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Trend Toward More Malpractice Settlements than Trials Continues

medical-malparactice-e1454733692879.jpgMedical malpractice cases can be stressful for patients and their families. There are many facts and figures to reconcile, and often many meetings and interviews are required. Working with a medical malpractice attorney can help ease the burden.

Malpractice Claim Options

The process of filing a medical malpractice claim usually takes one of three roads. On the first, parties come to an agreement prior to entering the court system and settle the suit "out of court". This can involve a third-party who acts as a dispute resolution aid. On the second, parties enter the court system and go through a trial process to determine fault and establish a just settlement. The third road medical malpractice claims take ends with the case being thrown out without settlement. While it is true that a case can be settled without payment, and cases are sometimes withdrawn from court without settlement, the lion's share of medical malpractice cases follow one of these paths.

Increasingly cases are settled without trial. This is sometimes due to medical teams realizing that human error played a role in the mistake that caused the injury in question. Other times, actuaries have simply run the numbers and worked out that the cost of a settlement is more acceptable than the price of a trial. Trial costs add up fast. Statistics show a continual downward trend in malpractice cases resolved through judgment.

Fewer Malpractice Cases Reach Court

According to the State of Tennessee's 2015 Healthcare Liability Report, only 41 of 1,645 claims in 2014 were closed in court. By contrast, 367 claims were resolved through settlement or alternative dispute resolution services.

Contrast these numbers with those from 2010, when the total number of closed claims was 2,332. In 2011 the state's medical malpractice regulations changed, limiting non-economic damage awards to $750,000. The malpractice cap is set at one million dollars for cases involving a catastrophic injury or loss. Many credit these reforms for the decrease in the number of medical malpractice cases year on year since 2011.

There are benefits to working with medical malpractice lawyers to settle a case rather than going to trial. Some of these include:

  • Speed: even with the help of an attorney, medical malpractice trials can last three years or more. Appeals can add even more time to the clock. With a settlement, parties come to an agreement that is full and final. There is no avenue for appeal with settlements;
  • Cost: going to trial costs money, plain and simple. Expert depositions, research, travel time and attorney's fees can add up quickly. Settling a case without the additional cost of trial can yield significant savings for both parties;
  • Stress: going to court can be stressful, particularly for those who are recovering from illness and injuries. Opting for a settlement eliminates the anxiety that can come from taking the witness stand, repeated trips to the courthouse and the uncertainty of dealing with a jury trial;
  • Openness: because settlement negotiations are not bound to the same public reporting standard that court documents are held to, information about the case can be kept out of the public domain. This can allow practitioners and patients to have frank discussions about the case, yielding better peace of mind for both sides;
  • Certainty: particularly if a case relies on the testimony of multiple experts, having the ability to eliminate the variables of a trial can make it much easier to establish a full and fair settlement for the injured party.

Fighting for What's Right

In some instances the settlement offered will be unacceptable. Perhaps the principle behind the medical malpractice suit has far-reaching implications and settling is not an option. In those cases, making adequate preparations for trial with an experienced medical malpractice attorney is vital to ensuring the eventual award for damages is just. Being prepared for the technical aspects, as well as the emotional toll of the eventual court trial are equally important.

When considering a settlement offer versus taking the case to court, medical malpractice lawyers will weigh a number of factors, such as:

  • Actual damages, increased medical costs, time off work and other related expenses;
  • Future expenses that plaintiff may face because of the injury caused through medical malpractice; and,
  • Costs associated with the case.

In some cases, the cause of justice itself means medical malpractice lawyers will find pursuing the case through the court is worthwhile. This is particularly true for cases where a common condition, malfunction of equipment or other aspect has implications for a large section of society.

Discussing the options for pursuing a court case or accepting a settlement with a team of medical malpractice lawyers is the best way to establish the appropriate options for your particular case.

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