15 Sept. 2014. <https://centerjd.org/cjrg/Numbers.pdf>.
4. Studdert, David M., LL.B, Sc.D, M.P.H., Michelle M. Mello, J.D., Ph.D., and Troyan A. Brennan, M.D., J.D., M.P.H. “Medical Malpractice.” New England Journal of Medicine (2010): 283-92. Print.
5. Ungar, Rick. “The True Cost of Medical Malpractice – It May Surprise You.” Forbes Magazine 7 Sept. 2010: n. pag. Print. https://www.forbes.com/sites/rickungar/2010/09/07/the-true-cost-of-medical-malpractice-it-may-surprise-you/