The laws regarding malpractice lawsuits in Massachusetts can be confusing for patients, especially when they are suffering from negligence and medical harm. They need the assistance of experienced and knowledgeable Massachusetts medical malpractice lawyers. These professionals understand the law inside and out and are able to help victims of medical mistakes.
If you have suffered because of a medical mistake made by a doctor or other medical professional in Massachusetts, be sure you educate yourself about the laws but also make sure you find a good malpractice lawyer to help you make your case and seek justice.
Massachusetts Medical Malpractice Law
Malpractice laws govern how lawsuits can be filed, who can file them and when and how the cases proceed, as well as what the outcomes can be. Every state is allowed to make its own malpractice laws and they can be confusing for lay people. A Massachusetts medical malpractice lawyer is an expert in these laws and guides plaintiffs as they file and proceed with lawsuits. It is still important for patients to understand some of the basics of the laws.
The statute of limitations is very important because if you are not aware of it you can miss your chance to seek justice for harm caused by medical negligence. In Massachusetts the limit is set at three years from the time the negligence occurred, or from the time that the negligence was discovered. Even with this discovery rule, plaintiffs cannot file a lawsuit more than seven years after the negligent act. The only exception to this, which is typical in most states, is when a foreign object is left inside a patient’s body.
Also important to understand is the cap on damages that plaintiffs are allowed to recover. Damages can be economic, for specific costs like past and future medical bills, and they can also be non-economic, covering things like pain and suffering. Massachusetts caps non-economic damages at $500,000, but has no cap on economic damages. Exceptions to the cap may be made for patients who suffered serious disfigurement, permanent or serious loss of a body function, or some other serious consequence that the court may determine warrants more damages.
The Medical Malpractice Tribunal
Since 1976 Massachusetts has had a law that requires plaintiffs take their case to a tribunal before being allowed to file a civil lawsuit against a physician or medical center. The goal of the tribunal is to reduce costs by avoiding frivolous lawsuits, but critics of the process say that it can present an insurmountable obstacle for many patients to seek justice in court, even those with valid claims.
The process begins when a plaintiff or the plaintiff’s attorney files a medical malpractice complaint. The defendants must provide a written response and then the plaintiff has 15 days after receiving it to submit proof of negligence to the tribunal. The tribunal is made up of a lawyer, a justice of the Massachusetts superior court, and a licensed medical professional with expertise in the same area of medicine involved in the case.
The tribunal reviews the evidence submitted by the plaintiff’s legal team and determines if there is a valid case, or a legitimate question of negligent behavior. If the tribunal finds in favor of the plaintiff, the lawsuit may be filed in court. But, if the tribunal does not believe there is sufficient evidence of negligence, the plaintiff can still file a lawsuit, but only after submitting a $6,000 bond. This is supposed to cover the defendant’s costs and it can be increased by the court. To critics of the law, the costs are prohibitive for many people.
Alternatives to Litigation
A recent addition to Massachusetts medical malpractice laws allows patient and their lawyers to attempt to agree to a settlement with a defendant without going through the tribunal or a court case. This alternative is designed to help resolve more conflicts without the court system, which can take many years. It is also supposed to start dialogues that actually improve healthcare and reduce medical mistakes.
Under this law patients must notify defendants of the intent to file lawsuit. The written notification must include details about how the standard of care was breached and other relevant information. The defendants then have 150 days to respond with a similar written response. If the defendants recognize an error occurred, they can also arrange a meeting with the plaintiff and the medical malpractice lawyer to discuss the situation. This allows both parties to come to an agreement of a settlement for the victim but also to determine why the mistake occurred and how it can be avoided in the future. At any time during the process the plaintiff can go ahead with the lawsuit and tribunal.
Massachusetts Medical Malpractice Cases
There are many examples of cases in the state in which medical malpractice lawyers fought successfully for both justice and compensation for victims of medical negligence. In one of these cases the victim was a malpractice lawyer himself. Michael E. Mone had been fighting on behalf of victims in Boston for decades when he got sick. An MRI looking at his kidneys for stones showed nothing wrong, but it was a mistake. The images really showed a malignant tumor that was read as a benign cyst.
Mone went untreated for cancer for six years and by the time the right diagnosis was made it was a case of terminal kidney cancer. He did not have to file a lawsuit but was able to mediate with the insurance company insuring the hospital that made the mistake. They reached an agreement on a settlement of an undisclosed amount.
Another tragic case in which a medical error led to a woman’s death took nine years to be resolved. The woman died in childbirth at South Shore Hospital in Weymouth. During a cesarean section the doctor punctured her bowel. She lost a lot of blood and another surgeon had to repair the damage. Soon after the procedure, the woman needed a transfusion. It was given, but the original doctor had left and failed to leave instructions. No clotting factor was included and she bled and suffered a heart attack. She died soon after. The case her family began took years to resolve, but it finally ended in a $4 million jury award.
Working with a Massachusetts Medical Malpractice Lawyer
If you suffered harm from a medical mistake in Massachusetts you need to find a good malpractice lawyer in the state to take your case. Make sure you select a lawyer in good standing who specializes only in medical malpractice. This is a very specialized type of law that requires an expert. It is also a good idea to ask any potential lawyer about his or her experience with cases, settlements, and trials, and to get references from previous clients.
When you do select the lawyer you feel good about working with, it is important to provide him or her with all the relevant information, including all your medical records. Be open and willing to answer all questions because your lawyer can only help you if all the information is there. Working with a medical malpractice lawyer is the best think you can do if you feel you have a case for medical malpractice. Trying to go it alone is not recommended, as you need this professional to guide your next steps.