Medical malpractice cases don’t always end in an award to the victim, but when they do it is referred to as a medical malpractice settlement. Most cases of medical negligence never result in a payment to the patient. Those that due are more likely to be settled out of court because going to trial is time-consuming and costly.
A medical malpractice settlement is supposed to provide money to cover damages caused to a patient, for things like future medical bills or the loss of the ability to work and earn an income. How much is awarded depends on many factors, like the patient’s age and the extent of the damages. If you think you deserve a malpractice settlement, let an experienced lawyer review your case and determine if it has merit.
What is a Medical Malpractice Settlement?
A medical malpractice settlement is a financial award given to the plaintiff in a malpractice case. The settlement may be agreed upon out of court, when the lawyers from each side negotiate to come up with an agreed-upon amount. A settlement may also be awarded by a jury if a case goes to trial and the plaintiff’s legal team successfully makes a case that medical malpractice occurred and that damages are owed.
Unlike many other personal injury cases and settlements, those associated with medical malpractice are recorded in a database. Anyone can find out if a specific doctor has ever been sued for medical malpractice or if he or she has ever paid a settlement to a plaintiff and how much they paid. Another difference between personal injury and medical malpractice is that settlements for the latter usually have to be agreed on by the doctor involved.
Most settlements in medical malpractice are agreed on out of court. Trials are costly, so defendants and their insurance companies usually prefer to settle before going to trial. Medical malpractice settlement payments come from malpractice insurance plans that doctors carry to protect themselves.
The Challenge of Winning a Malpractice Settlement
Medical malpractice settlements are not given; there are many challenges a plaintiff will face in trying to get damages paid for a medical mistake. Anywhere from 80 to 90 percent of claims never pay out, and the patients receive no payment at all. Some of the challenges plaintiffs face include statute of limitations, which vary by state, getting through procedural hurdles, and the high costs of pursuing a claim.
It can be hard to find a lawyer to take a case, as many will refuse to take on even valid claims if they are not likely to be worth large settlement amounts. When lawyers do take on a case they have a big burden of proof. They must prove the patient and doctor had a medical relationship, that the doctor breached duty of care, that the breach in duty resulted in harm to the patient, and finally that the harm resulted in significant damages.
Settlements Are Down, But Amounts Are Up
Current research has found that the rate of medical malpractice claims that payout to plaintiffs is on a downward trend. Between 1992 and 2014 the number of cases that paid out dropped by 56 percent. But, on the other hand, the amount that plaintiffs get in successful settlements has gone up, by about 23 percent. From 1992 to 1996 the average medical malpractice settlement was $287,000, and it was $353,000 between 2009 and 2014.
These trends in settlements made in malpractice cases are likely the result of tort reforms. These reforms have limited the amount of money that can be paid in a settlement. This may make it less likely that a medical malpractice lawyer will take on a case. Lawyers have to be more particular about which cases they take, and may not take on one that is expected to have a smaller payout.
Examples of Medical Malpractice Settlements
Many settlements in malpractice cases are for small amounts and never make the news, although these cases are recorded in public databases. You can look up your doctor to determine if he or she has ever had a medical malpractice case against them or a resulting settlement. Some settlements are notable for being very large or involving devastating errors.
One example of a recent large medical malpractice settlement was awarded to the mother of a young child who suffered brain damage and cerebral palsy because of a doctor’s actions. The defendants included the doctor and the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. As the case was about to go to trial, the medical center decided to settle for $30 million. The doctor who treated the boy performed 25 surgeries on him, including experimental surgeries. During the final surgery, he used an off-label suturing device that punctured an artery and led to brain damage.
Some cases are notable for involving a large number of plaintiffs. In one recent settlement, a doctor was sued by 256 plaintiffs. While the final settlement amount has not yet been confirmed, it is expected to reach a total of $40 million. The doctor was an orthopedist who was found guilty of committing felony health care fraud, but who was also accused by his patients of performing unnecessary surgeries and botching surgeries.
Birth injuries are commonly suspected of relating to medical malpractice, and there have been many settlements awarded to children and their parents. In one recent example, a girl who suffered spinal cord damage during delivery at Delaware County Memorial Hospital was awarded $40.3 million in a case that went to trial. The girl is now six and is partially paralyzed. The family’s lawyers successfully proved that the delivering doctor did not protect her neck and head as she was delivered in a difficult breech position.
Medical malpractice settlements may even be brought by incarcerated prisoners. In 2014, a man in prison in Georgia sued the prison and the state for medical malpractice based on inadequate care. He received a minor cut on his leg while in prison, and without good care it turned into an infection that ultimately required that his leg be amputated. He won his case and the state settled and paid him just over a half a million dollars.
If you were the victim of medical negligence, you may be hoping to win a medical malpractice settlement. Find an experienced and knowledgeable malpractice lawyer to look at your case and help you decide if you are likely to get a settlement. If one lawyer turns you down, but you’re sure you have a case, try others. If you fight for it, you may just get the settlement you deserve.