Montana ranks low among the other states, just 43rd out of 50, for the number of medical malpractice cases filed per year, which some would find to be a benefit of reformed malpractice laws that favor doctors over patients. In 2015 there were only 15 cases filed per 100,000 people in the state, and because of damages caps, those cases amounted to just $8.2 million in total payouts.
Proponents of reforms in the state approved of the limited damages and cases filed, but advocates for patients believe the laws are too restrictive and prevent many patients from getting justice. If you have been harmed by medical negligence in the state, be sure to rely on a Montana medical malpractice lawyer to help you navigate the complicated system and get a real chance for justice and compensation.
Montana Medical Malpractice Laws
Laws regarding medical malpractice cases vary by state. Each state sets its own laws, but they are not necessarily permanent. They can be reformed and changed often, which is why patients should be informed but cannot possibly be expected to know the laws in great detail. This is why they need to be able to rely on Montana’s medical malpractice lawyers to guide them. A few basics about time limits and damages that can be recovered are important for everyone to understand in the event of experiencing medical negligence.
All states have a statute of limitations, which patients need to be aware of because it puts a time limit on when a lawsuit can be filed. In Montana, the statute of limitations is two years, either from the time the negligence happened or from the time at which the patient should have reasonably discovered the negligence. The law is changing, though, and for cases filed on and after July 1, 2019, the statute extends to three years. There may be exceptions to the time limit, but there is also a hard limit that does not allow for a case to be filed more than five years after the negligent act.
Like many other states, Montana also has a cap on non-economic damages, which limits how much a patient can recover for pain and suffering and other types of non-monetary harm. The cap is set at $250,000, but there is no limit on economic damages that can be recovered. In several states this cap has been adjusted for inflation, or been found to be unconstitutional when challenged. Neither is the case in Montana.
The Montana Medical Malpractice Panel Act
Montana medical malpractice law was reformed in 1977 with the goal of reducing frivolous lawsuits. The cost of malpractice insurance had been rising, and lawmakers wanted to do something to keep costs down. They introduced the requirement that plaintiffs and their lawyers bring malpractice cases before a panel of three doctors and three lawyers before being able to file.
The first step in this process is to file the Application for Review of Claim. This includes information about the negligent act with as many details as possible, as well as a written statement that allows the patient’s medical records to be accessed by the members of the panel. This leads to a hearing. Both the plaintiff’s and defendant’s lawyers make statements, call witnesses to testify, and show evidence.
The panel then deliberates to decide if there is enough evidence for the plaintiff’s team to make a case of malpractice. The panel may also decide if and how much compensation the plaintiff should get. The decision the panel makes is not binding, but if both sides agree to it the panel can approve an agreement on a settlement that then becomes binding. If the suit goes to trial, the panel’s decision or opinion is not admissible in court. While the panel has likely reduced frivolous lawsuits, critics of the law believe it places too great a burden on victims of medical errors that have valid and meritorious cases.
Medical Malpractice Cases in Montana
Although the number of cases filed in Montana has dropped in recent years, there are still patients who are able to bring their lawsuits to juries and win the justice they deserve with the help of malpractice lawyers. In one of these cases a family was awarded a $1.7 million jury decision after losing their husband and father. The jury found the doctor in the case and the Billings Clinic negligent in his death at the age of 42 in 2005.
The victim in this case died as the result of a heart valve condition. The jury agreed with his family and their Montana malpractice lawyer, that the doctor was negligent in not monitoring the condition. He also misdiagnosed the man’s chest pain as a torn muscle. Although Montana has a strict cap on non-economic damages, the family was awarded the large economic damages to cover his lost future wages that supports his family of four children.
More recently a surgeon in Bozeman was accused of negligence in a case of wrongful death. The victim died after having surgery to treat sleep apnea. The man’s parents filed the lawsuit and claimed that the surgeon did not take into account their son’s medical history and that he failed to monitor his recovery from the surgery. The surgeon prescribed the man oxycodone for pain, which is known to depress respiration. He was later found dead of respiratory failure. The family and their malpractice lawyer are requesting a trial to seek justice and damages for the wrongful death due to negligence.
Finding a Montana Medical Malpractice Lawyer
With laws in the state that can favor doctors and make it more difficult for patients to navigate the legal system after experiencing harm from medical negligence, it is crucial that you rely on a Montana medical malpractice lawyer if you are harmed. Trying to go it alone is not recommended, nor is working with a lawyer who does not have special expertise in malpractice law.
Look for a lawyer licensed in the state, in good standing, who specializes only in medical malpractice cases. A lawyer or legal team dedicated only to this type of law will be able to give you the best chance of a successful case. Make sure you choose carefully be asking specific questions about experiences. Find out if a lawyer has tried malpractice cases or only participated in settlements. Ask about past clients and the outcomes they saw in their cases.
These and other questions and steps will help you feel secure in the choice you make for representation when you are faced with this difficult situation. No one wants to suffer lasting harm from a medical mistake, but if you have, know that you have a right to seek justice, to have a trial, and to recover damages if necessary.